Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
8 Oct

How to Strengthen Your (Bare, Flat) Feet

footAbout 20% of adults have flat feet. A small subset of the population suffers from hereditary flat foot, but most of it is developed. Very few of us are actually born with flat foot. In this post I’ll explore what you can do to avoid flat feet in the first place, and if you already have them whether it is possible to reverse the damage.

Since publishing blog posts on ditching shoes, alternatives to going barefoot, and others I now receive regular reader emails like this one:

Dear Mark,

I’ve had flat foot all my life (18 years so far) and always wondered about the cause from an evolutionary stand point, and any negatives that might come from it. I vaguely remember the doctors subscribing foot supports and a lot of unnecessary products which I haven’t used in a decade. I don’t have any problems that I know of, but just wondering if there’s any alterations I should make to my workout routine to benefit me more? Thanks in advanced.

Ahmed

Great question, Ahmed.

First, how do we develop flat feet? Almost every online resource gives a few stock answers for the cause of flat foot. Most places say something like this:

Causes of Weak Arches:

Flat feet can be hereditary and present themselves at birth. For others the condition can occur as a result of mis-treating the feet – for example wearing high heels for prolonged periods of time, or wearing shoes with no support.

Flat feet or fallen arches can also result from:

  • Weakened muscles in the foot due to aging
  • Weakened muscles in the foot due to injury

Or this:

Causes:

  • Weakened muscles due to aging or heavy strain placed on the feet.
  • Standing or walking for long periods in high heels.
  • Wearing shoes that don’t provide proper arch support.

Okay, weakened muscles in the foot I can buy as a cause. In fact, it’s almost certainly one of the primary causes of flat foot. High heels aren’t doing us any favors, either, although I’d amend that one to include anything with even slightly-raised heels as a causative agent. I cannot, however, agree with the contention that lack of shoes without “proper arch support” is the problem; I’d even say that it’s the exact opposite. Try “Wearing shoes that do provide proper arch support” instead. Shoes do little else but provide an environment that our feet simply haven’t truly adapted to.

Our genes want us to be barefoot. In fact, it’s the only environment they know, having been born into a shoeless existence. On an individual scale, you could say we adapt to our shoes, but not on a genetic level. Evolutionarily, we’re still walking on the same bare feet Grok used to get around his environment. In fact, hominids have been obligate bipeds for over two million years. Our feet were arguably the first things to develop. Before the big brains, the complex tool making, and the language, our ancestors were walking upright on feet that looked remarkably similar to our own. But don’t tell that to the guys at Nike. They’re convinced those millions of years of natural selection still weren’t enough to produce a working, functional foot that doesn’t require manmade supportive footwear (unless, of course, you buy the Nike Free, in which case the lack of support is suddenly beneficial – awesome logic, huh?).

The Evidence

Before I get carried away on a tangential rant against athletic shoes, I’ll try to stick to the topic at hand. We know that shoes alter the structure and function of the foot. I mean, it sounds like plain common sense, but there’s also some concrete evidence. Back in 1905, an orthopedist named Dr. Philip Hoffman conducted a “Comparative Study of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing Peoples” (don’t you just love old research?) and published his results in the American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery. He also took a ton of photos.

Here’s one of a foot that rarely – if ever – saw the inside of a shoe.

20090505 k3pfpa6c7exbg14dk2xa9813q9

Note the wide toes, and how a straight line can be drawn through the axis. Looks pretty healthy and stable, right?

Now look at this photo of a pair of feet and the shoes they’re shoved into.

fig06

Notice the narrow structure and the cramped toes, especially the angle of the big toe. It’s pointing inward!

Shoe wearing acts quickly, too. Here, Hoffman snapped photos of two sets of feet.

fig11

Foot A is that of a child who has worn shoes for a mere three months, while Foot B is that of an adult who’s gone barefoot his whole life. Three months was all it took to drastically shape the child’s feet. Already his big toe is turning inward.

In the end, Hoffman concluded that of the “one hundred and eighty-six pairs of primitive feet examined, [he] did not find a single foot associated with the symptoms of weakness so common in adult shoe-wearing feet, which are weakened by the restraint the shoe exerts over function.” He also noticed that foot development was remarkably similar, in all populations, up until the introduction of foot wear. Shoes, it seems, have an undeniable ability to alter one’s natural foot structure.

But wait: there’s even more. Researchers in India found (PDF) that flat foot was far more prevalent among people who wore footwear before the age of six. Kids who ran around barefoot for most of their first six years – the formative years, it turns out – had better developed longitudinal arches and less flat foot. Among children who wore footwear on a regular basis, 8.2% suffered from flat foot (compared to 2.8% of barefoot kids). No other factors had comparable impacts. Adults didn’t have higher rates of flat foot than the kids, unless they reported wearing shoes as children. Why do we wear these things, anyway?

babyfeet

If you’ve got kids or are planning on it, you may want to take a good long look at their shoes – or lack thereof.

What Can You Do About It?

tiptoe

Okay, that’s all very compelling, but what does a guy like Ahmed do about his condition? Whether it was inherited (not likely) or developed through footwear usage, he’s still got to deal with a pair of flat feet. He can’t go back in time to age four and throw out his baby sneakers. He can’t erase the years and years of shoe-wearing, years that may have exacerbated his problem (kudos for ditching the orthotics, though!). Is Ahmed beholden to his situation? Are his feet forever altered?

No! Assuming his flat foot was developed, he’s still got the genetic potential to improve his feet and – at least partially – restore some of his natural structure and strength. You’ll still technically be flat footed, but you should be able to restore total functionality to your feet.

The first, perhaps most important step is to stay away from orthotics and shoes with “plenty of arch support.” Rather than help you solve your problem, shoes with arch supports prop you up and lead to weak, atrophied foot musculature. Your feet aren’t grasping, pulling, pushing, and flexing inside a pair of athletic trainers; they’re growing soft and growing weak. Fixing, or at least mitigating, your flat feet is going to require some serious foot strength.

