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Wendy Bumgardner

Is Barefoot Better?

By July 5, 2010

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I've been watching the Discovery Channel series Dual Survival, which features primitive skills expert Cody Lundin, who hasn't worn shoes for 20 years. He is paired with Army-trained survival expert Dave Canterbury (who wears modern footwear).† On each episode they mention research that says that humans who didn't wear footwear had fewer foot problems than our modern shoe-wearing societies.

There aren't a lot of studies, but there are a few significant ones.† One studied the feet of 180 modern skeletons and compared them to 2000 year-old skeletons of a barefoot society.† The results were, "The pathological lesions found in the metatarsals of the three recent human groups generally appeared to be more severe than those found in the pre-pastoral group. This result may support the hypothesis that pathological variation in the metatarsus was affected by habitual behaviour including the wearing of footwear and exposure to modern substrates."† In other words, wearing shoes and walking on modern floors, streets and sidewalks is associated with more foot problems seen in skeletons.
Source: B. Zipfela, L.R. Bergerab, "Shod versus unshod: The emergence of forefoot pathology in modern humans?" The Foot. Volume 17, Issue 4, Pages 205-213 (December 2007)

On a recent episode, Cody gave in and fashioned "Jerusalem Cruisers" out of a tire and a seatbelt strap to help him get across a sharp volcanic rockfield.† Can't fault him for that.

Another study found that going barefoot decreased the stress on knee and hip joints for patients with osteoarthritis.† I wonder whether that was primarily due to gait changes or due to just not having an extra half pound to a pound of weight on each foot.† I will continue to encourage everyone to wear lighter-weight shoes and not attach ankle weights.
Source: Shakoor N, Block JA (2006). "Walking barefoot decreases loading on the lower extremity joints in knee osteoarthritis". Arthritis Rheum. 54 (9): 2923-7. doi:10.1002/art.2212

I've always gone barefoot or in stocking feet around the house.† But. except for on a sandy beach, I otherwise wear shoes outside the house.†† And I have a review from a friend who tried the Vibram FiveFingers shoes that take nearly-barefoot to a whole new level.

Barefoot Running Pros and Cons from our Sports Medicine Guide explores issues that probably also apply to walking barefoot.

Do you enjoy walking barefoot?† For how far?

July 8, 2010 at 9:54 am
(1) Steve Haynes says:

I like the idea of barefoot, but I’m concerned about things like cuts, etc. Wouldn’t it be better to adopt something like moccasins as footwear to have a similar effect yet have some protection against cuts and other things? Those inexpensive, flat soled shoes similar to deck shoes might be good too!

July 8, 2010 at 10:30 am
(2) glasgowgal says:

I have always liked going barefoot indoors. Shoes are the first thing that comes off as soon as I walk in the door! Several years back, I started doing walking videos indoors going barefoot. Apparently, this wasnít a good idea, because I ended up with plantar fasciitis. When I went to the podiatrist because of the terrible pain, he told me I should NEVER go barefoot. He said I should always wear sneakers/shoes with support and if I choose to wear sandals, they need to be sport sandals. It took years to get rid of my plantar fasciitis and it still flairs up once in awhile if Iím not stringent with my stretching exercises. I still kick off my shoes when I first come into the house, but eventually I end up putting on my sports sandals because the fear of the pain from plantar fasciitis is always hanging over my head. Or should I say foot?

July 21, 2010 at 9:11 pm
(3) Carrie Ann says:

To Steve Haynes:: I am a barefooter. I hardly ever put shoes on. I step on glass all the time, and I have NEVER been cut by it. Stepping on glass poses no special risk; even to people who don’t regularly go barefoot outdoors. Imagine holding the blade of a knife to your skin and pressing on it. As hard as you press, it doesn’t cut unless you actually slide it up or down, in a slicing motion. This same thing happens with glass–and plus, the soles of the feet generally are of a more durable, thicker type of skin than the rest of the body.

July 27, 2010 at 9:41 pm
(4) Tito says:

I’ve seen Cody’s feet on the show, and in several shots they are bleeding or heavily cracked. You have to wonder then if primitives did something additional to their feet to make them stronger or to build up calluses. Maybe applied some sort of ointment derived from plants? Maybe not all primitives went barefoot? For survivalism, it is a horrible idea. Yes, in a few cases, Cody walks slower which enables him to see things others may miss. But he is susceptible to bites, cuts, infection… and he is not able to move fast when necessary such as running from an animal or trying to catch an escaping boat (as in one episode).

February 28, 2011 at 6:31 am
(5) Barefoot Dinu says:

BAREFOOT is the best !

August 26, 2012 at 3:02 pm
(6) Todd says:

barefoot is not good idea, long time ago people don’t have shoes so they have no choices, shoes are protect your feet, this guy (cody) is showing off, he wants to tell everyone watching a show he is a tough guy but he is real stupid man,

August 29, 2012 at 12:02 am
(7) iomoon says:

I wonder how that changes with people who regularly wear orthotic footwear. I myself wear orthotics outside and stay barefoot inside my house.

January 15, 2013 at 9:37 pm
(8) jeff says:

I’m all for barefooting it – been doing it since I was a kid. However, Cody Ludin’s barefoot exploits are exaggerated. There is a thing called ‘critical thinking’ that will make it obvious that he does not go everywhere barefooted. The Dual Survivor show (rigged and nothing remotely close to “Survivor Man”) only shows him going barefoot on fairly smooth surfaces. When it does show him barefooting it through difficult terrain, he’s tippy-toeing like he’s walking on coals and he moves nowhere near as fast as his shod companion. Also, the shots are very short (staged).

I did barefoot running for awhile and got up to nine miles on pavement/sidewalks completely unshod (6 miles on trails). But all it took was one small piece of broken acorn shell to get my foot infected such that I had to get it surgically cut out and take antibiotics to stop the infection.

I still go barefooted as much as I can, but NO ONE (human, at least) can traverse the terrain that Ludin does on his show without repercussions that would halt barefooting for awhile. Our feet can only become so tough, but never as tough as dried leather or rubber.

I appreciate the naturalist approach Ludin has, but if he alleges he goes barefooted everywhere, especially in the rough terrain and conditions his show is based on, then he is a poser. Critical thinking is critical.

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