Barefoot Kick off your Shoes

Welcome – this article covers a query about a young boy’s father asking a question about playing barefoot 

Richard, the father of 14 year old Max, wanted to know whether it was okay for his son to play football barefoot. I’m all for barefoot so it was time to kick of your shoes and look at the myths, concerns and risks. Reading score = 59

The Question

“I hope you don’t mind me asking for your professional opinion. My eldest son Max (14) is a county football player and most days he will practice for an hour or so without shoes. Could this have a detrimental impact on his feet and bones – he plays with a full match ball which are pretty hard to be fair.”

A very good question Richard and one that might be rewarded with a one liner. i.e Max will come to no harm using barefeet; but will he? As always I question advice on the internet but does this answer Max’s parents query.

Simple answer

There are 2 riders to barefoot activity. That he has no existing medical problems that we would need to consider, and secondly that wherever he is barefooted he takes great care in assessing the ground for safety. Glass and dirty objects make up some of the most serious of consequences. Three articles are reviewed for their assumptions, accuracy and false ‘mediarised’ hype. All the original articles were accessed randomly hyperlinked (blue)


Anyway, as usual I like to see what the internet says, so lets take it on board. 

Kooky Barefeet!

The article Kick Off Your Shoes: The Surprising MD-Approved Benefits Of Walking Barefoot (updated last on March 26, 2020) and accessed by this author in May, 2020‘Walking barefoot… has gone from being a kooky and playful trend, to a scientifically-researched practice with a number of remarkable health advantages,’ suggests Functional Medicine doctor Isaac Eliaz MD. The article itself might seem kooky when associated with aligning the earth’s electrons to your body.   That activity will bring much benefit to the body in terms of moving blood around the body stimulates the immune system and generally making us feel better. This article tries to link barefoot with other ideals associated with exercise. This means it is only a piece for entertainment and not really bulging with information for Max and his parents.

A bit more academic?
In my second review we look at Karen Weintraub’s article, Going Barefoot Is Good for the Sole. Walking without shoes builds calluses, but that does not limit sensation. June 26, 2019. Now this sounds more helpful. Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological sciences at Harvard University,  experimented with bare foot running. Lieberman suggests ‘that scientists do not yet understand the impact of footwear on the body over the course of millions of steps’ adding it would be good to study the effect on 70-plus years in humans.

My response: I think we know a good deal about human movement as much as animal movement so to expend a disproportionate amount of money on such studies should  be focused on changes within joints. 

Misunderstood structure?
I like Weintraub’s article as it makes you think outside the box. Kristiaan D’Août, is a senior lecturer in musculoskeletal biology at the University of Liverpool in England.  He is alleged to suggest in Weintraub’s article that ‘the foot is one of the least understood structures in the body because of individual variation, the complexity of foot bones and ligaments, and because so much of what happens inside the foot is impossible to see’. Yes, well, perhaps and no!

My response: Maybe Weintraub does some injustice to the scientists. We know a lot more than she is suggesting to her readership, whether it is a good quote or not. What I can say is that we still cannot find measuring equipment that will tell us accurately what physical forces are doing within the foot. We have amazingly accurate equipment but attaching probes to skin and not deep inside is the main difficulty. So let’s leave this heady science concept and see what my last example offers.

Objective Health Benefits & Risks

My final review is from Sara Lindberg  the article is called Does Walking Barefoot Have Health Benefits? There is an argument lurking in this article. As we move from childhood to adulthood we lose the benefits that come from walking barefoot. The mantra let our feet be free shines. Another quote emerges from an orthopaedic surgeon from the USA, a Dr Jonathan Kaplan who extols the benefits of walking barefoot as,

“The most straightforward benefit to barefoot walking is that in theory, walking barefoot more closely restores our ‘natural’ walking pattern, also known as our gait.”

Better foot function & Posture?

Meanwhile board-certified podiatrist and foot surgeon (in the UK board-certified implies registered) Dr Bruce Pinker suggests that shoes can prevent you from using certain muscle groups that can actually strengthen your body. Here are a list of other benefits of bare feet walking. The following I completely agree with.

Better ground strike position, balance and body awareness, improved mechanics, maintaining good range of movement in joints up the body so that muscles and ligaments are optimally maintained. Relief from pressures from shoes affecting bunions, hammertoes and other foot deformities. The best benefit in the list is the last sentence – pressure relief. Shoes can dilute quality of the nerve messages to the brain so balance is better without shoes.

But what of those risks?

Now all articles must show a balance. An impartiality or non partisan approach to writing. I like the next bit.

Walking barefoot in your house is relatively safe. But when you head outside, you expose yourself to potential risks that could be dangerous.

“Without appropriate strength in the foot, you are at risk of having poor mechanics of walking, thereby increasing your risk for injury,” explains Kaplan.

While it may be more natural to walk or exercise barefoot, without additional padding from shoes, you are susceptible to injury from the terrain (like rough or wet surfaces or issues with temperature, glass, or other sharp objects on the ground). You also take the chance of exposing your feet to harmful bacteria or infections when you walk barefoot, especially outside.

The BIG CAUTION is covered by Dr Dietz and an osteopath 

“Christopher Dietz, DO, MedExpress, says people with diabetes should always consult with their primary care physician before going barefoot. “If they have peripheral neuropathy, they can sustain wounds on the bottom of their feet and not realize it,” he explains.

If you have pain in your heels after resting or have pain when you walk, you may need to go back to supportive shoes and start slowly again when your feet have healed.

My analysis of barefoot activity

In terms of performance and using a ball as part of physical activity then barefoot does have some possible consequences. The action of kicking a football usually connects with the side of the foot. Again, fine generally, but if a ball connects head on with the end of the toe then the first toe joint is jammed. In some cases, long term damage arises from cartilage splitting. Taking on board his level of competition. If he is at county level and intends to make a career of this my assessment would be that risk of barefoot outweighs the benefit of going barefoot.
Appealing to a young person!
It might be difficult for a 14-year old to process risk. Long standing toe joint pain can leads to a stiff and unyielding joint. If this arises, it can lasts for the rest of his life, or requires treatment. Injury can never be  restored 100%. The problems associated with teenage youthful damage in sports often peaks by age 40. When discussing the question of barefoot, you may want to set realistic boundaries. Pottering around is fine with a light beach ball, anything heavier then maybe best not.

  Max barefoot – what else!

Send me your query

I hope this helps readers in their search for information. For me  – I love this type of question as it is so easy to turn this into a mini article to share with readers on my website so thank you Richard and Max. If anyone has a query they want researching about a foot problem just write to me at: 

About the author

Is he qualified to write about ‘barefoot’ ?

David Tollafield is a retired podiatrist with 45 years field experience.  His first qualification was a diploma in podiatric medicine and he holds a fellowship FCPM from the Royal College of Podiatry in podiatric medicine. His degree is in human movement, his thesis was studying pressure measurement under the foot and he taught kinesiology and kinematics in a university for 10 years. He holds a Masters degree in Podiatric Surgery and a Fellowship in Podiatric Surgery (FCPodS). He was a consultant from 1995-2018 and now writes full time with eight published book titles and   articles under his name. 

Thanks for reading ‘Barefoot-kick off your shoes’ by David R Tollafield

Published by Busypencilcase Communications Ltd (Est 2015)

June 2020. Modified March 2021

sign-up and stay in touch