We’ve spoken at length about the different kinds of shoes and the effects they can have on your feet. We’ve looked at topics such as which shoes are best for various sports, which shoes are beneficial for people with diabetes, as well as how to assess which shoes are best for your own feet in general. We’ve even looked at how different socks can affect your foot health in different ways. But one topic we have rarely touched on is that of bare feet.
There are undoubtedly many benefits to wearing shoes. They protect our feet from cuts and grazes, they make it more comfortable to walk or stand for extended periods of time, and they can even offer additional support and help correct issues with the shape of the feet, such as bunions or fallen arches. But the fact that there are benefits to wearing shoes does not mean we should be wearing them all the time.
The primary benefit of going barefoot is that it allows your feet the chance to assume their natural position. Even well-fitting shoes do not perfectly replicate the natural shape of the feet, and most of us do not even wear the correct or best type of shoes for us. When you go barefoot, you eliminate the risk that parts of the feet, such as the arches or toes, are pushed too far one way or the other.
It is important to remember that human feet have evolved over the course of millions of years, whereas shoes are a relatively new addition. Evolution simply has not had time to adjust to the fact that we are now wrapping our feet up, which means that the way we walk or stand in practice is subtly, but crucially, different to how our bodies are designed to do so. As we have discussed before, even the slightest deviation in how we walk or stand can lead to problems all over the body, such as weakened leg or hip muscles, or lower-back pain. Going barefoot, even just occasionally, gives your body a break from these deviations and allows it to return to the neutral position.
Apart from causing these kinds of shifts in your body, wearing shoes can also be quite restrictive from a purely mechanical perspective. Certain types of shoes limit your movement, which over time will limit your range of motion and flexibility, which makes it more likely that you will sustain an injury such as a sprain or fall. Similarly, muscles like the plantar intrinsic muscles, those on the soles of our feet, are used less and grow weaker over time.
Going barefoot also gives your feet a chance to escape a humid environment and breathe, as well as experience less friction, both of which can cause very common issues such as blisters or infection.
Of course, the main risk with bare feet is that you will step on something that could injure you, which is why it is important to choose where you bare your feet carefully. At home is the best option, as not only can you ensure the ground is clean and safe, but you will be able to make time to free your feet on a daily basis.
Sand, grass, or most naturally occurring terrains are perfect for allowing your feet to move exactly as they were designed to do, you just need to be aware of any concealed objects such as broken glass or thorns. Uneven, rocky, or concreted areas are best avoided.
Whether you’re a runner trying to improve your time, or just someone who takes an active interest in being as healthy as possible, there are plenty of advantages to going barefoot every so often. The key takeaways here are that this is a lifestyle choice rather than a quick fix, so it will take time to reap the benefits, and that those benefits will only be felt as long as you are also wearing the proper footwear.