In my last column I described the emerging trend of barefoot running. This is a misleading term because barefoot runners don’t actually run without wearing shoes. Instead, the trend is about taking the thick soles and supportive structures away from running shoes.

These “barefoot” shoes allow a more natural stride in which the forefoot hits the ground first. Moving away from the heavy heel strike, researchers say, reduces the risk of some overuse injuries. These shoes may also help runners build strength and balance. Most running companies now offer some form of minimalist shoe.

I have been running in one of the latest styles of barefoot shoes all summer, and I can say it represents a real difference.

At the front of the barefoot movement is the FiveFingers shoe, made by Vibram. This is the most distinctive minimalist shoe on the market because it doesn’t have a traditional toe box. Each toe is encased in its own shoe unit.

The difference with the Vibram experience begins with the fit. Unlike most shoes, the FiveFingers don’t come in regular sizes. Vibram suggests that wearers trace the outline of their foot on a piece of paper and then measure from the heel to the longest toe.

This makes a big difference because one of the first things you’ll notice about the FiveFingers is how snugly they fit. Putting them on is a little bit like putting on a glove.

The FiveFingers shoes are snug and comfortable. Vibram recommends a program of very gradually increasing mileage in them, and I started with walks of a couple of miles.

I felt soreness almost immediately. My calf muscles and the tiny muscles between my toes were clearly getting a workout. After a few days, things went back to normal and I was ready for a run.

That’s where the real difference became apparent. My stride shortened, I began landing on my toes and each step felt lighter.

I took a month to work up to 3-mile runs and haven’t had any injury problems.

I haven’t retired my regular training shoes, but the FiveFingers are definitely a great addition to my workouts. For long runs and hot days, socks are helpful for moisture control.

And the feeling of running in the FiveFingers? It’s not really like what most of us think of as being barefoot. Instead, remember what it felt like walking around in the end of the summer when you were 7 and hadn’t worn shoes since the last day of school? That feeling, the freedom of feeling the ground under your feet tempered by the protection of sturdy calluses, is a big reason FiveFingers shoes are a hit with runners.

For runners with a more conservative approach, companies such as Newton, Saucony and New Balance all make minimalist shoes. These have a more traditional toe box and thin soles. Runners will recognize some of these shoes as being a little bit like track shoes or stripped-down racing flats. Others, such as shoes made by Nike and Asics, have more cushioning but little structure.

Though it’s not for everyone, most runners could benefit from folding a few barefoot workouts into their schedule. Go slowly, let your stride adapt to the new shoes and you may find that running in them makes you feel like a kid again.

Dr. James Glazer is a sports medicine physician for Coastal Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Freeport. He serves as a consultant for the U.S. ski team.