Barefoot running and glove-like minimalist barefoot running shoes have gained popularity with human athletes in recent years. And, much like the shoes versus barefoot controversy in the horse world, the benefits and drawbacks of going shoeless are highly debated in human podiatry, said Nora Grenager, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, of Grenager Equine Consulting in Middleburg, Va.

Grenager presented trends and topics in laminitis research at the 2012 Conference on the Equine Foot, which took place Nov. 2-3 in Monterey, Calif. That research included the work of Pat Reilly, chief of farrier services at University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, who authored the paper "The Barefoot Paradox," which was published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science in October 2011 (Volume 31, Issue 10).

Research has found that human barefoot runners:

  • Use 2% less oxygen than their shod counterparts;
  • Have varied ground impact patterns; and
  • Have lower ground-impact forces.

These finding could suggest an increase in performance longevity for the barefoot human athlete prior to tiring and decreased instances of injury. However, a correlated improvement in performance hasn’t been universally supported by performance records, Grenager noted.

Additional studies by the U.S. Navy investigating barefoot running in humans found use of minimalist shoes:

  • Resulted in stronger feet;
  • Reduced foot-to-ground impact;
  • Improved balance; and
  • Increased proprioception (the ability to sense the position, location, orientation, and movement of