Summer Foot Hazards? A Barefooter Responds to Common Foot Problems


As summer approaches, more people begin to shed their shoes for comfort and to enjoy the feeling of freedom that comes from being barefoot! Those of us who live barefoot year round are happy to see more people enjoying the sensations we have come to appreciate!

For barefooters however, there is one annual summer tradition we can do without... the numerous articles (such as this one and this one) which caution non-barefooters about the hazards of taking shoes off to enjoy the warmer weather. While I understand the need for perpetually shod individuals to practice caution when doing something they do not normally do (like going barefoot more), the truth is shoes cause almost all of the most commonly reported foot problems, and shedding your shoes permanently can clear up a lot of these issues for most people.

The amount of misleading information spreading by these kind of articles is really unfortunate and is an unfortunate symptom of our times. To try and combat this tide of bad information I have come up with the graphic to the right which covers the most common maladies people experience with their feet and the following explanatory text based on my twenty years of experience as a barefooter. I may not be a podiatrist, but I would challenge the credentials of anyone who writes the kind of sensationalized nonsense as the articles above without taking a look at how much more common it is to experience foot problems from wearing shoes.

Hopefully this helps clear up some of the confusion when you are looking at taking your shoes off at the beach, the park, or even for a stroll down the sidewalk of your neighborhood this summer!

Bacterial Infections, Athlete's Foot, Warts, and Toenail Fungus

The most common bacterial and fungal infections on the foot are caused by picking up the microorganisms somewhere, then sticking your foot into a shoe where the bacteria or fungi can multiply and grow, and continue to be pressed into your skin or under the nails. People who go barefoot regularly pick up these microorganisms, but with our feet exposed and the skin allowed to remain dry, the bacteria or fungi simply cannot gain purchase on our body, and either transfer off or die. 

Dry Skin

Both barefooters and shoe wearers deal with dry skin and it is possible barefooters actually have drier skin on their feet than shod people. This can lead barefooters to have more cracked and weather skin, particularly around their heels. However, given the amount of products on the market to combat dry skin and cracked heels, I would hazard a guess that this is a universal problem both groups must contend with.

Corns

This condition is a result of ill-fitting shoes, plain and simple, causing friction on parts of the toes and feet which results in thickened skin where the friction point is.

(A Note from Heidi: Before going barefoot I started wearing FiveFingers. I did not notice before but I had a corn forming on the inside of my small toe - I was very surprised when I found it. I could feel the soreness every time I would put on the FiveFingers. After 1 week in FiveFingers, it was completely gone. I definitely think it was from wearing an ill-fitting type of shoe. Since going solely barefoot I have not had any more issues.)

Calluses

Much like the notes on dry skin above, both groups deal with calluses and barefooters may have thicker calluses from the amount of direct friction our skin gets. Shoes creates calluses in the same way, just in slightly different places. Barefooters will definitely have thicker sole pads overall, which can lead to callus buildup, though personally I keep my calluses from becoming too rough and thick.

Bunions

Like corns, bunions can only form from continual use of poorly fitted shoes rubbing against a part of the foot. Although corns are mostly just annoying and/or unsightly however, bunions can cause great pain and should not be downplayed. Going barefoot regularly can improve bunions significantly, if not eliminate them altogether.

Ingrown Toenails

These can only happen with pressure against the toenail from a tightly fitting shoe, or from impact with the end of a shoe. Barefooter's toe and toenails are allowed to naturally develop so ingrown toenails are just not a concern.

Hammer Toe

This painful and inhibiting condition can only be created by poorly fitted shoes, once again. The toes clench up from being crammed into a shoe with a narrow or insufficient toe box. Being barefoot allows your toes to bend and stretch at their normal range of motion.

Spurs

These bony protuberances are generally found in people with plantar fasciitis (which I will cover below), but are caused by putting excessive stress on the heel bone, which is very easy to do in a shoe, and very difficult to do when barefoot. If you want to test this yourself, jump up in the air while barefoot and try to land on your heels... it will HURT. Our foot is designed in such a way that we are meant to land mostly on the forefoot or midfoot, where our natural shock absorbers reside. Although our gait when walking can include a heel strike, when you are barefoot there is more engagement of the entire foot because our supporting structures are not immobilized.

Plantar Fasciitis

This horrifically painful condition is (to my knowledge) caused by either an excessive shortening or excessive lengthening of the muscular and connective tissues which make up the arch of the foot. The core of the pain is due to atrophy of the overall structure of the foot, which is exacerbated by modern foot wear which has seemingly been designed to provide more and more "arch support". What this really means is that the arch muscles and ligaments are actually immobilized and held up, like an arched bridge being bolstered by scaffolding, instead of allowing it to function normally. The problem with arch support is that this immobilization leads to the muscles becoming weaker and generally shorter, such that when you then take off your shoes and go barefoot, those muscles which your body needs now to stabilize your foot, can no longer stretch without causing shooting pain. In effect you are now straining your arch just to walk normally. Because of this, plantar fasciitis has also been called plantar faciosis by at least 1 noted podiatrist, Dr. Ray McClanahan of NW Foot and Ankle. This condition is not exclusive to shoe wearers, as there are surely some individuals who have a natural deficiency in their arches, and may in fact need arch support, orthotics or other aids to bolster their feet, but in either case, being barefoot leads to stronger and more flexible foot structures, so it can help alleviate some of the symptoms of plantar fasciitis.