Next, spend as much time as humanly possible with your bare feet. If you’re at home, remove your shoes as soon as you enter. If you’re heading out to take the dog on a walk, try circling the block in your bare feet. Mail’s come? Shoeless. Early morning paper? Barefoot. Living room workout? Do it without shoes on. You’ve got to learn to use your feet again, and the best way to do so is to simply live, eat, breath, and sleep barefoot.

Try toe running. When I haven’t done any serious barefoot work (which is very rare, actually; I’m almost always barefoot or in minimalist footwear) in awhile, I’ll hop on the treadmill in my socks (to reduce slippage) and do five or six minutes of light jogging. The catch is that I make sure to stay on my toes the entire time. This strengthens the ligaments and muscles (there are over a hundred of ‘em in the human foot) and prepares them for future activity.

A Few Simple Exercises to Strengthen Your Feet

Do toe spreads. Sit, stand, or lie down and fan your toes out as widely as possible. Create space between each toe. Hold this position for ten seconds, and repeat the exercise ten times daily per foot.

Point at things with your toes. Pick something, anything, in the room and point your toes at it. Now flex your foot. Hold it for five seconds, then release. Again, do this ten times per foot each day. For extra work, try tracing the alphabet with your feet in midair each day.

Get on your toes. Stand on your tippy-toes and just walk around for five minutes each day. Never let your heels touch the ground for the duration. Barefoot toe treadmill work is a worthy alternative.

Try side walking. Stand up (barefoot, of course) and get in a shoulder wide stance. Bend your knees slightly and roll onto the outer edges of your feet. Keep the weight on your outer feet and slowly raise up on your toes. You should feel your longitudinal arch stretching; once you do, hold that position for five seconds. Repeat five times each day.

Walk in sand. Sand is never the same. If you kick off your shoes and hit the grains (yeah, I just coined that phrase: “hit the grains”), you will be catapulting your virgin bare feet into a chaotic, ever-changing environment that will force them to adapt. Hyperbole aside, walking barefoot in the sand is a highly effective way to strengthen your feet.

I can’t stress this enough: go slowly. From the previous pictures, it’s obvious how much of an impact shoes can have on our bodies. For many of us, a lifetime of shoe wearing means the risk of overtraining our bare feet is possible, or even likely, if we don’t exercise caution. You don’t want to leap blindly into barefoot sprints with severely flat feet and risk injuring yourself even further, do you? Do the strengthening exercises before anything else.

Again, the damage may be done, and the flat feet may be permanent. I’m obligated to say it. There is, however, a lot of anecdotal evidence, especially on some of the barefoot running sites, that suggests people with flat feet can prosper without shoes (and even cure their condition), but there’s little in the way of actual, concrete evidence. We do know that shoes affect the structure and function of our feet; what we don’t know is whether the damage can be reversed. You can certainly strengthen your feet simply by removing your shoes and going barefoot as often as possible – and I highly doubt we’re forever beholden to an artificial adaptation. We often hear about people adopting the Primal Blueprint and turning their lives around in a month after eating the Standard American Diet for years, because our genes are hardwired to prefer certain things and our bodies can recover from an awful lot of abuse. Maybe our feet are the same way. Maybe actual structural changes can’t be completely overcome, but I’d be willing to wager that through careful, targeted foot exercises and a focus on barefoot living, we can make them almost irrelevant.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on flat feet and a barefoot existence. Hit me up with a comment. Thanks for reading, everyone!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. What I did to transition into “barefoot” running was sprinting up trails on hills. Running uphill is much more naturally forefoot striking as compared to say running downhill and heel striking. I focused on trying to use the foot as a spring and launch off with each step.

    It’s definitely a steep (sore) learning curve, however.

    Robert M. wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • look my feet hurt so to night i will start the toe/feet strengthen i went to the ortho and he said i have flat feet i tryed the special soul he mold of my feet for a year no help my feet hurt more i grit my teeth um gritting now i dont walk around with bare feet but it just might work so here i go day #1

      myfeethurt34 wrote on January 26th, 2013
    • Have read comments, I am 60 years of age, born with the flattest of feet, been in pain all my life, when I was 11 I attended hospital twice a week and they put my feet in bowls of water with metal pads under two places on each foot, they then passed electricity through to make my feet contract, also had to wear hideous built up shoes, then later in life insoles made at the hospital which did absolutely NOTHING to help, apart from inflict even more pain upon me.
      My feet roll inwards really badly, shoes don’t last long as I wear the instep bit out by walking on the side of he shoe, I have been forced to wear Scholl sandals, again increased pain and no change, I have now come to realise NOTHING will help me, I am destined to be in pain the rest of my life, I have undergone back and hip surgery which according to the surgeons has all been caused by my flat feet, so fellow sufferers I truly feel your pain.

      Eloise wrote on April 13th, 2014
      • Just read the article about “flat feet” – And there was a photo of MY FEET – with spread toes and “looking pretty wide” and I am thrilled to bits.
        Now I KNOW my feet are really good and healthy – I hate wearing shoes (especially after I broke a big toe playing cricket – no shoes of course – ha!) and a couple of years later my ankle snow ski-ing. Since then I have taken every opportunity to walk about without shoes.
        Luckily summers were spent down the beach, surfing and sailing so NO SHOES.
        When I was 7 years of age, I was told I had flat feet and had to wear supports (some horrible metal contraption, which I removed from my comfy school shoes as soon as I was out of sight of home).
        Even now I am mostly going barefoot(except on hot pavement) and at 70 years of age my feet are great. Now I know they are OK with my spread toes and wider foot not like my darling hubby, whose toes are squished in and has an almost bunion and has sore feet.
        Thank You now I am really proud of my feet.

        Peggywho wrote on April 16th, 2014
  2. Sorry Mark, but I tried everything, for years. I was diagnosed with flat feet when I was seven. Guess what the solution was, though? Inserts. My dad made me do exercises every day to ‘strengthen’ my feet.

