Varicose Veins and Barefoot Running

Last month, we talked about how your shoes affect existing varicose veins. Varicose veins are largely due to poor circulation – and often due to footwear that’s overly constricting or puts undue pressure on your toes or the balls of your feet.

If you like to run regularly – whether it’s a means to unwind, meditate, or get in some exercise – your feet are doing extra work. And if you’re wearing the wrong shoes, you risk making any existing varicose veins worse – or, if you don’t have any spider veins, putting yourself at risk for earning some.

Barefoot running has been a subject of hot debate for many years. From the birth of thickly cushioned Nikes in the 1960s to Chris McDougall’s best-selling Born to Run in 2009 to the “weightless” performance-focused running shoes on the market today, running with minimal or no shoes is a concept that makes for some pretty fascinating dinner party discussion.

What’s the deal with barefoot running?

Put simply, “barefooting” proponents argue that our heavily cushioned, walking-on-a-cloud, orthotic tennis shoes are actually making our feet weaker and making us more susceptible to injury. Walking or running barefoot, on the other hand, is something we’ve been doing since we were walking upright – and it completely changes the way we run.

And while it might get lost in the heated debate that usually ensues when this topic is introduced, the main idea to take away from barefooters is that running in a way that’s natural for our bodies can significantly reduce injuries, improve performance, and take the pain out of endurance running.

McDougall (of Born to Run) puts it this way: “…ultimately, the debate isn’t about Bare Soles vs. Shoes. It’s about learning to run gently. Master that, and you can wear — or not wear — anything you please.”

Can going barefoot reduce varicose veins?

You might think that going barefoot actually puts more stress on your feet than wearing shoes does – which would cause more problems with varicose veins. But our feet are designed to interact with and respond to the surfaces they come in contact with – and are stronger for it.

When you give your feet breathing – or really, walking – room outside of the confines of conventional sneakers, you also improve circulation in the veins in your legs. That means a reduction in existing varicose veins and lower likelihood of developing new varicose veins.

We can’t endorse going barefoot without using proper form and technique, but if you master the method, barefooting or walking/running in minimalist shoes has been shown to reduce the stress on your legs.

How do you start going barefoot?

As with most things, it’s best to start out slowly – very slowly – with barefooting. Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple and The Primal Blueprint lays out a series of steps for beginner barefooters. Sisson recommends first rolling out the feet and calves with a lacrosse ball, then moving onto foot strengthening exercises; when you’re ready to start walking, complete gradually increasing distances until you’re running for miles at a time.

Need a visual? Watch this video from the Barefoot professor:

Chris McDougall also visited the offices of the New York Times to demonstrate proper barefooting technique to staffers. Watch his lesson here:

Not ready to go full-on barefoot?

Don’t worry. Most people aren’t. The running techniques that people use when barefoot running are still great to use in your regular shoe. Any way you can reduce the stress on your legs will not only help you reduce the risk of developing varicose veins but can also reduce the risk of other running-related injuries.

If you have already started to develop varicose veins or would like to learn more about preventing them, call Dr. McMullen today.