Are Barefoot Shoes a Step in the Right Direction? The Pros and Cons of Minimalist Shoes

Eva Hagan - Author

Nov. 15 2023, Published 3:01 p.m. ET

A pair of blue crossfit barefoot shoes sit on a wooden surface.
Source: iStock

The Gist:

  • Barefoot shoes are shoes made with no foot support to feel like you are walking barefoot.

  • There is evidence showing that barefoot shoes can increase foot strength and mobility.

  • Whether a barefoot shoe will work for you or not largely depends on your foot type.

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If you are anything like me, you are deeply intrigued by the barefoot shoe movement, in which people choose to wear shoes with virtually no support to mimic walking barefoot. Although “barefooting” and barefoot shoes have been around for quite a while — aka since humans walked on two feet — it’s not something you see much today.

However, barefoot shoes have gained a lot of popularity through the internet in the past few decades, which has brought many to the question: are barefoot shoes good for you? Keep reading to find out.

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A person sits on gravel in gray jeans wearing a pair of minimalist brown shoes.
Source: iStock

What are barefoot shoes?

It’s okay if you don’t know what a barefoot shoe is; the name itself is a confusing contradiction. According to barefoot shoe company Groundies, barefoot shoes are essentially minimal shoes, designed to mimic being barefoot.

They often have thin and flexible soles, a wide toe box, and no foot support. That last characteristic may read like a bad thing, but Groundies says that having no foot support allows the foot to grow stronger over time, and eventually able to support itself.

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Are barefoot shoes good for you?

Research on barefoot shoes is limited, but there is evidence that barefoot shoes could provide some benefits.

In 2021, a study was conducted on the effects of foot strength after wearing minimalist shoes for six months. They found that on average, individuals had increased foot strength by over 50 percent.

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Barefoot shoes have been used by many people for centuries. A 2014 study of the Tarahumara people, aka the Rarámuri people, who are known for wearing minimalist sandals to run long distances, examined the difference between running in conventional shoes versus traditional sandals among tribe members. They found that those in the minimal sandals had better running form and less stiff arches, when compared to those wearing running sneakers.

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According to Health News, several other potential health benefits to barefoot shoes include less stress on the joints, improved balance, increased range of motion, and a more natural gait and running form.

What are the risks of barefoot shoes?

While there could be some benefits to barefoot shoes, wearing them could also pose some risks. Starting with the obvious, your feet are much more exposed and less protected from your environment, meaning that being mindful and vigilant about not stepping on anything sharp or unstable is important, per Health News.

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Barefoot shoes are also not for everyone's foot type. In a July 2023 interview with Green Matters, Dr. Jodi R. Schoenhaus of Florida's Foot, Ankle & Leg Vein Center explained, "In a normal or a rectus foot type, walking barefoot allows the small muscles of the foot to become stronger and our feet can 'breathe.'”

However, Dr. Schoenhaus then explained that the majority of people do have a normal foot type, meaning that barefoot shoes could cause problems.

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“People who have flat feet or high arch feet can develop problems as they age. Walking barefoot leads to more strain and impact on the muscles and joints, causing tendinitis, arthritis, and deformity,” Dr. Schoenhaus told Green Matters.

Given this, despite the possible benefits of barefoot shoes, it’s not a bad idea to make a visit to the podiatrist before you buy a pair of barefoot shoes, to make sure they won’t do more harm than good.

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