Thursday, July 12, 2012

Top 10 Reasons Why You Must Wear Shoes


1.  Shoes protect your feet from germs.
Actually, although many people believe that the world is full of germs just waiting to make your bare feet fall off, this is a myth. Well, the world is full of bacteria, but most of those bacteria are perfectly harmless and some are even beneficial. The nasty germs, like Pseudomonas, actually live inside shoes and are otherwise not present on your skin. Same goes for the fungus that causes athlete’s foot (Tinea pedis). In truth, the shoe is a warm, moist, hotbed for microbial growth and is the leading cause of foot infections. Going barefoot exposes the skin of your feet to refreshing air and sunshine, which inhibit microbial growth and infection. Need proof that shoes are germ factories? Wear your shoes all day and then smell them and your feet (if you dare), then go barefoot for a day… no stinky feet. You could try the same experiment with gloves.

2.  Shoes protect your feet from injury.
Wrong again (sort of). Shoes can protect your feet from some acute injuries, but I’ve noticed that people step on nails with or without shoes. Many people fear broken glass, but broken glass is rather rare these days (“plastics make it possible”) and is actually not that dangerous anyway. While stepping blindly and forcefully on a huge shard of glass can cause a severe cut, that kind of thing is not likely to happen on the sidewalk. (Ironically, it is likely to happen while wading in a littered river, which lots of people do, barefoot). On the sidewalk, most broken glass is small and lies flat. As for nails, it turns out that it’s better to actually step on a nail barefoot than while wearing shoes. Why? Because the shoe is a hotbed for bacteria (remember that Pseudomonas?) and the likelihood of a dangerous bacterial infection skyrockets from your shoe. Lastly, while shoes may offer some protection against acute injuries, they are responsible for most of our chronic foot injuries, like bunions, Hallux valgus, hammer toe, over-pronation, fallen arches, etc. etc.

3.  Shoes give you better grip on car pedals.
I’m not aware of a study that demonstrates this declaration. In fact, a strong argument can be made that shoes reduce your grip on car pedals. The skin on your feet is well-designed for traction, you even have skin prints on your soles and toes just like you do on your fingers for improved grip. You can also hold the pedal with your toes. Shoes, on the other hand, often have slick, slippery soles (especially when wet). Flip flops are notoriously dangerous for getting caught in pedals and high heels limit your ankle’s range of motion. Experienced barefoot drivers compare driving barefoot to driving bare handed, which is also arguably safer than driving with stiff, bulky gloves. Of course, you should keep your car floors clean of debris, but you should do that whether you drive barefoot or in shoes.

4.  Shoes improve your gait.
Shoes definitely seem to change your gait, but those changes are likely not improvements to the barefoot style. The higher the heel, the more the shoe will modify your gait (alter stride length, weight distribution in your feet, which muscles are active and when, etc.).  Other shoe features will impact your gait, as well, such as the toe spring, arch supports, motion control, side panels, and so on. Probably you have heard about the barefoot running debate. There is a lot of research being done these days that indicate running barefoot is healthier than running in shoes. Logically, the same goes for walking.

5.  Shoes correct bad posture.
Again, no. Indeed, shoes create bad posture and, once again, the higher the heel, the greater the impact of the shoe. If your body was rigid, only a 1-inch heel would suffice to tip you over (and virtually every shoe has at least a 1-inch heel). You do not tip over because you make postural adjustments to remain upright. In 3-inch heels, your pelvis tilts about 15 degrees and this puts strain your back and hip joints. In heels, more of your body weight is carried by the front of your knee and this may be why women suffer from knee osteoarthritis 4x more often than men. Also in 3-inch heels, about 90% of your body weight is supported by your forefoot and the weight-distributing arches are rendered useless. Back pain, hip pain, knee pain, and foot pain can all be traced back to your shoe and bad posture.

6.  Shoes are required by health codes.
This is widely believed, but it’s another myth. Health departments regulate eateries, not their customers. The health department is concerned primarily with three things: how the restaurant stores their food, how the restaurant handles their food, and how the restaurant cooks their food. Health departments exist to protect the customer from the restaurant, not to regulate customer behavior. Health departments do not require customers to wash their hands, take a bath, brush their teeth, or wear clean clothing (or any clothing at all) in a restaurant. Nor do they require shoes.

7.  Shoes are required by OSHA.
Yes and no. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) does require footwear for some occupations, but shockingly few. Indeed, OSHA is one of the last government agencies which gives wide discretion to the business owner / manager to decide what is best for the employee (in this case, whether shoes should be required or not). And certainly, OSHA regulations pertain only to employees, never to customers.

8.  Shoes are required for reasons of liability.
Not usually. Most retail stores have nothing to fear from bare feet. A shopping mall and its stores, for example, is probably a very safe place for feet. Lawsuits from a barefoot patron due to a foot injury are exceedingly rare, and judicial victory even more rare (I found two in the past 50 years). On the other hand, 20,000 women per year go to the hospital from high-heel injuries, and lawsuits involving shoe-related falls and injuries are too numerous to count (well, there’s a lot). To my knowledge, there are no insurance riders or other requirements for customers to wear shoes for any business, not even car shops (though customers are often not allowed in a commercial garage without an escort). Bottom line, shoes are more of a liability than bare feet.