    Did my shoes aggravate the situation? Absolutely. Is there anything I can do now? No. I give up. I’m obtaining a bunion and must wear nice shoes to the office, so that I can continue to feed my family :-(

    Do I think it could’ve been avoided? Yes, maybe, but at a VERY early age. I was pigeon-toed as a baby and by age 4, I still remember making myself bloody with my ‘church shoes’ because I kept hitting the inside of my ankles with them.

    Fast forward to today: No amount of exercise on these arches had done me ONE OUNCE of good! :-(

    I HAVE to be your one exception….

    SassaFrass88 wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • SassaFrass88, sorry you are giving up. I’m not convinced you’re the exception. I bet if you got yourself some VFFs for outdoor training and a pair of FeelMax Pankas to wear at work…and did your exercises religiously, you could make huge gains over time.

      Mark Sisson wrote on October 8th, 2009
      • I have to wear dress shoes to work too. No shoe on the market I was able to find looked presentable given the executive environment. I had a friend that makes moccasins make me a pair with some soft but somewhat “shiny” (read: looks dressy) black leather. Its like wearing slippers all day! My feet are flat on the ground and the soles are totally flexible.

        Xendara wrote on October 6th, 2010
        • Hello Xendara, can you post some photos of your moccasins?

          Álvaro wrote on January 21st, 2011
        • 2nd vote for more moccasin info from Xendara.

          Xendara – Any chance your friend would allow you to pass on their contact information? I think a lot of people here with your same issure would be interested in giving them some business!

          Raymond wrote on January 21st, 2011
        • Try vivobarefoot

          Mel wrote on February 4th, 2012
        • Have you tried Dansko shoes? They are really comfortable and has built in arches, not recommended for people who suffers from bunions and hammertoes because of their hard formation this could aggravate the bony prominences of your feet.

          jeand wrote on July 5th, 2012
        • Hi Xendara,
          There is a great Australian shoe company called “Bared Footwear” that specialises in shoes that both look dressy/pretty and can be worn with orthotics. The interior of the shoes are fitted with a a supportive lining like a very mild orthotic that can be removed and replaced with your own insole if it doesn’t provide enough support. I just bought two pairs recently- flat and heeled- and they are very comfortable and pretty. Highly recommend. https://bared.com.au

          Jessica wrote on October 5th, 2012
      • Mark, my feet are about a half size different from each other…is this normal and could it potentially be fixed by barefoot training? also will I have trouble with getting a good fit with VFF or pankas?

        Kyle wrote on January 28th, 2011
        • Having feet that are a half size different is not “normal” but it is common. Usually it results from putting more of your weight on your larger foot, i.e. if you put a scale under your feet, you’d be standing more heavily on one side. Often, the glutes and hamstrings are lazy while the quads are hyper-dominant on the “lighter” side with the smaller foot. This can be completely corrected.

          Sukie Baxter wrote on November 9th, 2011
    • You’re not the exception. I am the same way. My feet are flat to the ground, and now I have bunions. I train barefoot, but I have to wear shoes to work!

      erica wrote on October 8th, 2009
      • Erica,

        You could try getting a pair of “Vivo Barefot” shoes. I have a pair myself and they emulate barefoot working almost perfectly (nothing like the real thing of course, but the difference is negligible).

        :-)

        David Grant wrote on January 3rd, 2010
        • For anyone wearing VFF or the Vivo’s longer than a year – do any of you still feel the same as to when you began wearing them?

          JC- FitMarker wrote on August 21st, 2010
        • I tried barefoot shoes, eased in to them as slowly as possible and all they did was injure me to the point where I had to stay off of them for 3 months, afterward where I tried running again. Now every time I go for a run I earn a flaming painful case of tendonitis.

          Something this article neglects to consider: what about those of us who live in wintery climates? You try going for a walk on snow and ice without shoes.

          Erin wrote on April 3rd, 2011
    • Another exception here–my feet have always been flat and we never wore shoes in the house–it’s an Asian thing. I’ve been plagued by bunionettes (pinkie bunions) since my mid-30’s and have added bunions in my mid-40’s.

      Over the last two months I have been diligently doing foot and ankle exercises (mostly to rehab an ankle so I could keep learning how to power lift). I just got back from a screening with a new podiatrist (Dr. Steve Subotnick, who used to write for Runner’s World magazine). The sesamoids near my right big toe have actually moved out of position (man, I though my feet were ugly on the outside–the x-rays were a complete horror show). I’m to continue with my self-researched exercises and will return in 6 months to see if my bunions have stabilized or even begun to show improvement. I don’t expect to ever have much of a real “arch” but I’ll be happy if I can at least stop that ugly and painful “bunion bulge.”

      MightyMite wrote on October 8th, 2009
      • I guess you must be a so called “American Asian” because in China, where I live we all wear shoes indoors.. so don’t say “it’s an Asian thing” when you have no idea what you’re talking about ..

        poiuy wrote on September 8th, 2012
        • I am a Chinese living in Singapore and majority of the people here don’t wear shoes indoors.

          Brandon wrote on September 16th, 2012
        • Interesting. I think this no shoes thing is in every culture. I’m Polynesian living in NZ – no shoes in the house growing up – we had to remove them at the door. To enter a traditional Maori meeting house today, shoes must be removed and left at the door.I think it dates from biblical times – you know God told Moses to remove the shoes from his feet because he was standing on sacred ground. Well our homes are sacred grounds too.

          polygirl wrote on January 9th, 2013
        • Try going to North Korea filth

          North Korean wrote on May 10th, 2013
        • I think he does know what his talking bout! Asians as in Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshy etc do not where shoes in the house! So I’m assuming when that person says Asian he is not referring to Chinese but rather south Asians :)

          myriad kara wrote on March 31st, 2014
    • There will always be exceptions. But, perhaps, because the muscles in your foot have become so use to shoes (just a crutch for our feet), you need to work harder to build up those very weak and flabby muscles. I have posted a lot on this topic on my site, and some of this info may inspire you to try once more.

