Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Answer To The Question.

I recently received a question from a woman who wants to go barefoot more often but finds it painful. Rather than responding directly to her I want to respond publicly because I think her real issue is not with her feet but with our culture. Consequently, it’s an issue all of us who want healthy, shoeless feet must deal with. Before I respond, let me share with you her comment in its entirety:

“I have very pronate feet, fairly wide hips, and an abnormally large Q angle. When I have gone almost an entire day barefoot, my back, hips, knees and feet are aching and painful for the next day after - there have been nights where I have had trouble falling asleep because of how much discomfort going barefoot inflicted on my body. In other words, for me going barefoot HURTS! I've worn orthotic inserts since I was about ten years old and this has affected the types of shoes I've worn: I have to find wide shoes that accommodate my inserts, I can't wear dress shoes with heels, and I can't wear sandals. Would going barefoot more often help someone like me, in your opinion? Because all it's ever brought me is more pain and discomfort.” – Kaje

Let me start by focusing on the phrase “When I have gone almost an entire day barefoot…”

Walking barefoot is natural; walking in shoes is unnatural. Shoes demonstrably (and negatively) change the way we stand, walk and run and thus create a host of foot problems, not the least of which is muscle atrophy and skeletal deformation since the shoe is essentially a binding cast. Shoes affect more than the feet: the elevated heel found in virtually every shoe demands postural adjustments all the way up the body and the narrow toe box, toe spring, arch support and elevated heel conspire to encourage over-pronation, which also affects your ankles, knees and hips. In addition to shoes, this dear woman has worn orthotics since she was ten years old, but… she has never spent a full day barefoot. What Kaje is saying it similar to: "When I take the cast off my arm for almost an entire day my elbows and shoulders hurt." Unfortunately, this situation describes most of us in ‘civilized’ society and there is no hope that we can ever have strong, healthy feet if that’s the case.

The daily wearing of shoes has wrecked our feet. If you’ve worn orthotics your feet are doubly-wrecked. Our feet have literally been debilitated by footwear and healing can only come by removing the shoes and rehabilitating our feet by miles and miles and miles of barefoot walking and running. For better or for worse, the brutal truth is that the damage done by thousands of hours of shoe wearing cannot be undone by going barefoot a few hours here-and-there on nights and weekends.

Kaje, you say your feet hurt if you spend too many hours barefoot. I predict the pain would subside if you could stay out of shoes for an entire month or two, but can you do that? If you could, your feet would become rehabilitated and stronger and healthier than ever. Will your circumstances permit you to remain barefoot for weeks or months at a time? Will your feet hurt during the rehab process? Probably yes. The soreness you presently feel from going barefoot stems from the fact that you are using muscles in ways you don't use them in shoes; it's similar to the soreness you would feel after a day of skiing. However, if you could commit to spending just several months barefoot [1], your feet will strengthen, your gait will correct itself and your entire body will benefit. (Indeed, with rehabilitated feet and gait your wide hips and Q-angle will probably not be an issue). At the end of the rehab process, putting on shoes will feel so obviously unnatural and awkward you will likely not do it. Welcome to full-time barefooting.

And this is why we as a society must allow bare feet back into the public square. There is a growing number of people who are fed up with the ill-effects of shoes on their bodies and they want to exercise the healthier option of living without shoes as much as possible. Consequently, our culture must adjust. I think our culture will adjust because the barefooting ‘movement’ is growing rapidly and once you’ve experienced the benefits of going shoeless there is no going back! Personally, I’m at a place where I snub the social pressure and refuse to let anyone make me put on shoes [2]. More and more people are adopting this attitude.

Finally, I want to add that it’s high-time podiatrists took the blame for our wrecked feet. Society has told us to wear shoes, but podiatrists have done nothing to oppose this and have in fact endorsed shoe wearing and – even worse – carelessly promoted orthotics. It’s time for podiatrists to apologize [3] to Kaje and inform the public of the many negative consequences of wearing shoes and endorse and promote barefoot living for healthier feet.

