Football leads to concussions. Does running lead to “foot concussions”?

Can you guess what these two athletes have in common?



On your left, John Krahn. Seven feet tall, 440 pounds. On your right, Jessica Trengove, 5’5″, 115 pounds.

Have you guessed yet?

The answer is as far on opposite ends of the athletes themselves as the athletes are far from each other in stature.

Here’s a hint: Krahn’s head… and Trengove’s feet.

The answer: FORCE.

Football players send a LOT of force through their helmets and into their heads, leading to concussions. Check out the Will Smith movie, Concussion, for a revealing look into this phenomenon.

Runners send a lot of force through their shoes, into their feet, ankles, knees, hips and back, leading to all manner of joint injuries. I think we should start calling these “foot concussions.”

The “solutions” offered to both athletes has been the same for decades: more and more padding, shock absorbing technology, high-tech materials to handle the high-impact forces.

And I put the word solutions in quotes because none of these interventions have eliminated, or even reduced, the problem.

But barefoot runners have been offering a solution is for both athletes:

To reduce injury, runners should take off their shoes. Football players should take off their helmets!

Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman showed how removing your shoes can lead to running form changes that reduce force through your joints. How does this happen? Because the form you adopt when running in padded footwear, ironically, puts MORE force through your joints. When you try to run barefoot with a “shoe wearing gait,” it HURTS… and so, to avoid the pain, you’ll learn to run with a gait that, instead of relying on footwear padding, uses the natural shock absorbers built into your body — your muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

(BTW, most “minimalist” shoes have enough padding that you don’t get the form-change inspiring feedback. That’s why Xero Shoes use our FeelTrue® rubber to give you just-right protection.)

Well, this just in from the “No surprise” category: “Helmetless-tackling training intervention reduced head impacts in collegiate football players within 1 season.

I know you’ll find this screamingly obvious, but when football players take off their helmets so they can no longer use their heads as the front end of a battering ram, they naturally stop this concussion-causing behavior.


So the REAL solution seems obvious. Why aren’t people rioting in the street for the eradication of helmets and 2″ thick padded running shoes?

I think there are two reasons, inertia and vested interests.

By “inertia” I mean that we’ve now had more than 2 generations of “we need better helmets/shoes.” That’s enough time to inculcate the idea that “more = better.” It takes time and effort to get people to stop believing “common wisdom” and change directions. It’s not easy to make a big boat do a U-turn. It took almost a generation to reduce the incidence of smoking after it was proven that smoking is bad for you.

Vested interests? Well this one’s easy. Big companies are making billions of dollars on head-smashing football games and on foot coddling running shoes. Billion dollar companies would rather argue that they’re correct — in the face of glaring evidence to the contrary — than say, “Wow, we’ve had our heads totally up our butts for the last 40 years and caused you all a TON of injuries. Sorry ’bout that!”

This is why any seeming “pro-barefoot” news is immediately jumped on by shoe companies, and why any news that could possibly be spun into “anti-barefoot” is, well, spun like a top, regardless of the facts. For example, shoe companies jumped on the class action lawsuit against Vibram as “proof” that barefoot is bad for you, when neither the suit itself or the fact that the lawsuit settled for essentially pennies, suggested anything of the sort.

What to do?

I wish I had a great answer, since getting people into footwear that supports natural movement and ground feel is our company’s and my personal mission.

I guess I’ll start by attending football games the same way I attend every day of my life: barefoot or in Xero Shoes

The content of this post does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about your health or a medical condition.