Blisters

Both barefooters and shod people can get blisters, it is true, though where they get them and the frequency are vastly different. Barefooters can get blisters on their soles from walking too far before their soles are conditioned or from the ground being too hot. Shoe wearers generally get blisters from a new pair of shoes rubbing a part of the foot excessively. I would argue though that since barefooters transition once or maybe once a year (Spring and Summer brings warmer temps and ground), their frequency for acquiring blisters is much reduced from those who might buy several pairs of shoes a year which each can cause blisters while they are broken in.

Dirty Feet

Lastly, barefooters will naturally get dirty feet. It comes with the territory, literally. You pick up some amount of surface dirt on your soles, and long time barefooters often have a semi-permanent "shade" to their soles because some of that dirt can get trapped in the grooves of our thickened skin and our calluses. This dirt is unsightly to some...but wearing shoes can create dirty feet too... just of a different kind. When you put your foot in a shoe, whether you are bare skinned or wearing stockings, socks or hose, your foot immediately begins to sweat. Unless the shoe is brand new, it's already playing host to a wide range of bacteria and fungi and the dampness of that sweat mixed with the warm dark environment draws them to your skin. These bacteria feed on your dead and dying skin cells and excrete substances which give shod feet that characteristic smell which most people find unpleasant. So although barefooter's often have visible dirt on their feet, I would argue that shoe wearers have equally "dirty" feet - it is just less visible, but no less detectable. See my post for 5 Foot Care Tips for Barefooters to read more about caring for your feet.

With all of this information, I hope this blog post clarifies being barefoot is healthy and natural and not something to be wary of. Just take it slow and understand your feet need some period of adjustment from being enclosed in shoes to being bare. As more and more of us are discovering, living barefoot is worth the investment in ourselves, and we should not just wait for summer to shower our feet with the love and freedom they deserve.




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11 comments:

  1. Great write up! I've been living barefoot for 15 years now, best decision I ever made. No more knee pain, back pain. Its great!

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  2. Excellent Article. I've been barefoot for 4 months and my feet have never been in better condition.

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  3. Great article! But thing I would like to see, for the typed of articles that Matthew cited, I'd like to see an item by item rebuttal of some of their "advice." The second article he cites - the one about flip-flops - is the one I find the most egregious and the most outrageous in its ridiculous and totally false assertions about how flip-flops "damage" feet. This is the kind of stuff that gets written and published by so-called "experts" (the same ones who also tell us we should never go barefoot either as it will also ruin our feet) that people read over and over and take it as the gospel truth, when there is absolutely no real evidence, studies, or actual experience by long-time flip-flop wearers that in any way whatsoever confirms any of the horror stories they attribute to flip-flops. This is the type of baloney that people need to learn to take with a huge grain of salt, and not believe everything they read, just because somebody puts it on the Internet with claims it came from some so-called "expert." I think those that actually participate in the activity are the experts - not somebody who sits on the outside looking in and whose claims are really nothing more than biased personal opinion, not based on fact, personal experience, or real medical evidence or studies.

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  4. Fantastic article! If I weren't already a barefooter, this would convince me. )

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  5. I have to say that ingrown toenails are usually caused by incorrect nail trimming, not by shoes. Anyone can get them and I still have a couple of times despite going barefoot most of these last 3 years. But other than that great article!

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    Replies
    1. I would have to agree with you too. My youngest has never worn shoes and his nails will grow into his skin if I do not keep them cut short.

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    2. EDDIE FROM MIAMI

      I have also had problems with ingrown toenails when I was in junior and high school. I think it is a combination of not trimming your nails properly and wearing tight shoes., which was my problem back then.

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  6. Excellent ! I'm a romanian barefooter and I undertand all.
    Thank you and all the best ! ��, of course :)

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. EDDIE FROM MIAMI

    Great article but the author forgot to mention an important foot hazard for barefooters in the summer, which is hot surfaces. Walking on hot parking lot asphalt can damage your soles, even if it is 90 degrees outside. But it all depends how tough your soles are. If you are a long time barefooter, then walking on hot pavement should not be much of a problem due to your tough soles withstanding the heat. If you are not that experienced or wear shoes most of the time, then it's best to carry a pair of flip-flops or wear a pair of socks until you walk off the parking lot or sidewalk. A trick to walking on hot parking lots is to walk on the yellow or white painted lines that separates cars, which is the least heated part of the area.

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  9. The article is spot on! I just love the feeling of taking off my shoes after a hard day at work. Makes me miss having vacation on beaches at Phuket, Thailand. The sand really contours to the shape of my feet and it feels so great.

    Anne

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Disclaimer

Heidi Fiscus is not a trained dietician, nutritionist, chef, or medical professional. The information on this blog is based on facts, research, and personal experiences. It is purely for informational and educational purposes only. This information is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure any disease or illness.

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