barefoot-running-burweedThere is no shortage of people warning barefoot runners about the dangers of stepping on sharp objects while out running around without shoes. So, it is with no small amount of irony that I discovered myself wincing in pain one day from having waded into a patch of prickly plants.

You see, I love running on grass. It just feels like I am more in touch with nature, and well, it is also a little softer on the feet. I don’t run barefoot 100% of the time, I usually wear Vibram Five Fingers, so my feet aren’t as tough or thick as a pure barefoot runner. Because of this, the grass fields in my local parks usually make a nice place to train at. That was not the case this Spring.

While out for a run, I managed to wander into a patch of Lawn Burweed.

These prickly little plants crops up in the springtime, making themselves a nuisance to any animal unlucky enough to step on them. Being unlucky that day, some of the burs left tiny thorns in my foot. Many of them were so small they were difficult to remove right away. By the time I got back to my car they were well lodged into the bottom of my foot.

Once back in the safety of my vehicle, I set about removing the splinters as best I could, but as I pulled them out it was obvious to me that small parts were left in my skin. Seeing as they were practically microscopic, I figured they wouldn’t pose too much of a problem.

For the first couple days after the incident, my foot was a little tender, like having a dozen bee stings on the bottom of it. After a week there wasn’t much pain anymore so thought the ordeal was over. However, I soon discovered a small blister had formed on the bottom of one foot.

It looked liked a water-blister but I knew it had to be from one of those tiny thorns. I contacted Dr. Michael Nirenberg, a prominent podiatrist and blogger about barefoot running and foot health. He was gracious enough to give me some helpful advice on handling this prickly situation:

Any foreign body that penetrates our feet can cause pain, infection or trigger an allergic reaction. Common signs and symptoms of infection are redness, swelling, an open wound, and/or drainage or pus.

Most small foreign objects that enter are feet and are relatively superficial and clean, can often be removed with tweezers (be sure to first clean the tweezers and area with plenty of alcohol). If you cannot remove the foreign body with tweezers, the next best thing to do is soak your foot in warm water and Epsom salts. Often, soaking repeatedly will draw the object out. In either case, be sure to apply topical antibiotic ointment for a few days and watch the area to make sure no infection starts. When you cannot remove the object or your foot looks infected, you should promptly see a podiatrist or go to the emergency room.

As much as I love barefoot activity, if you are walking or running in an area where there is the risk of injury from a burr, splinter, or other small objects, you should consider wearing a minimalist shoe (such as Vibram Five Fingers or Vivo Barefoot). Minimalist shoes will give your feet some protection from foreign bodies while still allowing your foot (and whole body) to enjoy the benefits of barefoot activity.

The good doctor was definitely right. As much as I love running barefoot on the grass, it is much more prudent to wear my Vibram Five Fingers when I am not absolutely sure the area is suitable for that kind of activity. I was able to remove the thorns safely, but the irritation and discomfort that they caused will certainly encourage me to be more mindful about my training locations in the future.

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7 Responses to Dealing With Thorns From Barefoot Running

  1. James D says:

    I’ve been running barefoot / minimalist since November 2009. I run barefoot when I know the route is going to be smooth paving or grass and wear my VivoBarefoot Evos when it’s a little more rough. From what I’ve read VivoBarefoot shoes are the only ones that are properly puncture resistant (teflon I think) where as VFF are not.

  2. David Csonka says:

    James,
    For these particular plants, I think the VFF’s will be suitable for protection. Like I said, their little thorns are extremely tiny, I would say they barely qualify as thorns. For bigger spines though, I think you would be right about the Vivo Barefoot shoes. I did a review of the Oaks in an earlier post. I recently went for some jogs in theme while on vacation and was extremely happy with how they felt on the run.

  3. Justin says:

    I just had to deal with a similar situation with my lab. She stepped on some burs in the grass and was limping around so I had to get liquid bandage (for animals) and apply it to her paws. I figured the pads of her feet were tough enough but apparently I was wrong.

  4. David Csonka says:

    You were complaining about how bad that stuff stung, I feel bad for your dog now. We need to napalm the entire town and get rid of these weeds.

  5. Justin says:

    Either she is a lot tougher than I am or the stuff they created for dogs is different because she didn’t show any signs of pain, which I was worried about but figured it was better than her limping around.
    And it’s kind of ironic how getting back to nature (barefoot running) can lead to the desire to destroy nature, haha.

  6. David Csonka says:

    Yeah, well nature started it. lol

  7. susan says:

    my experience with jogging in grass was to get stung by a bee on two separate occasions at the same park near my house. you’d think i would’ve learned after the first time! i recently tried walking barefoot there but the grass was so thick and full of weeds i wasn’t sure what i would step in-and did end up with some kind of thorn in my foot. at least it came right out!