Because barefoot or minimalist running and walking require a considerable adjustment period, especially for those accustomed to well-cushioned sneakers, it’s wise to start very gradually. The foot must build muscular strength and toughen its connective tissues before it can run much distance free from shoe support.
Barefoot running is often referred to as forefoot running, because the forefoot makes the first contact with the ground, rather than the heel. This can feel like “falling into a run” and working with gravity. Consequently, the runner must take quicker and shorter steps, being cautious of overextending the knees, which should be slightly flexed at all times.
Due to these natural biomechanics, the Achilles tendon takes the most beating and is most prone to injury. This tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel, cushioning the forefoot strike and contracting every time the foot leaves the ground. For individuals unaccustomed to forefoot running, the Achilles tendon is at risk. Gradually increasing running distance and speed gives the tendon time to develop strength.
A torn Achilles tendon is best treated by resting the foot when possible and applying ice several times a day during the first four days after the injury. After two or three days, alternating applications of ice and heat will facilitate blood flow to the area for more healing, as will stretching the Achilles tendon and muscles of the calves very slowly and gently.
Cross-fibering will also increase blood flow and reduce scar tissue. This technique involves applying focused pressure to and around the injury by quickly strumming fingers across the stringy muscle fibers for a few minutes several times a day.
Slava Kolpakov, LMT, is a runner and the founder of East West Massage Therapy Center, in Newtonville. He works with athletes and treats injuries using the Thai Muscular Therapy system that he developed. For more information, visit EastWestMassageTherapy.com.