There's a new trend that has been brewing under the surface for some time. Small passionate communities are now sprouting around the country advocating and suggesting that our fancy $100 athletic shoes, high-heels, and our everyday shoes in general are not healthy for us. Whereas many of these shoes claim to help you avoid different foot injuries and offer foot and ankle support to "bring your game to the next level." These communities suggest that it's actually these shoes that are the source of all our foot pain and injuries. What do they suggest instead of these shoes? Simply not wearing shoes or in other words just going barefoot.
The other way scientists have been researching the shoe vs. barefoot debate is examining tribes in areas where they haven't been affected as much by modern civilization and don't wear shoes and comparing them to western civilizations where shoes are basically a requirement for going anywhere in public. In particular they studied 180 individuals from 3 different social community groups: 1 group the Sotho tribe (Africa), 1 group the Zulu tribe (Africa), and 1 group of Europeans. They also took the data collected from these groups and compared it to ancient skeletons in order to see how much the foot has changed from going barefoot to wearing shoes. The result is not surprising to people who believe in the merits of walking or running barefoot. The study concluded that the Zulu tribe, which is known for going bare feet, had the healthiest feet of all the groups. Who had the unhealthiest feet in the study? Europeans by and large had the least healthy feet, which can be tied to the fact that most Europeans wear shoes in their daily lives.
The lead researcher, Dr. Bernhard Zipfel, of this study was surprised by the results and complained that organizations like the American Podiatric Medical Association (AMPA) does not "actively encourage outdoor barefoot walking for healthy individuals. This flies in the face of the increasing scientific evidence, including our study, that most of the commercially available footwear is not good for the feet."
While the case and evidence for going barefoot are strong, however there is the more practical matter of actually trying to go through the modern world without wearing shoes. Unfortunately, we have gravel, broken glass, hot black pavement, dirt, etc... to contend with in our daily foot commute. Such an environment does not make it easy to toss away the shoes and walk around barefoot. While people may know that wearing shoes is not necessarily good for them, but without a clean and safe environment to do so it's no surprise most people prefer to keep their shoes on.
However there is an alternative.
New shoe manufacturers have been started with the sole purpose of designing, producing, and selling minimalist inspired shoes that focus on giving wearers the benefits of going barefoot while at the same time giving wearers the protection they need in an urban environment.
One such company is Vibram which has a line of shoes called Vibram FiveFingers. These shoes are relatively thin and also separate each of your toes into it's own compartment which is like wearing gloves on your feet. The advantage of separating the toes is that your feet are no longer constrained which allows for which allow your feet to adapt to the terrain you are walking or running on. There are also other good quality five-finger shoes brand on the market.
Aesthetically some people find the shoes somewhat ugly, however, an overwhelming majority of fivefingers wearers and owners have reported that they don't know how they could live without them. Many have reported that after wearing and using Five Finger Shoes that they no longer have issues with shin splits, blisters, plantar fasciitis, and back pain that they used to have. In addition many have even stated that they feel their posture and balance have improved after wearing five finger shoes.
In the end if someone is looking for an alternative to traditional athletic shoes and hoping to get over foot pain or lower body pain then the five finger shoes are definitely worth further examination.