Many of you may already know I have always been interested in gait and foot anatomy. After all, once your foot hits the ground, depending on position, foot fall, arch, surface, forces etc. it will effect your entire muscular-skeletal static and functional anatomy. Most shoes, depending on their shape, can negatively affect your posture and put undue stresses on your body, specifically tightening your calves and your entire posterior chain all the way up to your occiput. This is why high heels are a big culprit in headache production! There is abundant research stating that those of us who wear shoes or live in a shoe society have a lot more foot problems than those who reside in a barefoot community:
1- Shakoor N, Block JA (2006). “Walking barefoot decreases loading on the lower extremity joints in knee osteoarthritis”. Arthritis Rheum. 54 (9): 2923–7. (found that shoes may increase stresses on the knee and ankle, and suggested that adults with osteoarthritis may benefit from walking barefoot).
2- Rao UB, Joseph B (1992). “The influence of footwear on the prevalence of flat foot. A survey of 2300 children”. The Journal of bone and joint surgery. British volume 74 (4): 525–7 (found that children who wore shoes were three times more likely to have flat feet than those who did not, and suggested that wearing shoes in early childhood can be detrimental to the longitudinal arch of the foot).
3- Staheli LT (1991). “Shoes for children: a review”. Pediatrics 88 (2): 371–5. (found that barefoot walking supported optimum foot development, and the best use of shoes are to protect the foot from injury rather than for correction of problems).
When one is barefoot it stimulates your foot’s proprioception, balance, dexterity, flexibility and strength. A shoe, especially a tight one with a big heal (this includes men as most sneakers or dress shoes have at least a one inch heel) occludes your feet from feeling the environment which effectively handicaps them. Moreover, your brain wants to feel the ground beneath you and cushioned shoes make that more difficult so that when you step down you must use more force which in turn puts increased stress on your joints. Because most babies/toddlers don’t wear shoes, they have 3 to 4 times the foot dexterity and relative strength compared with an adult. That flexibility, strength and dexterity diminish precipitously once they start wearing shoes. Due to the extreme flatness of most ground surfaces in our concrete world, our feet and gait are rarely challenged. This problem is compounded by wearing sensory-depriving, super-cushioned shoes (effectively dumbing down our sensory motor units). If you do not challenge the tissues of your lower leg (or any neuromuscular system of your body) on a regular basis it will not adapt and in fact will get weaker! That being said, if you have serious structural abnormalities such as leg length discrepancies or congenital skeletal conditions, orthopedic aids or other interventions may be necessary. I know it is not practical or advisable to walk around NYC barefoot, yuck, but there are some alternatives. As a side note, I have a non-existent congenital arch, a few hammer toes, moderate pronation and big feet to boot. You could say my feet are not perfect. But over the last few years I have not had any pain or issues with my feet. I think this is largely due to the fact I have spent more time barefoot and been wearing barefoot shoes. There are now lots of companies making minimal shoes these days; including Nike, Reebok, Merrill, New Balance and Vibram just to name a few. I have tried all of them (except the god awful looking “Vibram 5 Fingers”). Not one of them is perfect, some have too much cushioning, a tight toe box, elevated heels, a curved shape, too much support etc. However, there is a small company called VIVOBAREFOOT that I believe makes the best “barefoot” shoe on the market. They are not perfect yet but they meet all my needs and feel the best. Here is the link:
In case you were wondering I do not get any sort of kick back for recommending these shoes.
Also Check out my article on the pro and cons of barefoot running: BarefootOrNot?