Barefoot footwear is experiencing a great boom these days. However, not everything that has a barefoot sticker on it is made according to the original idea behind the concept. So how to recognize barefoot shoes and what to look out for? How to know that the shoe really fits and benefits the foot?
HOW DOES THE OPTIMAL BAREFOOT SHOE LOOK LIKE?
The optimal barefoot shoe copies the shape of the foot and gives it space for functioning naturally. In other words, these shoes do not limit the foot in any of its natural movements. Each of us has a different foot shape, therefore the shapes of barefoot shoes are usually different and each model could fit someone else. However, the shape of the shoe is only individual attribute of barefoot footwear, all other specifics should be the same for all shoes, models and brands without distinction. That does not mean that all specifics are always met in every barefoot model though. For better market orientation, this article summarizes all the general attributes of barefoot shoes and explains their purpose.
Barefoot shoes have an especially thin and flexible sole. The thin sole ensures a good perception of the terrain and a sufficient supply of information from the foot to the brain. Based on this information, the brain can carry out the body's reactions through the muscles, which provide us with optimal stability. These reactions can be fully exploited thanks to the flexibility of the sole, which allows the foot to react more freely than in regular shoes. The thick sole of regular shoes will not allow the foot to obtain enough information about the surrounding terrain, and the rigid sole will not allow the body to react sufficiently. An adult is often already adapted to the conventional shoe and likely has a limited range of perceptions from the foot and limited possibilities of reactions. Even problems with the knees, hips, lumbar and cervical spine, headaches can stem from the non-ideal stereotype of walking. The young walkers perfectly reveal to us the benefits of natural barefoot. We can see that for young children the difference between unstable walking in firm and heavy footwear and much more coordinated movements in the case of walking barefoot is quite obvious.
Another important feature of the sole of a barefoot shoe is the same height under the toe and the heel. It's called zero drop. The flat sole allows a very good perception of the terrain and does not deflect the center of gravity of the body. Thanks to this, the center of gravity is in the middle throughout the whole time of walk and the muscles of the front and back muscular paths of the whole body are in balance. Conversely, if the shoe has a heel, moving the center of gravity forward puts a greater load on the front of the foot. Shifting the center of gravity forward results in an emphasis on kyphosis and lordosis of the spine . Simply put, the curves of the spine bend more in response to the body not falling forward due to the shift of the center of gravity. This is due to the increased tension of the back muscle path and this is one of the reasons why the heels can hurt the hips.
PHOTO / GIF - Possibilities of flexibility of the barefoot sole in different positions. For an adult walker, the bending bend (1) and the spiral bend up (2) and down (3) are particularly crucial.
STIGMA OF THE FLAT SOLE
As a physiotherapist, I often come across the opinion that a flat sole without the support of the inner longitudinal arch is dangerous. There are frequent concerns that such a sole will not sufficiently protect the foot from impacts from the ground or possible injuries from sharp objects. In the case of the conventional shape of the shoe, which does not respect the anatomical conditions of a particular foot, it is actually even more dangerous. In a regular shoe with a narrow toebox, it is not possible to spread the toes and let the foot work freely, so the foot cannot adequately perceive or react to the surface around. In this case, an alternative solution is needed in the form of the suspension of the sole or the support of the inner longitudinal vault by a shaped insole.
The fact that this is not an ideal solution is supported by the argument that too perfect cushioning of the shoe also essentially lessens the perception of the impact. This results in a harder impact of the foot on the surface and a greater overload for our joints, tendons and muscles . Also, the supporting of the inner longitudinal bone arch with a shaped insole serves to benefit only in 15 percent of cases where it is a structural flat foot (see the previous article 1. What is Barefoot). In the remaining 85 percent, wearing insoles has no clear medical indication . Previously, passive insole therapy was the only possible "solution". Today, however, we have far more options - from active work and foot stimulation, kinesio taping and proprioceptive insoles, to suitable footwear.
In the case of a barefoot shoe, the foot is provided with all the right conditions to be able to take care of itself. If the foot is used to functioning correctly, it has no problem with natural activity and does not need any external help. However, this does not apply if the foot is “asleep” (see the previous article 1. What is barefoot). The so-called sleeping foot is deprived of its ability by the conventional shoe, as its functioning is not required. Simply put, the shoe works instead of the foot. As soon as we support the bone arches of the foot, we make the foot forget how to keep it up by itself (see the previous article 1. What is barefoot?). Whenever the shoe bounces the impact instead of the foot, the foot's natural function is delayed and deprived. The only solution for such a sleeping foot is careful re-awakening, suitable footwear and motivation of the foot to work independently. The promotion of passivity in a conventional shoe, based on the assumption that the state is no longer possible to change, leads to nothing but greater passivity and the accumulation of more problems. It is optimal to consult the functional condition of your feet with a qualified expert, who will then recommend what steps and in what intensity to start waking up your feet.