So Kaje, the answer to your question – as always – is to ditch the shoes. I hope you can keep them off long enough to rehabilitate your feet and reap the benefits. Let me know how it goes!

1. I say “just” several months barefoot because, after all, you’ve spent years in shoes.
2. The only exception being my boss because – other than the shoe rule – I really love my job. If I didn’t love Liberty University, believe me I would ditch the job and move; there are hundreds of colleges out there that would let me teach barefoot.
3. There is a place for orthotics and maybe Kaje genuinely needs them, but orthotics should always be the exception, not the rule.


  1. I always tell people yes my feet ACHED when I first started, but that was the muscles working and getting stronger. It takes time just like when people go to the gym and then are sore the next day. Patience I tell them, patience. :)

  2. I am overweight and had the wrong notion in my head that I could never go around barefoot again because of the extra pounds I was carrying around. Not only did my feet ache but I was worried they were not strong enough to handle the road. (I was right -- I would have to build that strength back up.)

    Once I learned about the matter and thought about it a bit I figured there was no reason I couldn't go barefoot but I'd have to work up to it gradually.

    I started just small amounts of time, and built very gradually. Now, just 8 months later, I'm walking around barefoot almost all the time with no pain or discomfort. I can even go around barefoot on the same day I've gone for a barefoot run, something I could never do when I first started.

    It really was an almost athletic endeavor, reconditioning my feet which had got used to using (or not using) other muscles and had become weaker.

  3. Lucky for me I am 16 and have nearly always been semi-barefoot. Not out in public or at school (before homeschool), but I always wore flip flops a lot. Most of the sports I have done all my life are barefoot sports like gymnastics and swimming. And now running! :) Now I try to be barefoot as much as possible.

  4. As a former shoe-store clerk, I learned all I needed to know about why folks shouldn't wear shoes except when necessary. Beyond the atrocious practices of the shoe-making industry (which include literal slave labor in shops packed with Chinese political prisoners), the grotesque smells, aliments, fungi and deformations that I witnessed on a daily basis are the products of a culture in which shoes, socks and stockings are essential wear for large portions of the population.

    You'd think that any rational person would understand that a body part that's constantly wrapped up, compressed, smothered by damp and unbreathable fabrics and then subjected to full-time duty bearing the weight of that person would quickly become unhealthy. It's a tribute, of sorts, to the power of social herd behavior that such an obvious conclusion seems socially, even legally, unacceptable to so many human beings.

  5. I am one PODIATRIST who recognises the mistakes of SUPPORT vs. NATURAL GAIT! I've had sleepless nights as I've had to come to terms with the obvious truth that my profession's beliefs were not in accord with reality! With a convergence of information from experience, reason and science it became undeniable to me that humans are designed to walk naturally barefooted! To make matters worse for me to come to terms with I am also a designer of proprietary foot orthotics used by 80% of UK NHS Podiatry departments and many independent podiatrists, physiotherapists etc.

    I now believe foot orthotics are over-used. Very Useful for permanently damaged feet, and for short-term postural re-education, and relief of foot and leg pain and pathology related poor gait, but best used as a part of a rehabilitation programme including lots of strengthening exercises for the weakened foot, leg and hip muscles. With gradual transition to barefoot walking being the ultimate goal!

  6. There might be a little discomfort at first, but the rewards and joys of being barefoot are more than worth it. Kick off your shoes, lose the socks and live!

  7. I may be repeating myself since I just wrote a comment, but then signed on after. I have recently experienced heel pain, and every website I go to tells me I need to wear proper footwear. I am barefooted most of the year, unless the ground is frozen. I find footwear very confining and burdensome. Can you give me any advice regarding heel pain? I must admit, it began when I walked a few miles on the beach, which in the past I did daily for 5 miles barefoot, but maybe my feet are getting older? Thank you for your support of bare feet.

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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.