TOFP, or Top Of Foot Pain, in VFF Runners


A common issue experienced by some “VFF runners“, that is runners who run in Vibram FiveFingers, or really any minimalist running shoe, is a pain known as “Top Of the Foot Pain“, a.k.a TOFP.

top of foot pain (tofp)Top of Foot Pain is a pain that the runner experiences on the top of his foot, literally. The almost flat surface of the top of his foot. It does not come from being banged or twisted or sprained, or any other noticeable injury, so it is a bit of an enigma. It just hurts.

What Causes TOFP?

What causes Top of Foot Pain (TOFP)?

That is the big question. There are a variety of answers, and nobody seems to really be sure, or else perhaps it is better stated that it seems different things can cause TOFP.

The main cause of TOFP seems to be the runner getting ahead of himself (or herself). If the runner takkes on too much too soon, the TOFP seems to be a fairly common result. If the runner starts running distances that are too great too soon, and he does not properly build up to it slowly, it often results in TOFP.

The muscles used in barefoot/minimalist running are different than those used in shod running. No matter what distances you were running in shoes, when you switch to barefoot running, you are basically starting over from scratch, building up a  completely different set of muscles. If you ran a marathon two weeks ago in shoes and then decide to start running barefoot, you still have to start running distances of 1-3 kilometers, not 20 or 25 kilometers.

The TOFP is a symptom of the adaptation the anatomy of your foot is undergoing, with different parts being stretched and extended.

Another cause of TOFP is possibly an actual injury, such as tendonitis. There is no bruising or swelling, but it is painful.

A third possible cause of TOFP is running with improper form. If you are running with improper form, it stretches and extends different tendons and ligaments and stresses the foot in bad ways. It could be either the way your foot lands and extends, or it could be not landing under the center of mass.

I would not categorize this as a different cause of TOFP, but it is commonly experienced in, or after, downhill running. The cause is really the same as above, improper landing of the foot causing poor extension of tendons.

How Do You Treat TOFP?

So, now that you are suffering from TOFP, you probably want to know how to get rid of it, and even more importantly how to ensure that you don’t get TOFP again.

The main solutions, as long as we are not in a situation of an actual injury, is generally to rest a bit, and tone down your runs. Run shorter distances, less frequently (i.e. add an extra day of rest in between runs), until your body adapts to the barefoot running.

This is really the main issue beginner barefoot runners have in general, no matter in what form it appears – they think they have been running for years and can just go out and run. They end up overdoing it without realizing. They don’t give their bodies the chance to adapt to the new style. The result is running with bad form, possible injuries, not benefiting from the benefits of barefoot running, and the like.

So, the main thing is to take it easy. Shorter runs, increasing the distance gradually. Add a day of rest either in between each run or even if just one extra day of rest over the course of the week. Let the body adapt to the new style, and pretty quickly you will be running and not getting Top of the Foot Pain. Run relaxed. Let your body be comfortable.

Some other things you can do is to analyze your running form, figure out what you can adjust, how you can land better, how you can distribute your weight more properly.

To resolve the pain you can massage the foot, rub your toes, stretch your toes down with your opposite hand while pointing your foot, and most importantly get rest.

Properly Fitted Barefoot Running Shoes

And last but not least, make sure you are running in a pair of VFF that are both fit properly to your foot and designed optimally for running. I personally love running in the Vibram FiveFinger Bikila barefoot running shoes. the Bikila is designed specifically for run. There are only minor differences between each of the different models, but every little bit makes a difference at this level of running, and it could be the difference between an enjoyable run and a less than pleasant experience.

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