Letters to the Editor: Barefoot living can improve medical health

In response to “Barefoot culture rises on campus” from the Nov. 18 issue of The Maroon

Dear editor,

As the author of “The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes,” I was thrilled to read Leslie Gamboni’s article. Barefoot running and barefoot living is definitely a growing trend, and I see this as a positive development. Most people assume that shoes are protective and good for us, but they are in fact quite damaging to our bodies. Shoes are unnatural and have a negative impact on the way we stand and walk.

Go to your local pharmacy and examine the products sold on the foot care aisle; virtually all of them would be unnecessary if we simply didn’t wear shoes. Over 55 million people will visit a podiatrist this year and, surprisingly, footwear is responsible for 90 percent of their foot woes. Hallux valgus, bunions, corns, hammertoe, athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, Morton’s neuroma, fallen arches and even knee arthritis are just some of the common maladies that can be traced back to our shoes.

Your feet contain a whopping 25 percent of the bones in your body. There are over 30 muscles that operate each foot, and walking is one of the most complicated achievements of your day. As you walk barefoot those bones and muscles pull, flex and twist to first receive your body weight, then transfer that weight safely from heel to toes and finally propel you forward into the next step.

With each step your brain receives sensory input from your soles to adjust your gait rapidly to reduce impact on your joints. Unfortunately, a shoe is a cast that immobilizes the foot and renders it deaf and blind. Without proper sensory feedback, your brain fails to make the right adjustments to protect your knees, hips and spine.

Going barefoot is generally safe. Scratches and bruises are bound to happen if you go barefoot often, but generally those injuries are minor and not worth stressing over. Hookworm has been virtually eradicated from the United States and infections are much more likely to come from your shoes than the environment. In addition, most long-time barefooters will tell you that the more time you spend barefoot, the less likely you are to get injured. Even if you do get the unlikely severe injury, you should not abandon going barefoot. Severe cuts occasionally happen to our hands, but that doesn’t mean we stop using knives in the kitchen or resort to wearing gloves every day. After six years of almost full-time barefooting, I’ve not yet sustained even one injury.

Many people love wearing shoes, and that’s OK. But everyone should be aware that shoes cause a number of health problems and that going barefoot is good for your feet, knees, hips and spine. Those who do want to go barefoot should know that they are legally free to do so. As always, common sense should prevail. Despite their hazards, shoes are tools and should be used when it’s prudent, but — as often as possible — it’s a good idea to kick them off and go without!


Daniel Howell, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Biology, Liberty University