Thin barefoot soles are very durable, often made of a stronger material than the soles of conventional shoes. Often they are made more durable so that they do not wear out in a single season (other factors also play a role here, such as type of the terrain, walking volume and a body weight). Therefore, there is no reason to worry about a greater risk of foot injury from the ground. The foot, which has the ability to feel the surrounding terrain, responds to the danger long before the foot is injured. In fact, sprains of the ankles occur in shoes with thick soles considerably more frequently [1, 3]. Although a less sensitive foot could hurt itself by long-term careless walking in a barefoot shoe, one will definitely realize the wrong way of walking through the body impulses much earlier than it would happen wearing conventional shoes. Undeniably, a sleeping foot responds slower to the danger of a sharp object. Therefore, the sole of the barefoot shoe protects the foot more than simply walking barefoot and at the same time motivates the foot to perceive and react independently.
WEIRD TOEBOX AND INCREDIBLE LIGHTNESS
When looking at barefoot shoes, the wide and flat toebox, which evokes the look of clown shoes, is often first to attract attention. The shapes of the toebox differ from model to model in relation to the shape of the foot. The appropriately chosen shape of the toebox of the shoe ensures the right conditions for unaffected walking. The wide toebox allows the foot to develop to its full potential so it is able to perform all functions . This is especially the shock absorption function in rebounds. When walking downhill, then it is an effective braking. Creating a fan of fingers while walking downhill saves the strength of the large muscles of the lower limbs and prevents pain in the area around the knee joint.
The flatness of the toebox allows the toes to be used for dynamic bounce off the ground. When the toebox is raised or curvy, there is no bouncing from the toes and the gait changes to a sort of swinging. In such case, the bounce comes from the area of the transverse arch under the heads of the metatarsal bones, in simple words, from the so-called "cushions" . In this way of bounce, the bone arches laid across the foot are flattened and endangered.
The last amazing feature of barefoot shoes is the lightness, which often surprises people interested in this footwear. The lightness of the shoe makes it feel as if the foot is walking (almost) barefoot. This ensures the naturalness of walking.
DOES IT FIT WELL?
The conventional shoe is rigid, so the foot must adapt to the shape of the shoe [3, 4]. For this reason, various deformities of the feet then occur, such as hammer toes or a bunion. The barefoot shoe respects the foot and adapts to its shapes. An important note for adult barefoot beginners - don't be afraid of the more space the barefoot shoe has for your foot. It's unusual at first, but your feet get used to this space very quickly. When walking naturally barefoot or in a barefoot shoe, the foot naturally develops more in relation to the new demands the barefoot walking has. Generally, we can say that the barefoot shoe fits when it does not restrict the foot in any way and gives it space to develop as needed. Ideally, we should not feel pressure nor too much space anywhere. I wish you and your feet the freedom and space to work naturally!
© Bohempia 2021 / Mgr. Lucie Kropáčková, physiotherapist and yoga instructor, CZP Camino
Disclaimer: Although all information contained herein is presented for maximum accuracy and factual accuracy in accordance with the latest scientific knowledge, no guarantee can be given for all information contained herein, as some information becomes obsolete over time and may become inaccurate. Articles and videos are for information only and should not be construed as a substitute for medical or physiotherapeutic examination and treatment. The authors of the texts and videos are not and cannot be held liable for any damage incurred in connection with the use of the submitted information. If in doubt, consult your physiotherapist or doctor for your medical condition, intent and procedure.
1 - LARSEN CH., MIESCHER B., WICKOHALTER G. Zdravé nohy pro vaše dítě. Poznání, 2008.
2 - LARSEN CH. Zdravá chůze po celý život. Poznání, 2005.
3 - HOWELL D. Naboso - 50 důvodů, proč zout boty. Mladá fronta, 2012.
4 - SAXBY L., WILKONSON M. Foot Function, Exercisen Related Pain and the Influence of Foorwear, Joe Nimble e-book, 2018.