Barefoot vs shod vulnerability

Most people in Western Societies have safety concerns about barefoot walking. However, statistically and biomechanically speaking you are safer barefoot than in shoes after you become accustomed to habitual barefoot walking.

It is a very common and understandable concern that our feet are more vulnerable bare than shod in normal life.

They are, but the small increase in vulnerability is way more than counterbalanced by a vastly increased awareness of our surroundings through the sensory nerve endings in our feet.

More and worse injuries occur in footwear than barefoot.

My practice is full of patients with shoe induced foot pathology and there are thousands of law suits every year filed by people injuring themselves in shoes, especially high heels and flip flops.

The probability of getting some form of foot and ankle pathology from years of wearing shoes is very high. The vast majority of the population will need to seek treatment from either a podiatrist, orthopaedic surgeon or doctor during their lives. A lot of those foot pathologies will leave patients with permanent weakness,  pain, infection, disability or deformity.

Unfortunately, every day I see tragic cases of patients who struggle to even walk. Most of them have shoe induced foot and leg pathology.

We need to strike a balance between protecting our feet from shoe induced pathology and the small increase in vulnerability from being barefoot. Unfortunately, the protection from the environment with shoes often causes more problems than it cures.

The reason most people feel more vulnerable at first when walking barefoot is because it takes awhile to fully transition.

Skin needs to toughen up, nerve endings need to become accustomed to feeling the tactile sensations from the ground, our sense of balance needs to improve and our awareness of the surroundings and our perception needs to become more enhanced.

It would be rather like starting to live life without thick protective gloves for the first time in our lives if we had always worn them and were not accustomed to life with bare hands.

Same thing really. Our feet are no different.

We don’t think twice about going out into the world with bare hands, yet they are just as vulnerable to damage and injury.

Our nerve endings in our hands and our awareness of our surroundings generally keeps our hands safe.

Very occasionally we hurt our fingers with paper cuts, needle-stick or pinched fingers, but we wouldn’t consider wearing gloves from then on in normal life.

I closed the car door on my thumb last year, by accident. Boy did it hurt! I couldn’t speak for many minutes. The nail came off due to a massive haematoma under the nail and it took nearly a year for the thumb to feel normal again due to the nerve damage.

Yet I carry on without gloves.

Of course this doesn’t apply to those situations where there is exceptional risk. I would then wear gloves and shoes!

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3 Responses to Barefoot vs shod vulnerability

  1. Tom Milligan says:

    Don’t you find people staring at you from time to time, as if to say “Look at him. He’s walking around barefoot!”. Do people ever take offense that you’re barefoot in their presence? In an average day how much of your time is spent barefoot? Would you shop in a supermarket barefoot?

    • stevebloor says:

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your query regarding barefoot walking.

      In answer to your first question about the psycho-social implications of being barefoot in public, yes, people sometimes look and stare. Very occasionally they’ll even comment. Even more rarely they’ll ask me about it.

      The worst response in a over a year of walking barefoot has been from Mormon Church members. Several complained to my Stake President, considering it to be completely inappropriate and unacceptable for a bishop to be barefoot.

      My Stake President did insist on me covering my feet on Sundays, but were completely accepting and supportive of my barefeet for all other meetings, including bishopric, ward council and priesthood training meetings.

      The most difficult aspect of a barefoot lifestyle for me has not been physical, but psychological/emotional. I don’t, naturally, want to stand out as different or odd. I am, like most people, happier to blend into the background. But in practice, the more confidence I demonstrate in being barefoot, the more readily people seem to accept it.

      I have been barefoot 24/7 every day for almost an entire year now, apart from the very odd time where I’ve worn shoes for specific purposes where shoes were required for protection, or to avoid adverse attention, for instance when conducting a sensitive interview whilst I was bishop.

      I don’t wear shoes at work in my Podiatry Clinic except when performing surgical procedures where shoes are necessary as protection.

      I go shopping without any adverse attention.

      The best way to start is by transitioning with minimalist shoes like Vibram FiveFingers and Vivo Barefoot shoes.

      Then gradually do more and more barefoot walking.

      And barefoot beach walking is great strength training, especially if forefoot striking.

      It’s like walking in colour!

      If you need any specific advice please let me know.
      All the best.

      Steve

  2. Tom Milligan says:

    Thanks, Steve. You certainly live what you preach.

    I think I’ll start by walking barefoot in the house. Psychologically that might be helpful for a start. My goal would be to go hiking barefoot some day. Some day sooner rather than later. I’ll keep you posted.

    Take care,

    ~Tom

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