There is always debate about whether barefoot running is better for your feet than wearing trainers.
The average barefoot runner’s strde is about 7 cms shorter than normal. Therefore, as an example, over the course of a marathon, this translates to about 7,000 additional footfalls above the 40,000 steps a typical runner will take to cover the 26.2 miles.
However, kinematic and kinetic analysis show that, even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who forefoot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rearfoot strikers. This difference results primarily from a more plantarflexed foot at landing and more ankle compliance during impact, decreasing the effective mass of the body that collides with the ground.
The mechanics of running are changed quite significantly when shoes are used as opposed to natural, shoeless running where the lateral edge of the forefoot is the part that strikes the ground with the most force. Running in padded shoes typically alters this as more emphasis is placed on the heel and the area towards the back of the foot.
Many runners have switched to barefoot running for relief from chronic injuries. The structure of the foot and the lower leg is very efficient at absorbing the shock of landing and turning the energy of the fall into forward motion, through the springing action of the foot’s natural arch. It is only by placing large amounts of padding under the heel that humans are able to land on the heel rather than the ball of the foot. In doing so, the foot’s natural motion is impeded and the arch and lower leg are not able to absorb the shock of the landing. Instead, the shock is sent up through the heel, to the knees and hips.
The official position on barefoot running by the American Podiatric Medical Association states that there is not enough research on the immediate and long-term benefits of the practice.
Sources: The Nature Journal, Harvard University and The American Podiatric Medical Association