      Dr. Nirenberg wrote on January 20th, 2010
    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpHQuETQXi8

      Watch this then get back to me please young lady !!!

      Scotty Logan wrote on January 20th, 2010
      • Scotty, that video should be on “funnyordie.com” New nominee for most ridiculous procedure in medicine.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpHQuETQXi8

        Mark Sisson wrote on January 21st, 2010
        • I’m in Australia. What is the best way to strengthen your feet and produce an arch ?

          I will try anything !

          Scott

          Scotty Logan wrote on January 21st, 2010
        • This is actually the first article I ever read, because I was on Google searching for ways to strengthen my feet to alleviate the knee arthritis I developed playing basketball in college. I don’t think it merits another full article, but I’ve been dying to know for months: if sprints and training can be done with Vibrams, what about full court indoor basketball? I switched from playing in Nike Basketball sneakers to Nike Free TRs, thicker versions of their running shoe, but still thinner than basketball sneakers. Any Primal suggestions?

          Alexander wrote on May 8th, 2012
        • Hi Mark,

          I can’t use the regular comment section, it seems so, have to post here.

          Now, I can’t say i was born with them, but I’m sure my case is at least partly hereditary.

          When i was a kid, i was herded into lace up shoes with super arch support, and i had to go and see a doctor twice a year up till the age of about thirteen, when fashion became an issue.

          In addition, i was in a ballet class from the age of 3 till 12, and my teacher would have me lift up my arches during the lesson, or my feet wouldn’t meet into the positions.

          Now, i became of the age where i refused to wear ugly shoes and always wearing lace-ups, so i stopped getting my feet assessed.

          From then on, I conditioned myself not to walk on my arches, and now it’s uncomfortable not to.

          I think i have a weirder case though as when my foot is relaxed my toes are all curled up (imagine a cats paw) and when i set my foot down, my toes splay very wide, like the kid who doesnt wear shoes above.

          Another thing, is that when my foot is relaxed it is severely under-pronated, yet when i stand, it is way over.

          In addition to this when i stand completely flat on my feet, my inner ankle bone is touching the ground.

          I do walk barefooted alot too, and while i have obviously flat feet, to walk on them is now very uncomfortable.

          Whichever way i stand, though, I am never comfortable in shoes. Ever, and wish i didnt live in england and walk on bare ground.

          Sorry for my rant, heard of anything similar.

          Marija wrote on May 3rd, 2013
        • Hey Mark:

          I have to take exception to you comment with respect to the procedure being referred to by the physician in the video. Unless that is, you are implying how funny it is,that such a simple procedure can produce phenomenal outcomes. The product/procedure he is referring to is called HyProCure. I, and 8 of my family members have had this procedure and the HyProCure implanted in our feet. Before doing so, we had exhausted every possible option with respect to treating our flatfeet. We are so thankful to have found a physician who does this procedure; It has changed our lives!!! I urge anyone experiencing this condition to check out the company who manufactures the product’s website: http://www.hyprocure.com

          Also, if you have any more questions feel free to ask me. The website is a wealth of information.

          Thanks,

          Tommy G

          Tomas Generoue wrote on July 10th, 2013
    • Hi guys ive had flat feet since I was a baby and have never had any pain until now at 24. I have started having ankle and knee pains and I think it could be due to me starting up running as a hobby. What kind of supports can i wear to run and generally walk in and is there a way to actually build my arches up??? Thanks, Simon

      simon wrote on January 27th, 2010
    • Dear Mark
      I have Flat feet since 17 years old , when my Road accident after that i operation of feet than 2 year no pain than little bit pain on feet uper side than i check up to Doctor he was told me your feet flat after accident, than he made me shoes with sole 4 year i continew wear shoes, after that my pain was finished , now days i feeling pain. Mark can you tell me suitable treatment.

      Thanks & Best Regards

      Sami

      Sami wrote on March 17th, 2010
    • I have flat feet and their probably genetic since my brother and sister have them too. I never tried doing exercises but I always wore insoles (useless) neither did my sister. My brother however, always the more determined one, walked on the outer edges of his feet as a kid and teen until his foot actually held the shape and he now has healthy arches. Maybe thats the way to go?

      Dena wrote on July 6th, 2010
    • I had custom (expensive) orthotics for 3 years to fix my flat-ish feet. I developed terrible back and hip problems that could not be diagnosed (since it was all muscular and from misalignment). I was only 26 when the back problems started. 2 years, despite every doctor, podiatrist and chiropractor i went to saying my orthotics were fine, I ditched the orthotics. Within days my back felt better. Then I read the Born to Run book and have been toe/barefoot running ever since. My back pain has gone away 90% after running every day for 1 month! The toe running strengthens all the muscles around the back and encourages proper alignment.

      I found your site because even though toe running is easier on my knees than “normal” running, because my left foot especially is flat, it’s affecting my knees. I know if i can just get my feet strong enough it will be ok.

      Thanks for spreading the good word!

      Alan wrote on October 22nd, 2010
      • I’ve had the complete opposite experience. I started running about 6 years ago, using the “wrong” shoes, and developed numerous back, hip, and especially knee problems.

        I went to a podiatrist who got me into orthotics and shoes with more motion control, and everything has been fine since! I haven’t had one injury since I started with the orthotics, and I’ve trained for and run 3 marathons and countless 1/2 marathons.

        I like the theory behind barefoot running, but now I’m afraid to go back because I’m worried all the injuries will return.

        Tamar wrote on November 7th, 2010
      • I know this is an old post but, your situation sounds like mine. I’ve always hated heel lift shoes. I would alter shoes as best I could to my liking. My situation goes one worse as I have one leg significantly shorter than the other requiring a lift. Try barefoot running like that. Thankfully my bad flat foot is the longer leg. I need to apply some sort of lift to the right barefoot shoe. Can’t walk or run without the lift or my hip goes out. I routinely hike 20 miles with heavy packs. I’ve wasted so much $ on shoes and hiking boots over the years. Orthodics too. I walk in slippers all day everyday and feel fine but, shoes kill me. I’m trying Altra Lone Peaks for hiking with a pack. Thank goodness shoe makers are finally getting it.

