Podiatrist puts his foot down Doctor prescribes exercising without shoes

Dr. Adam Brown, podiatrist at Carolina Foot Specialists, is a strong believer in strengthen the foot by going barefoot and plans to run the Cooper River Bridge Run barefooted. David Quick/postandcourier.com

I've read about and written quite a bit about running and exercising barefooted in recent years and, frankly, felt like I have exhausted the subject. Besides, it seems so 2009.

In a nutshell, proponents say the modern exercise shoe is the root of nearly all injuries because its cushioning and built-up heel allow us to have a poor, inefficient gait, such as heel striking. Opponents say the modern shoe is needed for modern times when the human foot is exposed to so many different stresses and unnatural expectations, such as all that's involved with running 26.2 miles on pavement.

But what caught my attention was when a local podiatrist, who belongs to a profession not exactly endeared to the minimalist approach, came forward saying he was a believer in bare feet and certain shoes that mimic walking or running barefooted.

In fact, Dr. Adam Brown of Carolina Foot Specialists is such an advocate that he ran last Thanksgiving's Turkey Day Run 5K in bare feet, with temperatures in the 40s, and is preparing to run the Cooper River Bridge Run 10K sans shoes on April 6.

His experiment of one, he admits, along with research out of Harvard University and other reputable institutions has changed the way he practices medicine.

That change originated in 2004, when the former College of Charleston baseball player trained for his first marathon and became attuned with the body's ability to respond to physical stresses by adapting and getting stronger.

Two years later, however, Brown starting having nagging injuries, including a daily ache on the outside of his foot.

“It wasn't debilitating. I tried every orthotic and every shoe and nothing worked. As a podiatrist, it was so frustrating,” says Brown, adding the injury was bad enough that he gave himself a cortisone injection.

As the shoe industry responded to demand for minimalist shoes, Brown tried a pair of Vivobarefootwork shoes and was stunned with what happened next.

“Within four days, the pain was gone,” says Brown, noting that minimalist shoes allow increased “sensory input” that self-corrected his gait.

As his foot strengthened, he started running barefooted and started prescribing a form of gradual barefoot therapy to most patients, though not diabetics with neuropathy or anyone with a painful gait or limp.

“I had a belief that anything can be healed and strengthened up, but we have to let the body do it naturally,” says Brown, who is 41. “Everyone loves to be barefoot, but we've been convinced over the last 20 years that we have to wear shoes in the house and that our feet are weak.”

But there are caveats for retraining your feet: Namely, it has to be gradual and after any aggravated symptoms have been eliminated.

Then, he suggests going barefooted for 15 minutes a day inside your house for a week. If all goes well, double it every consecutive week.

His experiment of one has now turned into hundreds, as he successfully has prescribed barefoot therapy to patients with conditions such as the ubiquitous plantar fasciitis.

“If we can get you better and then build you up (with barefoot walking or running), you can be without pain,” insists Brown.