Advantages of being barefoot and not being barefoot.

To Be or Not To Be Barefoot?

The human body is truly remarkable. We have so many elaborate systems working in symmetry (hopefully!) to

The human body is truly remarkable. We have so many elaborate systems working in symmetry (hopefully!) to enable us to make it through the day. As pedorthists, one of these systems that we devote a fair bit of attention to is the feet. Each foot is made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. And to move, all of these structures have to coordinate with all of the structures above the feet. This system has been in place for millions of years so needless to say, we’ve had a few years to figure this walking thing out!

We constantly have patients coming through our clinic having been told not to be barefoot. Although this can be great short term advice (see below), we’re humans and are designed to be barefoot or in very low profile footwear. On the flip side, we see many patients who are so hard set on being barefoot (or in flat shoes), they miss out of some of the great short term tools available to get them through an injury and back to barefoot more quickly. So knowing how to use these tools without becoming reliant on them truly is the key!

This system [barefoot] has been in place for millions of years so needless to say, we’ve had a few years to figure this walking thing out!

When not to be barefoot

You're injured. Although there are a few injuries where barefoot work can help, in most cases when you're injured you'll want to go into bandaid mode and protect things. For example, if you are experiencing foot pain you might want to use protective shoes and/or orthotics to unload the trouble spot. At the same time, ideally we'd do the necessary things to fix the source of the injury (often mobility and strength work) and once healed, remove the protective shoes and/or orthotic. If you have the time and are motivated for the fix, you likely wouldn't need the orthotics/protective shoes for very long. If you're busy, you may need the bandaids for a bit longer and that's okay. No judgements as everyone's situation is unique, but just make sure you know how the bandaids fit into your overall treatment plan (both short term AND long term).

Your daily lifestyle is not nurturing the tools that we're born with. Sitting all day at work, wearing shoes that are elevated in the heel and/or too tight, and poor stress management can all make being barefoot more difficult. Like we said earlier, the body will move remarkably well without shoes if everything is working properly. However, if hip flexors are shortened, calves are tight, and feet are weak and/or misaligned, we may need to go to a more protective system to get us by. In a perfect world, we'd only use the protective system (orthotics, protective shoes, braces, etc) in the short term, fix the source, and then remove the protection.

When to be barefoot

You are injury free with no congenital or acquired deformities (which wouldn't necessarily exclude you from being barefoot, you'd just need to be a bit more careful). Functional strength and mobility will often determine how long you can be barefoot. Let pain be your guide. Our bodies are pretty good at giving us cues, we just don't tend to listen very well!

You're a young child.  How we humans learn to walk or run properly is by being able to react to the hard ground by landing as quietly and softly as possible. Because most children haven't become bridled with the tight hips from sitting and unhealthy feet from years of inappropriate footwear, they're perfect candidates to be staying barefoot!  If we wanted to protect a young child from a hot stove by putting a thick glove on their hand, think about how much dexterity they would lose in their fingers over the years along with never learning NOT to touch a hot stove.  It's the same thing with feet in most cases when we use built up protective shoes on our kids!  We will have a more in-depth post on fitting children's shoes coming soon- stay tuned.

You're walking or running.  Walking and running are activities that humans are designed to do.  Assuming everything is working the way it's supposed to (see #2 above), the less stuff we have under our feet the better.  Never walk or run barefoot with pain, but assuming you're pain free it's much more preventative for the long term to be without overly protective shoes.

As with most things medical, there is rarely one answer that’s best for everyone.  Try to do your best to keep your feet and body strong, mobile, and stress free and know when to use the bandaids to get through trouble spots more quickly when life gets in the way of the ‘perfect world’ scenario.

One thought on “To Be or Not To Be Barefoot?

Leave a Comment