        Bryan wrote on November 29th, 2011
      • I am 15 years old and i have back problems from my flat feet that i got from berth.

        chad wrote on January 26th, 2012
    • I’ve worked in places where I’ve been told when I was hired that I “must wear nice shoes to the office”, but as soon as I started, I realize that my coworkers really didn’t care.

      I’ve walked around the office barefoot, and had at least 6 people say “ohmygod, I didn’t know you could do that!”, and then switch to going barefoot in the office, too.

      I’m not normally in a customer-facing role, but I’ve been introduced to potential customers who come to the office, and one saw me barefoot and said “I wish I could do that!”. I told her she was welcome to, in our office, so she did.

      I also disagree that you need to “obtain a bunion” in order to “to feed your family”. Even if your current job is (unlike every job I’ve ever had) so lousy that they require you to mutilate your own body to continue working there, there are absolutely places you can work that don’t require this. You’re making the choice that continuing to work in that office (and all that goes along with it, good and bad) is more important than healthy feet. And I don’t know your situation, so maybe that’s the case for you. But it’s absolutely not the case that you need to hurt yourself to feed your family.

      (Just got back from a meeting with my CEO. He’s not barefoot, yet, but he seems to find it amusing that I am.)

      Al wrote on November 15th, 2010
    • I am so sorry for what you’ve been through … but i also have flat feet .. the thing is that i was born with them and didn’t find out until i was 11 years old and try having kids my age now days making fun of you. But i’m so sad for your situation you had it bad also… Now at the age of 14 i realized i don’t care what people think if they don’t like me then they don’t have to be my friends because im not gonna ruin my life for them.

      bebe hickz wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • dude this is the worst advice ever.. geez do not follow this guys terrible advice.. stay in school!!

      dont fail wrote on July 6th, 2011
    • I have to give a HUGE thanks to Mark and the others who participated in helping ourselves. I am in the “50” age range. For the first 30 years of my life I was practically barefoot all my life. I ran barefoot, and entered many track meets. Later I started wearing supports in my shoes thinking they would comfort me feet being I was on my feet all the time. Eventually, I ended up in the doctors office with terrible feet saying they wanted to break my toes to reconstruct my feet. Long story short. For over 10 years I have literally been unable to walk without terrible pain in my feet, back and hips. Within 24 hours…..I exercised and stretched my feet. and woke up with absolutely NO pain in my feet, hips or back. Which I have not been able to do that for TEN YEARS plus. I have been walking barefoot all day, which I have not been able to do so for 20 years. SO all I am saying……Exercise, stretching, and going barefoot did a 360 for me. It is pretty much a miracle, and I will continue to properly take care of my feet with the exercises/ yoga and going barefoot…..

      Happy Camper wrote on July 13th, 2011
      • Hi!

        I would like to email directly with people who have had experience with injury that turned into flat foot. I am overwhelmed with the different information out there and would love to hear from people that were able to help themselves and how they did it. We know our bodies better than most doctors. Thank you to those who have had postive experiences for sharing them! Post people stop posting once they are feeling better.
        My email is lgopin@hotmail.com. Email me if you are willing to help another person! I promise once I am better, to pay it forward!

        lindsay wrote on September 11th, 2011
    • I have had the same problem. I’ve had flat feet since I was little and I always knew it was down to shoes. Bad shoes, good shoes, what’s the difference?!

      I had bunion surgery (bad idea) when I was 18 and now that i’m 23 its back. Only with protective bunion cushions do I get any relief and am now developing a bunion on the left foot as well.

      I wasted money on Scholl heel cushions that provide an arch as well and my feet, ankles and hips certainly feel better but obviously my feet aren’t getting any less flat or bunion-y.

      Surgery was the worst idea in the world because of the bone growth and muscle damage since. My right big toe has virtually no flex and standing/walking gets painful no matter what shoes or state of barefootedness i’m in!

      Perhaps we’re two exceptions. Having said that, i’m going to start exercising my toes and so help my colleagues I will be barefoot in the office from now on.

      Jamiesha wrote on August 17th, 2011
    • Sassa Frass88, You haven’t tried everything, I garuntee it. And yes there are things you can do to fix them, I have transformed my problematic feet, and have transformed numerous other’s feet as well. Inserts are only aiding your problem. There are very dynamic excerises that you have probably never seen before that would transform your “atrophied” foot muscles, and strengthen your individual toes ligaments and tendons. I’d be curious to see a picture of your foot. I work on many peoples feet. Good stuff Mark!

      Devon Redmon wrote on September 20th, 2011
      • hey devon i too have flat feet.i would be very happy if u suggest me some good exercises for my feet.

        Happy wrote on May 2nd, 2012
    • You should check out Soft Star Shoes. They are coming out with adult mary jane’s that are minimalist shoes in December. Check out their website at least! :)

      Amanda wrote on October 28th, 2011
      • Hi, I should clarify that that was directed at the lady who said she needs to dress up for work. I would also like to say that I’m not affiliated with the company at all, I just like their shoes! lol! I’m nursing my daughter, so I can only type with one hand so I was trying to keep my post short :)

        Amanda wrote on October 28th, 2011
    • I too was severely pigeon toed and wore leg braces that attached to a belt around my waist. I had to wear hard sole “boy” shoes at all times. I still remember how embarrassing it was to be the only kid in gym class that made noise walking on the gym floor. The inside of my ankles were a constant source of shooting pains because the metal discs of my braces where they connected into my shoes often collided.

      I have used Vibram Five Fingers and Vivo Barefoot shoes for the past two years and LOVE them. I also have paid a lot of attention to my posture (severe back pain and sciatica after baby #5.) The Wii Fit also helped me be more aware of balancing on my feet. My big toes used to curve in toward my other toes from wearing dress shoes to work, but the toes now come straight off my feet. I am amazed when I look down on the floor and see my feet, I hardly recognize them.

