Is Going Barefoot Bad for Your Feet?

Is Going Barefoot Bad for Your Feet?

Before the invention of shoes, people walked around barefoot or with minimal protection. Then the first type of “shoe” was merely a scrap of leather wrapped around the foot and secured with a strip of rawhide. But if you think that what was good enough for your ancestors is good enough for you, think again.

Here, Dr. Bryan King, our fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon at Tuscaloosa Orthopedic & Joint Institute in Alabama, explains why going au naturel is a bad idea. 

Understanding foot mechanics

Your feet and ankles are complex machines. They contain 28 bones, 112 ligaments, and 33 joints, all controlled by 34 muscles. Your feet are rigid, yet flexible, structures that bear your weight, facilitate balance, absorb shock, and adapt to uneven terrain. 

When you walk, several things occur with each step — your heel makes contact with the ground, then your weight shifts forward, engaging your midfoot. At this point, your arch relaxes and pronates (rolls inward) to distribute your weight evenly. 

As your body continues forward, the weight shifts again, your feet supinate (roll outward), and you lift your heel as you push off your toes. This process is called your gait.

Given the multiple bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles at play, feet are always at risk for problems. Some of the most common issues are:

If you experience any of these conditions, you may feel the repercussions all the way up your legs and into your hips and back.

Shoes, however, are the great equalizers. The right shoes can correct these problems and the complications they often trigger.

The downside to going barefoot

Going barefoot feels great, whether you’re at the beach wiggling your toes in the sand or strolling on soft grass. At home, you may have a “no shoes” policy for cultural or sanitation reasons. But there are many ways going shoeless can harm your feet. Here are a few of them.

Going barefoot leaves your feet vulnerable

The most basic reason to wear shoes is for protection. Shoes prevent cuts, scrapes, and stubbed toes. And if you drop something heavy that lands on your foot, shoes will deflect some of the force and may mitigate injury.

Unshod feet, especially in public areas like gyms and pools, run the risk of picking up a fungal infection like athlete’s foot or plantar warts. We recommend that you always wear sandals or shower shoes when walking through damp, public areas.

In extreme weather, shoes also protect you from the elements. Imagine walking around downtown Tuscaloosa this summer without shoes on — the scorching pavement would cause serious burns. 

Likewise, cold and snowy climates can damage your skin just as easily as the heat if you don’t wear shoes.

Going barefoot compromises your gait

Without the support of a good pair of shoes, each step you take causes your ligaments to become more lax and loose. Specifically, it weakens your plantar fascia, which is the long band of tough tissue that goes from your heel to the base of your toes. 

Walking around shoeless eventually weakens your muscles and arches too, which leads to overpronation and all of the complications that implies — unstable ankles, painful knees and hips, and an aching back.

Going barefoot makes existing problems worse

If you already have a foot or ankle problem, such as plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the plantar fascia), you need all of the cushioning and support you can get. 

You may also exacerbate heel spurs, bony growths caused by built-up calcium deposits that often compress nearby nerves. And if you have a neuroma, a pinched nerve in the ball of your foot, walking without shoes can be excruciating.

Going barefoot is a no-no for diabetics

Because diabetes is known to damage nerves, especially in the feet, it’s often difficult to tell if you’ve sustained a cut or scrape. Untreated, these breaches allow bacteria to enter your skin and infection to set in. 

That’s why it’s important for all diabetics to inspect their feet daily and to wear proper-fitting shoes religiously. 

Is it ever safe to go barefoot?

Yes! In the safety of your own home, feel free to kick off your shoes and enjoy the feel of carpet under your toes. But don’t overdo it. For example, if you’re cooking all day in a kitchen with hard tile floors, do yourself a favor and wear some supportive shoes. Your feet and your body will thank you at the end of the day.

If you’re experiencing foot or ankle pain, going barefoot may be the reason, or it may be exacerbating an existing condition. To find out for sure, schedule an appointment with Dr. King by calling us at 205-391-4440 today. 

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