What’s the Deal with Barefoot Shoes?

You might not think much about how your shoes are impacting the condition of your feet unless you’ve experienced problems with your feet. Obviously it’s pretty well known that shoes such as high heels aren’t good for your foot health long term, but have you ever thought about your tennis shoes? Here’s my opinion of why barefoot shoes might be a better option!

First, I suggest avoiding shoes with a narrow toe box that smash your toes together. Your toes are there to provide balance and support for your feet, and support our body weight and propulsion during the gait cycle. Not only do your toes help thrust your body forward when you walk, they actually help increase the length of your stride allowing you to run faster. So if you are wearing shoes that are smashing your toes together, it doesn’t allow them to naturally provide that support as well as they would if they were permitted to remain in a more natural position. And by the way, long term use of narrow toe box shoes can cause your toes to slowly point inward towards the center, even when you don’t have your shoes on, making it even harder to walk around barefoot. 

What about shoes that advertise arch support? Well, I like to think about modern day shoes with a big heel elevation and arch support as more of a supportive crutch than a long-term fix. Think of it like this: when someone breaks their leg they need crutches to allow healing. Then, when their leg has enough strength, they want to ease off of the crutches and slowly increase activity. If they just continued to use their crutches their leg would become very weak and fragile from lack of use. Similarly, wearing supportive shoes can help relieve foot pain in some cases but the goal should be to transition out of them and into barefoot shoes. If your arch is always held up the muscles don’t have to work to support it.

To all of my flat-footed friends: I know that wearing supportive shoes can help relieve foot pain in some cases, but ultimately does not solve the root of the problem. If your arch is always held up by footwear, the muscles don’t have to work to support it. But when you don’t have that support the muscles of your foot have to work harder to create that arch, which can help them get stronger over time. So my recommendation is to wear barefoot shoes, maybe just when working out at first, and then a few hours a day, and then every other day, and eventually every day, to allow them to get stronger without overdoing it and running into achy feet. Keep in mind that if your flat feet are bad enough that wearing barefoot shoes even for a short period of time causes pain, then you may also need some corrective foot exercise like towel scrunches where you squeeze a towel under your bare foot working the muscles of the arch! 

What about high arches? I think with regards to high arches, which are less common, that it’s important to still build foot strength. You may genetically have high arches but as long as barefoot shoes don’t bring about any pain it will help them build more functional and strong arches overtime! 

At the end of the day, regardless of whether you fully transition into barefoot shoes, it’s important to be mindful of what you wear on your feet. Choosing daily footwear that doesn’t have a high heel or a narrow toe box is a great start! Doing arch and foot strengthening exercises is always a good idea, regardless of your chosen footwear. But in my opinion, barefoot shoes are a great way to go for most people! I would love to discuss transitioning from modern-day shoes to barefoot shoes, and if you need recommendations for exercises that can strengthen your feet and reduce foot pain, I’m happy to help with that as well! 

  • Ryleigh Strubler