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Friday, July 23, 2010

Barefoot Running Injuries... Broken Toes

During my latest barefoot/ minimalist shoe running workshop at Crossfit Grand Rapids, we had a lengthy discussion regarding barefoot running injuries.  I classify injuries in two categories: beginner "transitioning" injuries and injuries resulting from a lack of protection.  

The "transitioning" injuries involve the "top of the foot" injuries, Achilles/calf injuries, and blisters.  The "lack of protection " injuries involve puncture wounds, heat and cold injuries, blunt-force injuries, and maybe blisters.  I cover the topic of injuries on my website here.

Yesterday, Shelly experienced her first minimalist shoe injury... a broken toe.  We were running on an unfamiliar trail.  The trail was fairly technical as it was littered with large rocks, gravel, and many roots.  The trail was used primarily for mountain bikers.  Like most bike trails in the area, the terrain is rugged for runners in general and barefoot runners in particular.  

I was running barefoot and encountered several sections that required me to slow to a 14 minute/mile pace to traverse.  Shelly was wearing her Vibram KSOs

I was running behind her as I was tired from a crosstraining workout and five mile run I did earlier in the morning.  About a half mile into the run, she stumbled, took a few more steps, and stopped.  Immediately I knew something was wrong.  Shelly never stops.

I asked her what happened.  She said she caught the pinky toe of her right foot on a root and it bent laterally.  Her silence was the best indicator that it was pretty serious.  She started walking, then tried running.  Her obvious limp and grimace betrayed her attempts to play it cool. 
We stopped and examined the toe.  It was red an swelling; it did not look good.  

We were still about a half mile to a mile from our car, so we decided to keep moving.  Shelly put the KSO back on and tried running.  It was too painful.  She tried walking.  Again, it was too painful.  In typical Shelly fashion, she took off the shoes, walked a few steps, then took off her socks.  She ran the rest of the loop barefoot (one mile) with the broken toe. 

It is doing better today and will likely only sideline her for a few days.  She has a freakishly high pain tolerance, so she will probably push through any pain when she begins running again.  

The point of the story- barefoot or minimalist shoe running does present some dangers.  I broke a toe in 2007 in the middle of a 50 miler.  It happens.  When weighing the decision to run barefoot, realize it is not without risk.  Personally, I think the benefits FAR outweigh the risks, but the risks are real.

In Other News

I am currently reading The Barefoot Book by Dr. Daniel Howell.  While it is not specific to barefoot running, it is the perfect companion to the barefoot running books currently on the market.  I will give a full review soon, and will be holding a contest to give a copy away to one of my readers. 

Even More News

The second edition of The Barefoot Running Book is nearing completion.  I will be sharing the details as soon as possible, maybe immediately after Burning River next weekend.  It includes many new sections, a rewritten introduction, pictures, and contributions from many of the leaders in our field.  

I am planning on making it available via pre-order at a discount if there appears to be enough interest. 


  1. That was a great post and a great warning to a beginner like me, has not put me off though, as you say the benefits out way the risks so slowly and carefully for me!

  2. I recently broke toe #4 (right next to my pinky toe) while running with my dog--he was distracted by a little birdie that he wanted to chase, ran in front of me, and I accidentally kicked him, breaking my toe. Most of the pain is gone during regular activities (walking to/from work, etc.), but I'm concerned about running again because it might slow or impede the healing process. Do most of you continue to run and does the toe heal properly?

  3. How about a giveaway of your book?

  4. Dang...tell Shelly I hope she gets better.

  5. eh i've heard about people doing that in both Vibrams and now barefoot. sounds painful. definitely something i'll look out for while trail running. hope she heals up.

  6. 12,000 miles later after 3 yrs of Barefoot Running and I can share that I have had zero injuries. Why? 2 reasons... The first rule of going Barefoot is become aware of where you put your feet! All animals in nature that have feet do all the time as ignorance can be fatal. We humans as a group don't grow up being willing to train our focus upon such areas until we have suffered enough pain. The 2nd is knowing when to call it a day when you have gone beyond the fitness of your feet for the day. I love learning from every footstep. Thats how I stay focused.

  7. Those are good topic to discuss...injuries is usual in shoes...sometime it about us how to prevent it...