Kicking off our shoes to feel the sunshine, grass or sand on bare feet is a true summertime pleasure. But is going barefoot good for our feet?
Take a Precautionary Approach
“Feet are complex,” said Darrell Prins, DPM. “With more than two dozen bones, 30 joints and 100-some muscles, tendons and ligaments in each foot, there are a number of ways to sustain injury. So, it’s good to approach going barefoot with caution.”
It’s one thing to be lounging by the pool while barefoot or even walking around your living room, but the risks get higher when walking or running outside without shoes.
“Most of us wear shoes every day, which are designed to pad and support the foot and ankle when walking or running. Without that padding and support, feet strike the ground differently and more forcefully, using muscles that may be underdeveloped,” explained Dr. Prins.
When muscles are weak, feet and ankles are more prone to injury, he noted.
Some common injuries that could happen are stress fractures in the bones of the leg or foot; plantar fasciitis, which is a painful inflammation of the tissue surrounding the muscular band of the heel; and tendonitis of the foot, which can cause swelling and pain.
“All of these injuries can keep you sidelined and off your feet for days or weeks while your body heals,” he said.
Still, there are advocates of walking or running barefoot because it conforms to the body’s natural gait and strengthens muscles in the legs and feet, as well as increases balance and body awareness.
“If this is a route you choose to go, it’s best to work closely with a professional athletic trainer who has experience in building up muscles to transition safely from shoes to bare feet,” said Dr. Prins. “But most of us are better off wearing supportive shoes when walking or running.”
Shoes Provide Basic Protection
Prins also noted that shoes protect tender feet from unpleasant surprises lurking below the surface of outdoor terrain.
“Broken glass, sharp rocks, shell fragments or even unexpected dips in the terrain can all cause painful injuries to the feet and ankles. Shoes can protect us from these painful surprises,” he noted. “People with diabetes need to be especially careful. Issues with neuropathy could mean they wouldn’t feel the sharp object in their foot until it’s caused real damage.”
So, what kind of shoes make the healthiest choice for feet?
“The best shoes for the foot and ankle are those with a wider footbed to give toes some wiggle room, a thick sole to absorb shock and they should be of a sturdy construction,” said Dr. Prins. “You shouldn’t be able to bend a shoe in half. If you can, it’s not sturdy enough.”
That rules out drug store flip-flops, he noted.
“Flip-flops and other slip-on shoes have a good use – to wear at the pool or in public showers to avoid infections like athlete’s foot – but find the sturdiest pair you can and limit the time you spend in them,” said Dr. Prins.
Ultimately, going barefoot can feel good on the feet and may even have relaxing qualities for the mind.
“If you have healthy feet, going barefoot is not a bad thing,” said Dr. Prins. “I’d just do it in moderation and wisely, because experiencing pain or recovering from a foot injury isn’t the best way to enjoy summer.”