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Is It Safe to Walk Barefoot?

Is It Safe to Walk Barefoot?

Athletes — especially runners and dancers — do it. Your kids do it. All the time. And now, seemingly everywhere — articles pop up on the benefits of going barefoot. Outdoor barefoot walking is especially touted for grounding your body, due to a beneficial exchange of ions between the soles of your feet and the earth.

But can you really stay grounded from grounding if you have foot pain after stepping on a nail, stubbing your toe on a rock, or developing athlete’s foot? What’s better for your feet and your overall health? Going shoed or shoeless?

At Advanced Foot & Ankle Center, with offices throughout Utah, our board-certified podiatrists want you to keep your feet healthy and safe. But we also want your feet to be strong and in the best condition possible.

So, is it safe to walk barefoot? The answer is complicated.

Barefoot walking strengthens your feet

Our earliest ancestors, of course, spent their lives barefoot as they hunted and gathered in the jungles and forests and fields around them. Walking barefoot allows your feet — and toes — a full range of motion.

In fact, your big toe alone requires about 20-degrees of extension in a forward movement. Most shoe boxes and even athletic shoe boxes don’t allow that amount of flexibility.

You don’t necessarily have to go completely barefoot to strengthen your toes and feet. A study showed that after just six months of daily activities in minimal footwear rather than traditional shoes, users’ feet were strengthened. Stronger feet give you a more secure platform so you’re less prone to falls, particularly as you age.

Another bonus is that you may burn more calories when walking barefoot

Barefoot workouts reduce injuries

Athletes and dancers often train barefoot to help them use and develop muscles in their feet and ankles that aren’t activated in footwear. Barefoot workouts may also reduce your risk of injury due to improvements in:

Barefoot running or walking usually results in shorter strides, which keeps your body weight more centered. Shorter strides also cause you to bend your knee more, which absorbs shock. The more natural gait keeps the rest of your body safe, too, making you less susceptible to foot complaints such as sprained ankles and plantar fasciitis.

Your feet aren’t protected

A bonus of barefoot walking or running is that you develop calluses on your soles that can protect your feet from superficial injuries due to small pebbles or a gritty terrain. However, calluses can’t protect you from nails, bee stings, or glass. Our barefoot ancestors most likely turned to shoes and sandals to protect their soles more than 40,000 years ago

Of course, if you step on a nail in a sneaker or shoe, it could still pierce the artificial sole and end up in yours. It just won’t lodge as deeply. You’re also more susceptible to stress fractures in your feet because you don’t have an extra layer of protection from hard surfaces.

Your soles aren’t the only parts of your feet that are at risk when you walk or run barefoot. You can easily drop something on your foot that might pierce your skin or even break a bone. Stubbed toes are a hazard, too.

You could develop athlete’s foot and other infections

Walking indoors in public spaces may be even more hazardous to your feet than walking outdoors. Pools, saunas, gyms, and showers are all breeding grounds for pathogens, including the fungi that cause athlete’s foot

Always wear shower sandals or flip flops when you’re in public bathrooms, pools, or gyms. Also, if you’re in the habit of going barefoot in general, your feet may have microscopic tears and holes that allow in bacteria and other infectious pathogens.

You could burn your feet

Even with well-developed calluses, if you hit a patch of asphalt or cement on your walk or run, you risk burning the soles of your feet. Burned heels can be hard to, well, heal.

All of the hazards of walking or running in bare feet are amplified if you have diabetes. A complication of diabetes called diabetic neuropathy dulls the nerves in your feet, so you could get a significant cut or injury and not realize it until it’s infected or even gangrenous.

So, should you walk or run barefoot? If you choose when, why, and how you walk around without shoes, you may be able to avoid an injury while strengthening your feet and maybe getting in a good ion exchange with Mother Earth.

If you do experience foot pain — either from walking barefoot, with minimal shoes, or traditional footwear — or develop a case of athlete’s foot, call our team at the office nearest you or simply book your appointment online today.

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