Your feet contain thousands of nerve endings that provide important information back to the brain and the body. There are 26 bones in each foot, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles/ligaments/tendons. All of that allows us to stand, walk, run, and transmit force. Your feet can be used for grip, strength, and balance. Have you ever noticed that your balance is better without shoes on?
The proper development of your nervous system relies on the feet being able to work how they’re supposed to. Being barefoot helps the brain develop new neurological pathways as we grow. The feet provide a ton of sensory information, as well as positional information. Better brain development will allow children to have better problem solving skills, language skills, social skills, regulation of emotions, and confidence. Going barefoot strengthens your feet and your lower leg, which can help prevent injury in the long term. Your body is legitimately more aligned when you are barefoot.
Who would not want that for their kids?
Ideally, as we grow, our feet will grow strong and mighty. We would have beautiful arches, your feet actually have 3 arches, and never have to hear about “flat feet.”
Newsflash, you do not have flat feet…you have weak feet.
Having said all of that, what do shoes even do besides offer some protection? I explain to patients that wearing shoes is like taking your foot and putting it in a cast for however long you wear them. Could you imagine how useless, from a sensory perspective, our hands would be if we wore gloves all day? With shoes on, your feet do not have to do anything.
The muscles do not have to work. Your arches do not have to work. Nothing works how it is supposed to while shoes are on. If you are wearing a shoe with a heel lift, which most shoes have, you are mechanically shortening your achilles tendon, which brings its own host of biomechanical changes. You are cramming your toes into a toe box that does not reflect the normal anatomy of your feet. This restricts the movement of your feet by locking everything in place. This quote by Dr William A. Rossi, a podiatrist, sums it up perfectly…
“It took 4 million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of gait…in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot.”
Safety is usually the primary concern for shoes. However, do you think we would really develop a foot, over 4 million years, that would not keep us safe? Our skin is designed to keep germs out. Germs that get locked into place in shoes and socks lead to issues like athlete’s foot, or toenail fungus. The soles of our feet are designed to toughen over time, so that we can continue to be barefoot, and not have to worry about stepping on the occasional rock.
Another benefit of going barefoot is connecting to the earth, or “grounding.” Do you ever notice that you sleep better after spending the day barefoot at the beach, in the park, or after having jumped in the ocean? I do. It resets us. I wrote about this in a previous blog post, but here’s an excerpt from it…
“Nature is grounding. The act of putting your bare feet in the grass/dirt/sand/ocean is called “grounding” or “earthing.” Humans are negatively charged. The earth is positively charged. When we put our skin on the earth, there is an exchange of ions between us and nature. This exchange neutralizes free radicals in our bodies and can decrease inflammation, decrease pain and stiffness, and can increase circulation. Something as simple as reconnecting to nature, to the earth, can have profound impacts on you and your child’s health. Unfortunately, a good amount of parents are quick to put shoes on their kids, or not let them get dirty. Hands in the dirt is a tremendous way to support your biome. I always tell patients to jump in the ocean if they’re not feeling well. I like to call it “nature’s reset button.” Even better if it’s chilly. So next time you’re at the park, in the backyard, or at the beach, take everyone’s shoes off and get connected to mother nature.”
Patients always ask about the barefoot option in our practice. It is entirely up to you, but we always recommend shedding the shoes for your visit. I like to tell them that we are “letting your feet be feet” by doing so. Shoes are a great source of protection, but they, ironically, probably do more harm than good. I try to be barefoot as often as possible, and recommend that for my patients as well…no matter the age.