9.  My boss requires it.
Okay, that’s a valid reason if you want to keep your job, but be aware that this is a cultural reason, not a legal, physical or health reason. Shoes are unhealthy and are not required by law or health codes. Given the health benefits of going barefoot, our culture should ease up when it comes to shoe rules. If you are the boss, please let your employees work barefoot!

10. Shoes make the outfit.
Well, maybe they do sometimes. But in my opinion, bare feet go with everything!

*There are references for all my claims in The Barefoot Book. I was too lazy to pull them out again for this blog post. :)

24 comments:

  1. Great post Dr. Howell. On a related note:

    http://www.downtown-runner.com/2010/02/7-reasons-why-you-should-never-run-barefoot/

    and

    http://www.downtown-runner.com/2010/02/6-more-reasons-why-you-should-never-run-barefoot/

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  2. Huh. I thought the only reason to wear shoes outside was so I could go barefoot at home and keep the carpet clean...

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    1. That's the only reason I wear anything outside. Well, that and, in the summer, as a buffer from the egg-frying temperature that asphalt gets in the Arizona summer. I mostly wear "Invisible Shoes" which are basically a thin piece of rubber and a string to hold in in place on your sole.

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  3. I agree with you, but unfortunately the law disagrees with #3 in many states. Not that anyone would notice, unless you got stopped for some other reason and your bare feet were then noticed.

    As for #7, while health codes may not prohibit bare feet (and how could they pose any more risk than the soles of shoes - equally dirty from the surfaces on which one has walked) many establishments have a "no shirt, no shoes, no service policy. Of course, I suppose it is their right, as much as it is my right not to spend my money there.

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    1. The only state I know of to outlaw barefoot driving is Kentucky, and that may even be up for debate. It's a common myth, though.

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    2. No state has a law against driving a car barefoot. Not one.

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  4. Hey "homelessonwheels" - did you even read any more of this website or its links????? There are NO laws against barefoot driving in any state of the US. And there are no health codes that regulate what customers are allowed or not allowed to wear in stores or restaurants. There never were. Those signs that are on the doors of some stores saying they prohibit bare feet originated in the late 1960s when store owners were trying to keep hippies from coming in. Then they lied about why the signs were there, saying that is was a health code, when it never was.

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  5. I have gotten kicked out of a health food store for not wearing shoes. They sited health code as the reason for it...

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  6. Love this Blog. My colleague Kim Cottrell, GCFP recommended your book. I'm a Feldenkrais Practitioner and just tweeted this post on my site: SensingVitality.com . I appreciate the myth busting and will feel more bold in walking barefoot. There is such an amazing difference to the sensation of barefeet versus five finger shoes. The feet have to function much more intelligently in bare feet versus with the protective sole. Yes, this action engages much better balance and use of the feet! Hopefully, there will be studies to show this soon. Let me know if you have more data/evidence. Thanks for your work! Annie

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  7. Dr. Howell,
    I began part-time barefoot living within the past couple of years, and I definitely agree that in general it's more healthy (at least in the modern Western world). Even so, aren't there still a number of situations where your feet need protection?
    Cheers,
    -Dave

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  8. Thanks for including me amongst such a great group of bloggers. I don’t know them all either, so there’s a few names for me to check out.

    Womens Shoes

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  9. Greetings! Are you an often online user or you prefer being offline?

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  11. This post is really a extremely beneficial read for me, Have to admit you might be 1 in the most effective bloggers. Thanks for posting this informative article.

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  14. So good post, I like it. Different shoes have different functions, we should choose the right shoes.

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  15. As a missionary in a tropical African location, I usually live barefoot. I am currently in the US to have another baby and have had to go to a chiropractor for sciatic nerve and back issues {I'm not sure how you feel about chiropractic care. For me, it has changed my quality of life for the better and kept me from pre-term labor}. Anyway, my chiropractor does not agree with barefoot living and has said that I need supportive shoes to accommodate a shoe lift because I have one leg that is slightly shorter than the other. According to my chiropractor, the difference in my leg length has already given me arthritis in my lower back {at the young age of 29}. My question to you, Barefoot Prof, is this: Would you agree that I need some type of shoe to accommodate this shoe lift, or would you say that barefoot without the lift is still better for me? And why? If you would say that a shoe lift accommodating shoe would be best, which shoe would you recommend and why?

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    1. I would recommend looking into Michael Sandler's story. He has the same problem with the unequal leg lengths and he is an avid barefoot-er and has a few books and a movie out on it.

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    2. Sorry for the slow response my missionary friend, but I would agree with AnataDeLaputa. I am personal friends with Michael and I can get you in touch with him if you wish. ~ I am all for chiropractors (and podiatrists); unfortunately, many of them are simply misinformed when it comes to feet and footwear. Even in the branch of medicine that deals specifically with feet (podiatry), our cultural bias towards shoes has tremendously influenced their practice. I would recommend that contact Michael Sandler; he has real-world experience with your particular problem and is a wealth of knowledge.

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  16. Well, the world is full of bacteria, but most of those bacteria are perfectly harmless and some are even beneficial.

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  17. Thanks for the very nice post about shoes. And these are the very helpful tips and advises for every person who works or not.

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Welcome to The Barefoot Professor blog, intelligent talk about running, walking and living barefoot. I encourage your comments, even if you disagree with me. In this spirit I don't even moderate the comments. However, PLEASE use critical thinking skills when leaving comments, and avoid inflammatory words. Please keep your comments short and to-the-point. THANKS.