This Article is About
human foot
shoe companies
conventional wisdom
forefoot
arch support
runners
joints
shoes
The Benefits Of Barefoot
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The Benefits Of Barefoot

Conventional wisdom tells us that the human foot is delicate, fragile, and injury-prone on its own. In order to be at all useful for walking or running, our feet have to be modified with thick heel cushioning, arch support, and an assortment of other features. Supposedly, humans are the only animal whose feet are completely unsuited to the function they are designed for.

But the foot is actually a highly effective biomechanical device, fine-tuned over millions of years of evolution. More and more studies are showing that the clunky, restrictive shoes the shoe companies are selling us actually interfere with the way our foot is naturally meant to function. Going barefoot (or wearing minimalist “barefoot” shoes) can make your feet healthier in many ways. In fact, there is evidence that barefoot runners experience fewer injuries.

Lower Impact on Joints

Despite all the R&D effort that goes into creating shoes with better and better cushioning, barefoot runners have been shown to have lower collision forces than runners in shoes. There are a few reasons for this.

Barefoot runners naturally land with the forefoot or midfoot, where the many joints in the foot and ankle work to absorb the impact. If you tried to land on your heel while barefoot, the impact would be very painful. Your body instinctively avoids the harsh impact of a heel-strike running style. This is a natural feedback mechanism that prevents you from running in a way that is harmful to your joints.

Most shoes make it difficult not to land with your heel because your foot is somewhat locked into position and the heel cushioning sticks out the farthest. The thick padded heel also encourages heel-strike by allowing you to do it without pain (although the impact still transfers up through your joints).

Also, your body relies on feedback from the ground for your sense of balance. When you wear heavily cushioned shoes that dampen your feel of the ground, your body overcompensates by striking down harder.

Strengthened Arches

The foot is actually a complex network of bones, joints, connective tissues, and muscles. If you don’t use these muscles and ligaments, they tend to get weak and atrophied. Your arch in particular is weakened, especially by shoes with arch support. This can lead to fallen arches or flat feet. This is especially true for children whose feet are still developing. Children who wear shoes prior to age 6 have a much higher chance of developing flat feet than those who don’t.

Arch support in particular is an idea that makes no sense. In architecture, the arch shape is well known for its weight-bearing capacity. When you push down on an arch, the parts mesh tighter and the arch gets stronger. Sticking a support under to push up from underneath only weakens the structure and defeats the entire purpose.

If you start spending time barefoot, the musculature in your foot will strengthen over time. Some people even go down in shoe size as their arches get higher. If you are starting with flat feet, this is a very good thing.

Stronger, More Flexible Calves and Achilles Tendons

Since you land with the forefoot or midfoot when you go barefoot, your calf muscles provide a lot of the shock absorption. If you are heel-striking in shoes, your calves and Achilles tendons will weaken just like your arches. When you first start going barefoot you will feel the difference in how much work your calves are doing.

Also, your ankle sits at about 90 degrees while standing barefoot. Since most shoes are much thicker at the heel than at the toes, your foot is placed into a slightly extended position. This means that with shoes, you tend to develop tight calves that need to be stretched out. Going barefoot will help you to develop long, supple calves.

Shoes Compress the Forefoot and Toes

Your toes are designed to spread out and provide balance adjustments. Your forefoot is meant to be wide enough to allow your toes to spread. Most shoes are at least somewhat pointed at the front, which compresses the front of your foot inward. Your feet may not feel compressed if you’ve been wearing shoes your whole life, but populations that traditionally go barefoot have healthier feet and a very different foot shape than the average city-dweller. Compared to barefoot populations, shoe-wearing populations develop a narrow foot structure with cramped toes that mimic the pointed shape of most shoes.

Going barefoot can improve the health of your feet in many ways. Not only that, it will reduce the wear and tear on your knees and hips as well. Although you can only do so much after your feet have finished developing, going barefoot can undo much of the damage.

But what about all the times where it just isn’t practical to go barefoot? Maybe you’re worried about stepping on debris, or maybe you live in cold weather. And of course, no one really walks around town barefoot. What should you wear to work? Luckily the shoe companies have been busy designing minimalist shoes that let your foot function as naturally as possible. There are now a lot of options out there for all occasions, so there is no reason you can’t look out for your feet and still be presentable.


Street Talk

Interesting article, I never knew about the benefits of going barefoot since I wear shoes quite often.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
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