Although there has been an increase in recent barefoot research and the effects of shoes, such negative effects of shoes have been known for over a hundred years. In a 1905 paper entitled Conclusions Drawn From A Comparative Study Of The Feet Of Barefooted And Shoe-Wearing Peoples, Hoffman concluded that:
It is very significant that in the one hundred eighty six pairs of primitive feet examined, I did not find a single foot associated with the symptoms of weakness so characteristic and common in adult shoe-wearing feet, which are weakened by the restraint the shoe exerts over function.
In fact, most foot problems, such as bunions, hammer toe, weak arches, corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, and athletes foot rarely present themselves in feet that are habitually barefoot. But shoes can present problems not limited to just the feet. Shoes change the way we walk and alters the spine, effecting overall well-being on a day to day basis.
Improved posture, Healthier joints
If you have lower back pain, shoes may be the culprit. Although some shoes do have a zero drop heel (heel to forefoot is parallel to the ground), an elevated heel pushes your center of gravity forward, which is especially evident with high heels. Because one’s center of gravity is pushed forward, the back and hips must compensate, altering the position of the spine, and putting more pressure on the knees. Those who experience lower back pain may feel relief by going barefoot.
As Hoffman discovered, the strongest feet are feet that are habitually bare. Almost all shoes offer artificial arch support, removing their natural function. Just like the rest of the muscles in your body, the less you use them, the weaker they will become. Weak arches have become so common that people now believe that artificial arch support is needed for a healthy foot.
Below you can see changes in the arch of a 41 year old male patient as he started to run barefoot and live a barefoot lifestyle over the course of 4 years, as recorded by Dr. Nirenberg:
Natural Foot Growth, Better Balance
Ever notice a baby’s feet? A baby’s feet resembles the feet in figure 1, a person who has never worn shoes, compared to the Westerner in figure 2. Notice in figure 1, the toes are spread out and a line can be drawn completely through the big toe to the center of the heel. Such a foot helps with greater stability and balance. As you can see in figure 2, shoes restrict the natural growth of the foot, which can lead to problem such as bunions. Hoffman’s research reveled that the shape of the foot can be drastically changed to take the shape of a shoe in as little as a few months. Fortunately, toe stretchers can help bring toes back to their natural state.
Lower risk of fungal infections
Contrary to what some may think, feet that are habitually bare rarely, if at all, acquire fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. It’s often conventional practice to be by poolsides and in locker rooms barefoot and go back to wearing shoes after such activities, when the opposite should be done. The fungus that causes athlete’s foot strives in dark, damp environments, such as the inside of shoes. The inside of a shoe can reach upwards of 120 degrees F (59 C). Such hot environments cause the feet to sweat, helping to create a better environment for the fungus.
Connect with nature
The feet are one of the most sensory receptive parts of the body, with an estimated 100,000-200,000 exteroceptors. Not only do these exteroceptors provide valuable bio-mechanical feedback to help improve posture, balance, and gait, they also allow one to greater experience and be more aware of the world around them. It can be surprisingly fun to walk on various surfaces and notice differences in temperature and even wind.