      I also had completely lost my arches and within 6 months of wearing Vibrams, my arches were back. Not as high as before, but completely healthy and two years later – still healthy and fine.

      The Vivos are nice because they can be worn to work and look acceptable to employers. I use the Kali style which is a bit plain, but can be dressed up with little accessories to make them more fashionable. Quite often, I wear them plain though. If you wear dress pants, they have some boots that look cute.

      Hope this helps. Your post brought back memories…

      Sabra wrote on November 7th, 2011
    • u must not be doing the strenthing propely….
      & completely avoid wearin high heels…..

      Himanshu wrote on January 17th, 2012
    • Hi. I feel you can still help your feet. I started going barefoot back in July and my feet are improving. For those times you have to wear shoes at office try the Merrell’s minimalist shoes. They don’t squish your feet like other shoes and don’t hurt bunions. You can get them in black to look professional.

      Rosey wrote on February 21st, 2012
    • I have flat feet and I have been using shoes mfg by MBT and RYN and found that after I have gotten used to them, that they help tremendously. I also just bought a pair of Abeo sandles for walking around the house. Obviously, walking barefoot on hard flat surfaces makes like miserable, but using these various shoes have made a positive difference. There are shoes made by Joya that i plan on checking out as well.

      David wrote on March 15th, 2012
    • For bunions: my doc told me way back when I was getting bunions(my moms were very very bad!) and had to wear decent shoes to work that the best way to approach was to only wear sling back pumps to the office, no higher than 2 inches!…so I researched out great looking sometimes very expensive shoes and that has saved me.
      He said that the give of the sling back removed the extra pressure on the fronts of my feet.
      The best advice I received and to this day I never got bunions!

      majomor wrote on November 7th, 2012
    • Have you tried Eric Orton’s strength program? a lot of people seem to have been able to rebuild their arches through his unique program. There is loads of information for him on google.

      Yukaene Rivera wrote on July 11th, 2014
  3. Very interesting!

    I always walked barefoot or wore “horrible” shoes like converse or flipflops that offer no support. I have very high arches, while most of my friends who wore “supportive” sneakers/shoes or heels all the time have flat feet now. (and/or shortened achilles tendons)

    I noticed after wearing heels all the time to work that when I would walk all day barefoot or wear flat sandals my arches would ache. That was when I realized I HAD to go barefoot a lot to strengthen my feet. Now my arches don’t ache!

    That being said I think some poor souls are just cursed with foot problems no matter what they do(genetic or whatever). That sucks.

    Yummy wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Huh… as a kid I always wore Converse, famous for their lack of support, and yet had high arches. I had never thought to make a connection between the two. I wonder if it’s causal?

      Icarus wrote on October 9th, 2009
    • Wonderful! I started following the tip to walk barefoot and walking with spread toes, and my big toe supporting the most of my body weight. It works! It’s so simple and I was looking for a treatment all my life, like support sneaker shoes, obscure exercises and nothing worked. I always walked in side walk, to prevent my heel down on side, wich led my big toe doesn’t help to support my body weight, leading a constant muscle fatigue on the side of thigh and the leg and knees pain.I am very greatful to this blog! Thanks for the help!

      Luciano wrote on June 26th, 2010
    • I guarantee you have gorgeous feet!

      Mr. ''8 wrote on April 14th, 2011
  4. Barefooting was what turned me on to the Primal lifestyle in the first place.

    In my case, totally flat feet, lifetime foot pain, lower leg pain, lower back pain. A lot of it is my weight and lack of fitness, I know. But when a doctor suggested bare feet time to help strengthen my feet (“where am I going barefoot in Manhattan” I remember replying at the time) and then a few news articles about shoes and being barefoot, I went into Vibrams and mocs and barefoot and never looked back.

    These days the only times I am not either barefoot or in a barefoot shoe is for something unavoidable like a formal stage performance. And even wearing soft mocc-style dress shoes, the 1/2′ heel feels horrible and gives me foot pain.

    Since I started being barefoot most of the time , my toes have spread out dramatically. I can’t even fit into some of my old shoes anymore. My feet have strengthened and nearly all of my foot problems have disappeared. My toes which used to be locked and near-motionless can flex and grasp things like pencils.

    The only problems I have now is a little fascitis in one foot, usually when I over-train.

    My only criticism of barefooting to a city dweller like me is the constant pavement/concrete surfaces is unnatural for the feet, footware or not. Making shoes that are barefoot but with a little more padding might be a good choice for the city.

    Rocco Ernest wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • It isn’t cheap, but Terra Plana’s Vivo Barefoot is basically what you are asking for.

      I will admit they don’t keep me from heel striking when I’m being lazy, and don’t remove the inserts, but it is a close to barefoot while still wearing shoes as you are going to get.

      NicoB wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Do you have an arch ?

      Scotty Logan wrote on January 20th, 2010
  5. I’m one of those who “cured” their flat feet by going barefoot :)

    I had doctor-prescribed orthotics for doing athletics (running, rowing, hiking, etc). I always bought shoes with “motion control” and lots of arch support.

    2yrs ago I read the book “Chi Running” (similar to POSE), and learned to run properly. Ran a marathon in Newton running shoes (minimal support). I started doing all my workouts barefoot (crossfit), and now I’m running in VFF for everything.

    Looking at my feet, and watching how I walk, my ankles no longer collapse inward. My feet don’t get tired from standing. I can wear fashionable shoes with no arch support. I can hike/run/etc w/o orthotics. I was on the beach recently and my footprints looked normal!

    So yes, it’s possible, but it took 2yrs. I’ve always been barefoot at home, maybe that gave me a jumpstart :)

    Jason Peacock wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • hiiiiii
      i hv also flat feet
      can u tell me in detail what is barefoot n wat exercises i sud do

      seema meena wrote on March 28th, 2013
    • my doc, told me the complete opposite. he said I couldn’t go barefoot at all, im soo confused. I always walked around my house barefoot and I had a lot of issues for about 1yr and half its getting worse and worse.

      mari wrote on December 2nd, 2014
  6. I have also had flat feet my entire life and like Ahmed, didn’t seem to have any problems at 18 either. However, now at 43 it’s a different story… after standing or walking for a long time (the “shuffling” of shopping seems to be the worst) I get a lot of aching from my feet to my knees to my hips.

