Barefoot Running Expert Joins HMS

Irene S. Davis, an expert on the biomechanics of barefoot running, will join the faculty of Harvard Medical School as a member of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.

She will head the new Spaulding National Running Center, devoted to both preventing and treating running-related injuries.

Davis, herself an advocate for and practitioner of barefoot running, will leave her post at the University of Delaware this spring.

“I’ve always really wanted to develop a national center of excellence for the rehabilitation and treatment of running injuries,” Davis said.

“Boston being a mecca for medicine, science, and running, it seemed like the right place.”

Davis said the center will be comprised of a clinic and biomechanics laboratory.

Davis also said she will participate in the Harvard On The Move initiative by offering lectures and demonstrations on barefoot running.

“Her expertise will not only serve to enrich the spectrum of care we can offer, but will be a great resource to the dynamic running community that exists in our region,” Ross D. Zafonte, Head of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, said in a statement released last week.

Davis has previously collaborated with Harvard professors on research.

“I think what’s phenomenal about Irene is that she combines a really solid research perspective on the mechanics of running with practical knowledge from the physical training side,” said Daniel E. Lieberman ’86, Harvard professor of human evolutionary biology, who collaborated with Davis on research his lab conducted on barefoot versus shod running.

Their research team found that barefoot runners have a significantly different “strike,” or landing stroke, from shod runners.

They showed that barefoot runners tend to spread landing force more evenly over time because they land toward the middle of their feet.

In contrast, shod runners experience a large and potentially damaging spike of landing force because they land on their heels. The results of the study were published in the journal Nature in January 2010.

Lieberman said he and Davis have already planned further collaborative research, which he said will be aided by the fact that she will now be “just a few blocks from the lab.”

—Staff writer Benjamin M. Scuderi can be reached at bscuderi@college.harvard.edu.

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