Health Benefits of Barefooting
Testimonials from Members of the Society for Barefoot Living
Compiled by Brian Daniels
Robert Jeungst of San Diego, California writes:
I had a major back injury (herniated disks after having my belt break while trimming a 30 foot palm tree) that never stopped giving me problems. I didn’t agree to surgery and was simply living with the pain. After getting rid of the shoes for good (for other reasons) I happened to realize one day that my back, which used to be my weak point, had obviously gotten much stronger and almost pain free. Fast forward to today, and my back is definitely my strongest asset. I may not have the biggest arms in town, but I can definitely hold my own, thanks to a very strong, rejuvenated spine.
Adam Goldman of London/Surrey, U.K., states:
I suffer from chondromalacia patella in both knees. This causes me pain, sometimes severe, when I walk for any distance in shoes. However, I do not have any knee pain during or after walking barefoot, regardless of the surface, and even after a number of miles.
Before I started barefooting, I had had a verucca (plantar wart) for years.Â I think the constant abrasion of walking barefoot, and then a brief foray in the snow, finally killed it off. I have not had any further problem with veruccae since.
The other effect I noticed after barefooting for a while, and which I know others have reported here, is the raising of my arches, which had become quite low leading to my knees turning inwards!
From Bill Kirkpatrick, Columbia, Maryland:
Back in 1993 I started working in a new office and started dressing a little nicer. This included wearing dress shoes. Within a few months I started feeling a strange lump on the side of the fifth toe on my right foot. Never having had foot problems before I was curious as to what this was. I discovered it was a corn. Not long afterward I changed offices and began wearing wider tennis shoes and ditched the dress shoes. As the weather warmed up I started wearing sandals to work. The corn soon went away and has never returned.
Also, I broke the fifth metatarsal in my right foot back in ’83. After it healed it would occasionally hurt during weather changes and/or long periods of wearing shoes. Since I’ve just about completely stopped wearing closed-toes shoes years ago I’ve never had any pain there. I guess walking without shoes has enabled the bone to further heal and strenghten out of necessity – it’s used to support my weight now and not a shoe.
Jill Margo, New Jersey, writes:
I started barefooting at the age of 40. At the time, I was doing relatively long hikes on rugged terrain just about every weekend, and had been doing so for about 6 years. I was also significantly overweight. I was experiencing a lot of foot pain associated with my fallen metatarsals and heel spurs/plantar faciitis – I spent about half of every hike in pain – plus I had hammertoes and inflamed bunionettes. I was also taking prescription anti-inflamatories before, during, and after hiking to keep the pain in my knees down to a dull roar. Because of the pain and knee problems and increasingly serious problems with balance, I felt I was on the verge of losing my ability to hike. I was also developing a type of pain in my lower back that had me worried that I was headed for disk problems or sciatica. (X-rays showed thinned disks.) This all is what drove me to try something radical … barefooting.
I started barefooting on lawns, soft woodlands, and other soft, uneven, or sloped surfaces. I also started deliberately exercising my feet when seated to increase mobility and strength. When I started, I couldn’t use my toes at all to grip the ground when I walked; they hung up in the air and my foot scrunched *together* when I stepped down to protect itself from pain – exactly the opposite of the motion of a healthy foot. I had no padding at all under the front of my foot, and even standing barefoot on a hard surface was uncomfortable.
Eight years of barefooting later, I am, well, eight years older and, unfortunately, considerably more than 8 more pounds overweight. In spite of this, I no longer suffer from metatarsal pain at all, and the heel spur/plantar faciitis problems are very mild and intermittent compared to what they were 8 years ago. I no longer scarf anti-inflammatories in order to hike, and usually experience no knee pain at all. My balance is excellent. My hammertoes are gone, and my bunionettes are not inflamed. My lower back is better. Added bonuses: my toenail fungus is greatly reduce, foot odor eliminated, my feet rarely feel cold, and I sweat (all over) much less than I used to and adapt better to a wider temperature range without having to add/remove clothing.
The other hikers I know who have had foot or knee problems have required on-going treatment for them, sometimes surgery. Most of these people are not as overweight as I am, and so should have less, not more problems than I do. I am the only one I know who has gone from serious problems to minimal problems. I am sure that, without barefooting, I would have had to give up hiking years ago due to to pain, knee damage, and balance problems.
I suspect that a lot of the foot and knee problems that are attributed to “age” or “age and overweight” are actually primarily due to cumulative damage and on-going deterioration caused by footwear.
Radical barefooter ‘Moonkatz’ submits:
Prior to barefooting, my most notable issues:
- slipped disc in lower back (chronic sciatica) especially an issue for daily shopping and standing in lines
- chronic ingrown toenails- my toenails curve upward and my toes are kinda roly-poly, pressure from a shoe causes the nail to grow in, so I have to keep them trimmed PAINFULLY short to avoid that.
