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Why Barefoot Shoes Matter

"Unless you are wearing a shoe specifically designed with a wide toe-box chances are your shoes are restricting toe movement, and by direct association, function of your entire foot and balance."

Before we can talk about the foot and barefoot shoes, I want to bring your awareness to something called ‘Fascia’. Fascia is a web of collagenous connective tissue that encompasses every organ of our body beneath our skin. Like our skin is an organ, so too is our fascia. The fascia itself can be viewed as a constantly forming and reforming web that receives information through our movement patterns and affects the brain and the rest of the body. Our nervous system, cardiovascular system, and lymphatic system all run through this ‘webbing’. Fascia by nature is plastic, meaning it is malleable, moldable, able to change its form… for better or worse. By understanding the nature of fascia, we can better understand ‘why’ it does this. Fascia seeks to ‘optimize’ the form it is placed in the most. Imagine a sedentary 40-hour a week office worker. You may see a slouched posture with a concave chest and a rounded upper back. Now imagine the professional ballerina who can bring her foot to her head with no warm up. Both of these individuals have, at least, one thing in common. Both their fascia did its task of solidifying the movement patterns they were subjected to. In this hypothetical, yet realistic, scenario the desk workers movement patterns were, well, nothing. Therefore, his posture begins to curl in on itself as the surrounding musculature of the upper back and chest weaken creating that slouching bent over position. The longer this is maintained the longer it will take to undo this negative reaction. Now in comparison to the ballerina, an individual able to bring their foot to their head on command is certainly no average joe however the exact same principles apply regarding fascia. The desk worker ‘trained’ his structure 40 hours a week to be good at the task of sitting at a desk. The professional ballerina by contrast spent the same if not more time training her structures ability to perform the demands of the art. Now lets get technical!


With fascia encompassing every part of our body under the skin that also includes the musculature around our feet! Understanding the nature of fascia, we can see that constraining our bodies to minimal movement is not an ideal choice. Now if that is the case… when was the last time you thought about your toes inside of your shoe? Unless you are wearing a shoe specifically designed with a wide toe-box chances are your shoes are restricting toe movement, and by direct association, function of your entire foot and balance. Shoes have had a pointed toe design for centuries now and there is no anatomical or functional reason for it. It is truly a fashion trend that has lasted generations. The constraint on the toes that that type of foot ware places on the fascia creates restrictions in blood flow, neurological connection, and sheer movement ability. Given enough time of this type of crutch on the body the fascia molds itself to fit the shoe, but not the function it was designed for. Should the fascia negatively reform then so too do the strength and function of the muscles surrounding the affected area but also, and more so worse, the bones as well. This brings rise to very common foot problems that plague today’s society like bunions, gout, plantar fasciitis, hammer toe, and the list goes on.


Each foot comprises of 26 bones and 33 individual joints to make up the structure of a fully grown adults foot. For every joint in the body there is a muscle or multiple muscles that attach to each joint there to perform its function of distributing force across the structure to pass along to the following bony structures and the muscles that surround it. Our bones move about their respective joints which are manipulated by the muscles that surround them. Joints are capable of changing direction, given their anatomical design, and by association ‘changing’ force. Joints give our body the ability to manipulate and re-distribute tension in a manner we see fit given our individual anatomy and the specific task or movement we are performing. For example, when an individual lands on both feet after performing a jump or walking off a tall box the mechanics required for the absorption of energy immediately upon  landing are that the ankle joint will create dorsi-flexion, flexion at the knee, and flexion at the hip. 3 joints in particular are most prominent in creating this action of absorbing energy as our bodies work to ‘catch’ ourselves on impact. What happens if these 3 joints don’t bend at all? Depending on the height of the jump and the physical integrity of the individuals’ structure this can be at the very least aggravating on the knees and hips or at the very worst a catastrophic injury. These joints bend in order to prevent such negative outcomes. This example is utilized to show the importance of the function of our joints for re-distributing tension for performance and health sake. Comprehending what we know about fascia and its ability to ‘optimize’ what it experiences most it would be wise to draw the attention now to the feet. What are the feet doing in this scenario? What about the other 33 joints of the foot? What part do they play in the act of landing? Or walking? Or running? Most sport performance and exercise books will discuss the 3 joints of the legs, the ankle, knee, and hip extensively. However, you don’t often here about the joints that make up the foot. Joints direct and re-distribute energy placed upon them by outside forces. Considering the foot is made up of 33 individual joints it stands to reason that the foot is experiencing its own plethora of coordinated actions as our feet strike the floor. What does this mean for you?


We are, by design, meant to walk upright. Although we are not the only species that walks on two feet we are certainly the best at it. This is largely due to the unique structure of the human foot in conjunction with the rest of our structures as human beings. Through thousands of years of evolution and survival our bodies molded themselves to be capable of a vast number of jobs and conditions. Both physically laborious and tedious. From walking for days on end in nomadic tribes to spending weeks in the rice fields squatting for hours a day. The joints that make up our feet direct tension in the proper vectors to perform the necessary task for survival. In western culture, however, we have removed society of the necessity for functioning feet. We have motorized scooters, cars, public transportation, elevators, escalators, chairs, thick-soled shoes, home-delivery services, and the list goes on. Removing function from one area of the body leads to compensation or other areas of the body over-working to pick up the slack. We live in a society that has never been more health conscious yet at the same time has never been more… well, weak. Consider how often you walk barefoot. How often do your toes, specifically, get to see the sunlight? When was the last time you worked out or went for a walk barefoot, or at least with no shoes on? We are inundated with workouts for the back, the chest, the legs, even the traps. When was the last time you thought about your feet or toes in conjunction with your regular workout routine?


Our fascia encompasses every organ in the body under the skin. It seeks to optimize what we do most whether we are aware of it or not. It does this by thickening the lines of tension under which it is placed. Creating neurological pathways for the muscle to continue moving through as means of an organic guidance or memory system. The fascia in the toes and whole foot is no different. Taking off those pointed shoes that restrict your toe movement or even replacing them with a wide-toe box style shoe may have a greater effect on your overall health then you’d think to give it credit for. The more access of control and awareness you have to your foot the greater your capacity for movement. You can develop more of the athlete within you with this particular intervention.

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