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Do our Podiatrists Recommend Walking Barefoot?

As more people are staying home right now, it begs the question: Is it a good idea to walk barefoot in your home?  Walking barefoot might be something you only do at home. But for many, walking and exercising barefoot is a practice they do daily.  Do our podiatrists recommend walking barefoot?  The answer can be complicated and will depend on several factors.

In the Beginning

Harking back to childhood, shoes can affect how a child uses the muscles and the bones in their tiny feet.  Therefore, parents are typically advised to allow their children to be barefoot when learning to walk. Walking barefoot is a great way to gain an awareness of their body in the space around them. These facts make a good argument for leaving young children barefoot, at least around the house.

As that child gets older, they tend to go barefoot less often and wear shoes more often.  At this point, the child loses the benefits that come from walking in their bare feet.  Thus the movement to walk and exercise barefoot has emerged – along with the idea of letting our feet be free.

However, in walking around your home barefoot, here are some things to consider:

  1. What type of surfaces do you have in your home (hardwoods, carpet, tile, etc)?
  2. Are you going to be going up and down stairs?
  3. How stable is your foot to begin with?
  4. How long you will you be on your bare feet?

These factors can affect the outcome of being barefoot.  The strongest argument for going barefoot is that without shoes, our gait closely resembles our natural walking pattern.

Additional benefits of walking barefoot may include:

  • Experiencing better control of your foot position as it steps on the ground.
  • Having your feet free may provide better balance and body awareness, helping your gait move properly.
  • If you have better mechanics in the foot, this will lead to better mechanics of the knees, hips and your core.
  • Unencumbered feet may help maintain the appropriate range of motion in your foot and ankle joints.
  • Barefoot walking may promote strength within your muscles and ligaments.
  • Being barefoot may provide relief from painful, improper fitting shoes

Potential dangers of going barefoot

While walking barefoot in your house can be relatively safe, as soon as you head outside, you expose yourself to some risks that could prove dangerous.  If you have typically worn shoes, your feet may need some time to build up strength to go barefoot.

Things to take into consideration:

  • Surface under your foot:  Without the protection of shoes, you are susceptible to injury from sharp objects on the ground, or even the surface temperature (very hot or extremely cold).
  • Infections:  When walking barefoot outside, you may run into harmful bacteria or other infection-causing agents.
    • Plantar Warts: These can be contracted by coming in direct contact with the virus that causes warts.  Warts can develop anywhere on the foot.
    • Athlete’s Foot: A fungal infection that typically develops on the soles of feet and in between the toes. Often contracted from a gym or other high-traffic, moist area.
    • Nail Fungus: Going barefoot increases the chances of encountering microscopic fungi which enter under the nails. The fungus may discolor your nails, cause them to thicken, and develop crumbling edges.  It is very unsightly and can be painful.
  • Plantar Fasciitis: If too much tension is placed on the soft tissue that runs from your heel to your toes, and it stretches too far, inflammation and even tiny tears can occur along the plantar fascia.  Walking barefoot can worsen this condition as you have zero arch support.  And arch support is the fundamental ingredient for avoiding this undue tension.

Additional Considerations

At any time, whether barefoot or with shoes, if you are experiencing any new pain or discomfort, you should have it checked out.  Furthermore, be aware of any pain in your heels.  Pain in your heels is not normal.  It is important to examine the bottoms of your feet for injury on a frequent basis.  Small injuries can lead to much larger ones if not cared for immediately.   

The Bottom Line

Do our podiatrists recommend walking barefoot?  The answer is ‘not really’.  Going barefoot while walking and exercising outdoors may have some benefits, but be very cautious, and make sure that you follow safety precautions.  Above all, if you have any questions or concerns about your safety or your foot health, it is a good idea to visit with one of our podiatrists asap!

***Caveat – if you have diabetes, you must consult with your doctor before going barefoot.  People who have diabetes may typically experience reduced sensation in their feet, which can make going barefoot indoors or outdoors very dangerous.

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