    As if that weren’t enough, I now have arthritis/bone spurs in the joint where my right big toe joins with my foot and that causes frequent pain (it’s called Hallux Limitus, though fortunately I still have a fair amount of flexibility there). Believe me, you don’t realize how much weight that joint bears and how important it is until you start having pain there.

    I just recently went to a podiatrist who prescribed custom insoles/supports that provide some arch support but more importantly provide some extra space for the toe joint to function, which avoids some of the pain.

    I’m intrigued by the Vibram Five Fingers and Nike Free shoes, but frankly it’s painful just to think about walking in shoes with little/no support, or barefoot. Granted that is due much more to my toe problem than to my flat feet.

    To Ahmed, I would say be willing to try everything possible to strengthen your feet or adapt to your condition while you are still young. It’s great that you are aware of the issue now instead of trying to ignore the nagging aches for years until you finally force yourself into a doctor’s office.

    Paul wrote on October 8th, 2009
  7. I use yoga toes to help spread my toes.
    They seem to work.

    I get the argument for barefoot. But if you live in a city it’s hard to avoid cement sidewalks, hard floors ect. Cetainly not the soft sand of Grok.

    How would Grok do on concrete?

    Paul Pancoe wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Concrete is wonderful. Soft, gentle pillows of comfort compared to dirt with rocks, acorns (and other seeds), plants with strong runners and sharp leaves, etc. I strongly prefer concrete to sand for normal walking. Barring extreme heat and cold, concrete and asphalt are simply not a problem for barefoot walking/running/etc.

      The thing to remember is that you can’t scuff/drag your feet along like you might with shoes. Look where you’re going to put your foot, pick your foot up, put your foot down, wash, rinse, repeat.

      I live in LA and am barefoot unless I’m riding my motorcycle, walking on really hot/cold surfaces, or going into a store/restaurant with a no-bare-feet policy. I keep several sets of sandals in strategic places (car, baby’s stroller, backpack) just in case I need to put them on. Working pretty well for the past year now.

      Ross wrote on October 8th, 2009
      • Concrete is AWFUL. I have flat feet and big toes that turn in. My sister has nice arches and straight toes. She’s very overweight yet her feet *never* hurt. Obviously, she’s been wearing shoes all her life.

        Once, I went walking/jogging in a dirt path in a hilly area for a full hour (which would normally have me writhing in pain) and felt NO pain afterwards. ***It wasn’t the shoes or lack thereof; it was the DIRT.*** It’s the NATURAL GROUND that is good for the feet, because that’s how G-d created us to live.

        Daisy C wrote on July 23rd, 2012
  8. I’d argue that on harder surfaces it’s even more important to focus on barefoot techniques. Walk on the balls of your feet, don’t overstride, and avoid shoes with excessive padding that just move the problem elsehwere on your skeleton.

    I’ve worn my VFF all day throughout the city, and never had a problem. It does take your body time to adjust to being barefoot so much, but if you walk correctly there’s no problems.

    Additionally, ‘barefoot’ walking in the city brings much more awareness of the ground surfaces, there are lots of interesting textures out there :)

    Jason Peacock wrote on October 8th, 2009
  9. Concrete? I wear my VFF’s and I’m fine. (I think Grok would probably hate concrete, just like me… but, we deal.)

    I found some foot exercises a while back that are right in-line with “side walking”, which you mentioned above. If you’re looking for more, try these:

    Walk for 25m or so, to start, in each of the following six positions:

    1. Toes pointed outwards (duck)
    2. Toes pointed inwards (pigeon)
    3. On the outside edge of your foot
    4. On the inside edge of your foot
    5. Backwards, on your tippy toes
    6. On your heels.

    Only takes a few minutes, but they really help strengthen the musculature around your feet.

    I’ll also speak highly of POSE running; it takes time to condition your feet/calves/legs to it, but once you’ve got it, it’s amazing.

    Adam Kayce wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Thanks Adam

      Paul Pancoe wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • What is POSE running please mate ?

      Scotty Logan wrote on January 20th, 2010
  10. Very interesting article. I went barefoot practically my whole childhood and everyone always commented on how “high” my arches are. When I went into regular work in my 20’s I had to wear heels & started getting knee problems…then to orthodics…supports…you name it. In past 2 years I managed to change my job and get out of my heels. Voila…no more knee pain. I’m happy to say my arches are high and my toes wide like they used to be.

    By the way the toe-spread thing is also interesting. I’ve always had particularly “wide” feet for a woman, so much so that I’ve always bought men’s hiking shoes, for example.

    nina_70 wrote on October 8th, 2009
  11. Mark,

    Thanks for the great article.

    Just one remark: actually, we all are born flat footed. It is only when we start to stand up and walk that we really develop our arches. That’s why it is really important for babies and children to walk barefoot a lot. If they where rigid shoes with ‘good support’, they will not get the chance to develop arches, nor good functioning feet.

    In general, speaking about musculoskeletal problems, function is more important than structure. Although the two are related, function is what counts.

    We (physical therapists) see this often. If you have scoliosis or excessive lorosis of kyphosis is your spine, the chances of getting pain in your back are not bigger than for people with ‘normal’ spines (exception: really really big anatomic variations are more likely to cause problems)

    First, there’s a lot of inter-individual variation, without being abnormal.

    Second, the way the body moves (motor control!!!) is the best predictor of pain and dysfunction.

    This means:
    – good ‘structure’ with bad funcion will be more likely to cause pain/dysfunction
    – ‘bad’ structure with good function (motor control) will be less likely to cause pain.

    So for people with flat feet (or other structural foot problems): don’t worry to much about the structure, work on function.

