Do You Really Need Shoes?

I have talked about this one a few times in the past but I am not sure people are getting it. Barefoot vs. wearing shoes.
Why do we have this seemingly genetically ingrained feeling that we must wear shoes to take care of our bodies properly? When did it start?
Sure if you’re walking on ice or broken rocks a little bit of protection on your feet is a good idea to protect the skin. But that is really all you need footwear for. I think we need to disassociate the need for protection for your feet and the need for support for your feet.
But why is it so ‘dangerous’ to lift weights barefoot? I just cannot understand this crazy aversion to letting your body work the way it was designed to work.
I hear things from people all the time about why they need supportive footwear. I have fallen arches, I have flat feet, I pronate, I supinate, blah, blah, blah. 99% of people spewing this rhetoric at me have no idea what any of that even means. All they know is that some minimum wage retail shoe salesperson has told them they suffer from one of the aforementioned maladies. So you purchase some shoes with extra support and away you go.
A few months pass and your knees and hips don’t feel any better. Wow, your issues must be WAY worse than you previously thought! You had better get professional help! Off you go to look at custom orthotics. You step on pads, have your feet poked, prodded, and measured. You walk on fancy electronic pads and see a bunch of cool stats and bar graphs on a computer screen that make no sense to you but you nod along in agreement with the sales person putting you through the assessment.
(Note: yes, I mean sales person. Just because the person is a Chiropractor, doctor, or physiotherapist they are still giving you a sales pitch to purchase orthotics. If you don’t believe me, see if they will tell you what their profit margin per set of orthotics is. I happen to know just how profitable a business addition it is – wonder if they will admit that?)
You buy the orthotics and figure all of your problems and issues are going to fix themselves. The majority of the time they do not. Why?
First – how often do you wear these orthotics? Just when you workout or wear a particular set of shoes. So a few hours a week. What about all of the other hours a week you spend walking around without the orthotics?
Second – what caused your issue in the first place? Was it the arch of your foot? Pronation issues? Or was it poor movement patterns, weak foot muscles, tight calves and hamstrings, or some other much more relevant issue? Remember that everyone is built a little bit differently. There is no one ‘right’ arch angle for your foot, or set number of degrees of pronation and supination  that is right for your foot and ankle. We are all built a little bit differently.
The point of this blog is that you don’t NEED shoes for support. You may need them for protection from the elements. But your foot was designed to work on its own. It is one of the most amazing engineering marvels in the biological world. Look into it sometime. It is amazing.
It is designed to support and move your entire body. It is the first sensory input for the rest of your body to balance and move. It doesn’t need any help from a cheap piece of foam or plastic rolling off some assembly line at the lowest possible cost to increase someone profit margin.
You do not need shoes for support. Stop listening to the manufacturer’s sales pitches or your local orthotics retailers insistence that you must have them. It just isn’t the case.
You are hoping that you can find a mechanical fix for issues that are actually related to lack of exercise, being overweight, lack of movement, or any combination of those issues. If you are fit, active, healthy, and a normal bodyweight and then your feet, ankles, knees, and hips are having issues you can explore other options.
Use exercise to prevent needing supportive footwear instead of the need of supportive footwear preventing you from getting exercise.

  1. ScottVowles says:

    I agree with some of what you are saying. First, the foot is designed to do the job of stabilizing itself and even to provide a certain amount of cushioning. Second, the orthotics industry can be misguided and a economy driven. Orthotics may be a gamble when it comes to costs vs. benefits for the consumer.
    Shoes can also be blamed for many lower extremity injuries. Over the years the running shoe companies have actually added several degrees elevation in the heels of running shoes! Why? As people became used to elevated heels, their calfs tightened. This leads to all kinds of biomechanical issues. So the fix was just to elevate the shoes more to keep people running so they could buy more running shoes! The world is far from perfect!
    Indeed, each foot is designed differently even your own two feet are different!
    The idea of going without footwear is also problematic. The idea that we are made to walk barefoot from an evolutionary stand point is a flawed argument. It is flawed simply because we do not often walk on natural surfaces. We walk on concrete, asphalt, ceramic tile, hardwood floor etc. Our natural cushioning systems are not designed for that.
    In an evolutionary sense we now outlive our “usefulness” from a reproductive stand point. That may seem irrelvant, but what I am getting at is that by the time we reach our 50’s and later our bodies are certainly less capable and more likely to breakdown. They need help!
    I suppose in the end we must consider that a certain amount of chaos theory exists in the world. Meaning that we cannot generalize our opinions across all demographics. We should not assume that there is one best way for everyone. It would be nice if there was a utopia where all things worked for all people, all of the time. I stopped telling people what they like and dislike a long time ago. How can you tell someone who loves their orthotics that they don’t! You may be humbled by this approach.
    I enjoy your blog, gets me thinking!
    Scott Vowles, PT

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