Are Bare Feet Good for Plantar Fasciitis?

Everything You Need to Know About Going Barefoot

There’s something delightful about bare feet. Who doesn’t love the feeling of sand between their toes, or kicking off those sweaty socks and shoes after a long day at work?

Unfortunately, walking, standing, or running without shoes on can quickly lose its appeal when you consider the risks of injury.

What’s the connection between plantar fasciitis and bare feet? Is it possible to enjoy going barefoot safely? What about barefoot running? In this article, we’ll explore the different risks and benefits of going barefoot, as well as some helpful alternatives.

Risks and Benefits of Going Barefoot

Some people believe that by running or walking barefoot, your feet can move more naturally, get stronger, and avoid injury. Others insist that the risks of causing or aggravating conditions like plantar fasciitis outweigh any potential positives.

But what are the real risks and potential benefits from going barefoot?

Benefits of Going Barefoot

Gait Improvements

While walking or running, the average person strikes the ground heel first (rather than with the ball of the foot). And a heel-first gait generates a lot of force–up to three times your body weight! Walking or running barefoot usually shifts your gait to where the ball of the foot hits the ground first, meaning less impact. How much less is still up for debate–but there is some evidence that the gait shift, combined with the shortened stride that happens naturally as a result–can make a 4% difference.

Better Balance and Posture

Many people feel that running or walking barefoot improves their balance, meaning fewer stumbles or falls. Barefoot runners like to be able to directly feel the ground beneath them as they run with the goal of helping their feet communicate with the rest of their body more effectively. While there’s lots of anecdotal evidence for better posture and balance, a few studies contradict this idea. One study from 2018 found that participants had less stability than their barefoot counterparts; however, participants wearing standard shoes matched barefoot participants in balance.

Risks of Going Barefoot

Vulnerability to Injury

One of the biggest risks of running barefoot comes in the form of hazards you probably don’t even notice as you walk with shoes, such as tiny pieces of sharp plastic or glass, small pebbles, hot and cold surfaces, and thorns. Without shoes, these small and often unnoticed factors can spell out major injuries for a bare foot. A study from 2016 showed that barefoot runners sustained more injuries to the plantar surface than shod runners.

Reduced Shock Absorption

While barefoot running can improve your gait and reduce the amount of force you create with each step, good running shoes still absorb that force much more effectively than bare feet. In other words, you might generate less force by running with bare feet, but you’ll absorb a greater percentage of that force. On the flip side, you might generate slightly more force by running with shoes, but your shoes will absorb more of that force.

Shock absorption from shoes is especially important for people who aren’t running or walking consistently, which means feet don’t have a chance to maintain adaptation to the added force of barefoot running. Richard Blake, DPM, says, “Two big problems runners and walkers face are too much inconsistency with month to month workouts. We are starting over too often and our feet are subject to jarring forces as well as too much cement and asphalt in our workouts.”

Heel Pain

If you have high arches or flat arches (many people lean one way or the other), going barefoot can increase your chances of developing heel pain, or plantar fasciitis. Running or walking barefoot for long periods of time on hard surfaces can quickly put strain on your arch and wear down the fatty heel pad. The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons discourages barefoot running for this very reason: Without arch and heel support, the shock from barefoot running can lead to plantar fasciitis and heel pain.

The Plantar Fasciitis Barefoot Connection

For people with healthy feet, plantar fasciitis is one of the biggest risk factors of going barefoot. Likewise, most podiatrists agree that people who already have plantar fasciitis should avoid going barefoot for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces like concrete or wood floors. Why? It all comes down to a lack of arch support, cushioning, and impact.

When you walk, stand, or run barefoot, your feet have limited support and cushioning while distributing the weight of your body and the impact of physical activity. The fat pad along the sole of your foot becomes the only protection and cushioning available. This natural padding guards your plantar fascia. When you walk barefoot on a hard surface for a substantial amount of time, the fat pad can start to break down, wear out, or become inflamed — and less effective at protecting your fascia. Over time, the fascia can flatten and sustain small tears. If you already have plantar fasciitis, walking barefoot on hard surfaces can worsen your condition or delay the healing process.

Tips and Alternatives for Going Barefoot

The idea of wearing socks and shoes at all times is unrealistic, not to mention unpleasant. Keep these tips and ideas in mind for those times when socks and shoes aren’t ideal:

  • Be selective about when you go barefoot: If you do decide to walk in bare feet once in a while, stick to soft, even surfaces like carpet or grass. Avoid hardwood floors, concrete, and pavement that will put extra strain on your arch.
  • Stretch and exercise your feet: Strong arches, calves, and ankles are much more resilient and can tolerate barefoot walking more easily! Incorporate simple stretches and foot exercises into your day to build up strength and avoid injury.
  • Wear supportive slippers: If you’re ready to kick back and relax, wear some supportive plantar fasciitis slippers instead of bare feet. Unlike regular slippers, which can actually cause or exacerbate heel pain, plantar fasciitis slippers are supportive and comfy.
  • Try Barefoot Wraps: Instead of going completely barefoot, try wearing simple, cost-effective Heel Seat Wraps or plantar fasciitis slippers or sandals that support your feet and allow you to free your toes while supporting your heels.

A Word About Barefoot Running

Be very, very cautious about barefoot running if you have plantar fasciitis. Very few podiatrists encourage this practice for people who suffer from heel pain, because of the extra strain and impact your arch is required to absorb.

But even if you do have strong, healthy arches, make sure you use the following precautions:

  • Take it slow. Running barefoot means your feet and calves will need to work harder than when you’re wearing shoes. You’ll also need to build up the toughness on the bottom of your feet. Start with walking then move up to running short distances.
  • Choose softer, even surfaces. Opt for grass, well-maintained trails, or an indoor track instead of concrete and pavement to help reduce shock and impact.
  • Stretch and exercise your feet. Maintain a dedicated routine of stretches and strength-building exercises for your calves, feet, and toes
  • Only run barefoot when the conditions are ideal. If your run will take you across uneven, hard surfaces or through urban areas that might conceal hazards like broken glass, lace up your shoes instead.
  • Listen to your body. Never, ever push through the pain. If your feet or heels start to hurt, rest, ice, and stretch until you have fully recovered.

Knowing the facts, risks, and benefits of going barefoot is one of the best things you can do to keep your feet healthy — and happy. Bravo for doing your homework!

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