- calouses on my little toes around the nail bed from rubbing on the shoe — lots of wasted bandaids to reduce friction.
Now — slipped disc is less of a problem from walking and standing, no ingrown toenails (I can let the nails grow out — no sock or shoe pressures to pain me), and the calouses are in the right places, on the bottom of my foot.
Also, since I broke my toe — I cannot tolerate any shoes on that foot. I’ve tried my “comfy” hiking boots, my snow boots, flips, boots, sandals, etc. While the cold air makes it feel a bit arthritic, the strain of a shoe makes it feel newly broken and quite painful. I’m sure there’s doctors or people who would argue that I could get much the same benefits from wearing a flip-flop or sandal with a well structured sole. They’ll have to write a prescription for that special ‘magic’ shoe before I’ll even attempt to wear it.
Intrepid Ole LeDifer from Kansas says:
The way my podiatrist/buddy explained it to me is that most foot problems are caused by shoe wearing. The remainder are caused by congenital bad foot mechanics. The only way to correct for the poor mechanics in some cases is to wear a custom orthotic device, which requires the wearing of shoes. That leads to shoe wearing related problems, and may or may not prevent the original mechanical problem from causing damage.
In my case I have very healthy and strong feet from going barefoot most of my life, but have “used up” the cartilage at my 1’st metatarsal-phalangial joint. That came from a combination of genes, heavy use, and poor mechanics, i.e. over-pronation. He said that shoes would not have helped delay this, but that custom orthotics to stop the over-pronation MAY have slowed down the process. Of course, no one has figured out how to wear orthotics without shoes YET.
It got me thinking. Someone wrote in a year or so ago suggesting that one of the members that said their Dr. recommended arch support try using support somehow without full sole coverage. I thought it was silly at the time, but now I wonder: could I delay my right foot from the same destiny as my left (radiographs show that the cartilage is around half gone already) by wearing an orthotic device just on my arch (glued on, or maybe a simple strap)? Remember, the podiatrist admits that I will gain new problems if I succumb to shoe wearing, and he is a friend of mine that is fully aware of my family’s barefoot ways. Maybe I will experiment with this, and he could publish the results in a podiatric journal. Who knows, flip-flops may go out of style and “Ole’s glue-on orthotics” may become the rage. I can see it already ” Sir, can I see your soles for a minute? you don’t seem to have anything glued to your arches, you are 100% barefoot instead of 95%. You will have to leave.”
From Bert Parker in Key West, we read:
When I was seventeen, I broke my back in a fall from a horse. Even though I made a “complete recovery,” I have suffered from acute and chronic lower back and sciatic nerve pain ever since. Very soon after I was walking without aid again, I discovered that standing and walking barefooted was far less painful than doing the same while wearing s#^*s. This revelation started my now forty years of barefooting. To this day, the same holds true. If I put anything, even flip flops on my feet, the pain in my lower back and sciatic nerve starts increasing. The longer I stand or walk in s#^*s, the more pain I’m in. If I continue wearing s#^*s for more than an hour or so, I become so crippled with pain that I cannot walk or stand. Needless to say, I never wear s#^*s until the pain becomes that great. In bare feet, I function well enough to lead a fairly mobile life. In s#^*, I soon become a cripple unable to function at all.
Al Justice from San Diego shares:
I had no real expectations about the health of my feet when I started barefooting on a regular basis a little over 5 years ago. I did experience a number of health issues with my feet improve and/or completely disappear. I have diabetes and my touch test with a mono-filament line about the consistency of a broom straw improved from 85% to 100%. No longer do I have athletes foot or foot odor. Four of my toes had gone numb over 30 years ago and the feeling has returned to them. I still have toe fungus and it is slowly clearing up. All benefits of going barefoot.
Finally, from me, Brian Daniels, Roann, Indiana:
In the Spring of 2005 I developed bursitis in my left hip. The pain was so bad that by May I was holding myself up whenever I had to stand for any length of time. In June I started carrying a cane for times when I had to stand with no support nearby. I went to the doctor who gave me a steroid shot to ease the pain. The pain abetted for 2-3 days, but was back with a vengeance after that. Two weeks later I went back and had an X-ray. The doctor gave me a prescription strength dosage of Aleve.
I had been going about every 2-3 months to a foot reflexologist. At the end of June, I told her about the pain I was in. She recommended barefooting because (in her words), “going barefooted is like having reflexology all the time.” So I tried it.
In a day my hip felt better and by the end of the weekend I had no pain at all. I began looking for resources on the Internet and have found several, especially the Society for Barefoot Living. I only wear shoes now when it is necessary and I have been barefoot every day through this winter. No hip pain, yet!