[Note from Emily: We’ve talked before about the health benefits of earthing, but – let’s face it – it’s not always practical to walk around in bare feet. Until now I’ve turned up my nose at “barefoot shoes” because of the ugly factor, but in this post Jamie makes some pretty compelling arguments as to why this funny-looking footwear can be a smart – and even fashionable – choice.]
Humans have been walking barefoot since the beginning of time, but for the last decade, barefoot shoes have grown in popularity. Is this just a fad, or is it a lasting trend in foot health?
Let’s tackle some common questions and myths as I show you why I haven’t worn shoes in years.
What are you wearing?!
Without fail, the very first thing I hear is, “Are those comfortable?”
Although barefoot shoes may look odd, there’s more behind this current footwear than a funny looking pair of shoes. A growing body of science now backs up what humans have naturally done since existence; walking barefoot.
The emergence of the tennis shoe
In the 1970’s the modern day tennis shoe was invented by the new company on the block, Nike. Since then, sales have skyrocketed, with 30% of all shoes bought being athletic shoes. This 20 billion dollar plus industry though has come at a steep cost.
“Until 1972, when the modern athletic shoe was invented, people ran in very thin-soled shoes, had strong feet and had a much lower incidence of knee injuries,” reports Dr Daniel Lieberman, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University (source).
Athletic shoe features have only gotten more complicated, yet joint and foot injuries have risen exponentially. Think more arch support and heel cushioning are the answer? Those who wear expensive running shoes are actually 123% more likely to become injured as a result. (source)
This study analyzed how gymnasts landed on different mats. “When they sensed a soft surface underfoot, they slapped down hard to ensure balance. Runners do the same thing. When you run in cushioned shoes, your feet are pushing through the soles in search of a hard, stable platform.” (source).
A jolt on the joints
Things like bunions, blisters, plantar fasciitis, and nerve damage are all caused by modern day footwear. Your knees, hips, ankles and lower back also suffer when wearing regular shoes.
When the toes are constricted, this forces the foot to “heel strike,” causing significant stress on every joint in the body (source). Barefoot runners were shown in this study to have fewer musculoskeletal injuries.
Arthritis and osteoarthritis are the number one cause for knee and hip replacements. This inflammatory condition is the body’s natural response to damage. Diet plays a crucial role here, but proper joint care is equally, if not more important (source).
I happened to grow up in Warsaw, Indiana, which is “the orthopedic capitol of the world”. This town is home to the largest artificial joint manufacturer ever, Zimmer-Biomet, a multi-billion dollar business that profits from other’s poor health habits. Just five years ago, 719,000 Americans received a total knee replacement. That’s not even including the partial joint replacements (source).
Even scarier, knee replacements are expected to rise 673% within the next 20 years (source). Every year, 65-85% of runners suffer an injury. Barefoot runners, however, “have far more range of motion in the foot and engage more of the toe. Their feet flex, spread, splay and grip the surface, meaning you have less pronation and more distribution of pressure.” (source).
A better track record
When I was in college, my fellow friend and student MariJean Wegert really stood out on the track team. It wasn’t just because she broke multiple records, won national titles, and was considered to be the best runner in the history of the school though – it was because she did it all barefoot.
On a broader scale, this ancient Mexican tribe is known for having some of the best runners in the world. Native Americans and Africans are also known for their superior running capabilities. These are all cultures that have traditionally embraced a barefoot lifestyle.
Ok, but I don’t run.
Even if you never run and your feet always take a leisurely pace, the principal and function remain the same. Your feet naturally strike on the heel in regular shoes, regardless of whether you’re walking or running. It takes much longer for the wear and tear on your joints to manifest itself, but it’s still there.
When feet are put into shoes, the muscles don’t develop or do their job. “If I put your leg in plaster, we’ll find 40 to 60 per cent atrophy of the musculature within six weeks. Something similar happens to your feet when they’re encased in shoes.” Dr. Hartmann (source).
Why arch support is killing your foot
This study found that the foot’s muscles, not just the ligaments as was previously thought, naturally support the foot. They also concluded that the arch support in shoes interferes with these muscles, preventing them from protecting the foot (source).
My overly high arch has corrected itself as the muscles in my foot were allowed to actually develop and support my foot. My husband, who used to be flat-footed, developed an arch after going barefoot full time.
Oh, and that cushy heel support? That can actually cause a painful condition called plantar fasciitis. Shoes that don’t allow the toes to grip the ground and instead compress the forefoot and can cause nerve damage and bunions (source).
Shock absorption is another myth. When you land more towards the front of your foot while barefoot, your leg is bent and your entire leg acts as a natural shock absorber. In regular shoes the leg is completely straight, causing damage to the lower back, hips, knees and ankles (source).
Connecting with the earth
Our feet don’t just connect us to the earth’s vibrational frequencies to help balance our bodies. There are about 100,000-200,000 receptors in the foot that tell your brain how to adjust your body’s position to protect bones and joints and maximize efficiency. By putting our feet in modern shoes, we’re cutting off these signals to the brain (source).
But, they’re so ugly
I’m there with you on that one. Many of the quality barefoot shoe options leave something to be desired in the way of fashion. Their superior performance though has many people preferring them, including active duty US military members (source).
When choosing your barefoot shoes, look for something that:
- Allows the toes to move freely and grip the ground
- Has a zero heel drop
- Has a super flexible sole
- Doesn’t crowd the foot or inhibit natural movement
“Minimalist” shoes are indistinguishable from a regular shoe, but they still crowd the forefoot, so it’s not optimal.
Many people think flip flops qualify as a barefoot shoe, but they actually cause you to pinch the foot to keep the shoe on, which unnaturally strains certain muscles.
My husband and I both wear these barefoot “shoes” exclusively. Even this Harvard study has shown they’re some of the best footwear you can wear. I have this model (pictured above), which resembles a casual ballet flat.
Benefits of barefoot shoes – my results so far
I used to twist my ankle at LEAST once a month and frequently tripped over my own feet.
Since I switched to going barefoot full time, I haven’t twisted my ankle once and I’m no longer clumsy. My husband who had knee pain so severe he was on crutches at one point, is now able to move around without issue.
There’s no way I could ever go back to “regular” shoes.
What do you think? Barefoot shoes – yay or nay?
Jamie Larrison blogs at The Herbal Spoon. She has a passion for herbalism and aromatherapy and creates her own plant-based, safe for the whole family bodycare items for her etsy shop. Learn more about Jamie here.