    And Marks article will help to increase the function of your feet

    pieter d wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Thanks for the exceptional advice, Pieter, as it was both precise and correct. I am a devotee to foot/lower limb structure research and according to my most treasured book in my medical reference library, Steindman’s KINESIOLOGY:Normal and Pathological Conditions, you echoed it’s description of a structural anomaly that can function fully absent of pathology. I am of the opinion that so-called conservative treatment methods such as orthoses in the flat foot that is more or less a normal structure for a given individual, and according to sports podiatrist, Dr. Harry Hlavac, who is/was director of sports medicine at UCSF, in his valuable book, THE FOOT BOOK, Advice for Athletes, if the foot/feet are flat in the non-weight bearing mode, there is no problem and best well left alone. This information is invaluable to anyone who is gifted with normally flat feet, such as myself,and to ignore suggestions that somehow having flat feet, regardless of whatever nature there be for them, they must be somehow corrected if for no other rationale, aesthetics. I am very well aware of the social issues with anything about the body that appears outside the accepted norms to be looked upon as a freak of nature…take dwarfism,for example. So in brief summary, those who have social problems with either having flat feet which are normal for that individual or observing others so gifted and finding that to be disturbing, perhaps an extensive attitude adjustment is in order. It may appear some sort of body dysmorphic disorder could be at play here. You figure it all out for yourself. I heartily welcome any and all comments concerning this ostensibly popular topic.

      mark burgan wrote on October 8th, 2011
      • I must make a correction to my comment. It’s STEINDLER: Kinesiology….not Steindman. My absolute most sincere apologies to all those good people who tried to find this title anywhere. At my age of 54 years, it’s a wonder I even know who the heck I am anymore! Mark Burgan

        mark burgan wrote on October 9th, 2011
  12. Thanks so much for this important info!

    But as the Mom of a one-year old who has been sick with colds or flu for over six weeks, I am having a really hard time letting him be barefoot on the cold floors (not to mention outside!) Everytime I feel his freezing little feet, I have to put something on them. Socks and slippers can be doing harm, can they? What about soft baby shoes?

    Wendy Ostroff wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Wendy, socks are fine, but what makes you think there is any relationship between colds/flu and bare feet on a cold floor? There’s none.

      Mark Sisson wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • I’ll second Mark on this.

      Being cold, or in cold climate does not mean you’ll catch a cold.

      Stupid name for a number of viruses that range from influenza to any other bother.

      NicoB wrote on October 8th, 2009
      • I am a mom and I KNOW – my kid get sick from running barefoot on cold floors. So I make her ware socks, but she still has flat foot (one more then another).

        Lana R. wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  13. Hey, the feet in those pictures look like those of my ancestors’ from 100,000 years ago! That was when they negotiated unpredictable terrains better than folks now can on a straight sidewalk. :(

    Ogg the Caveman wrote on October 8th, 2009
  14. Great post. I’m coming to understand that physical stress patterns in infancy/youth have a strong influence on skeletal development.

    Stephan wrote on October 8th, 2009
  15. Mark,

    What about wearing flat sandals like Rainbows? I know its not barefoot so how does it compare? Thanks

    Justin wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • On the barefoot-to-completely-constrained continuum, sandals are better than hiking boots, but they still have way too much cushion and support for my taste. In a few weeks, I’ll be introing another minimalist shoe by FeelMax.

      Mark Sisson wrote on October 8th, 2009
      • Hurry please – my boss just told me my 5 fingers do not look “professional enough” for the office. I found the “normal” shoes I was wearing before, and while they are much lighter than typical shoes (Reebok racing flats, probably like Nike frees), they really hurt my feet now that I know what shoes should feel like.

        Henry Miller wrote on October 9th, 2009
        • Just google “Feelmax Luosma”!
          They are perfect for your needs and really feel like walking barefoot!

          Regards,
          Rob

          Robert223 wrote on October 14th, 2009
      • Mark,

        I’ve just started exploring your blog. I haven’t seen much reference to Dansko clogs. I have wide feet with high arches and find it painful to go barefoot anywhere other than the beach or backyard. Tile and hardwood floors are the worst. So it’s Teva flip flops in the summer, Dansko clogs fall/winter/spring, and Crocs for my year round indoor shoe. I’ve noticed a considerable decrease in foot, knee, hip, and low back pain since I began wearing these types of shoes. I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or recommendations. Thanks ~ Jill

        Jill wrote on February 5th, 2013
        • ps ~ I also do daily yoga and stretching while barefoot.

          Jill wrote on February 5th, 2013
  16. My feet are definitely not flat. as a former athlete that would be pretty bad if i did.. I’m going to show this to my readers and ask them too. Thanks for the insight Mark.

    Shaun wrote on October 8th, 2009
  17. Mark, have you ever heard of healthy toes? http://www.healthytoes.com/ I have used them daily for a while now and I think (maybe just in my head) that it’s helping get my feet back to where my toes are spreading out and not crushed. Any experience with those?

    Matt wrote on October 8th, 2009
  18. Also, I forgot to add, have you used the five finger shoes before? Would you recommend those at all?

    Matt wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • I pretty much live in my Fives and my FeelMax Pankas (more on those soon).

      Mark Sisson wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Most of the banner pictures on the site show Mark in VFFs, he’s a big fan (as many of us are, myself included :)

      hannahc wrote on October 8th, 2009
  19. Thank goodness I managed to keep my high arches, despite wearing shoes for most of my life. Right now, I’m 90% barefoot and doing my best to insist that my 13-month old daughter never wears shoes. Grandmothers are the toughest nut to crack on this front.

    Ross wrote on October 8th, 2009
  20. I’m halfway through the article but…

    I grew up wearing flip-flops (so, not arch support whatsoever) for the overwhelming majority of my time outside. The only exception would be sports (soccer, baseball, and basketball later on). Otherwise I’d be outside running around on flip-flops.

    My feet are terribly flat.

    So, I’m inclined to disagree with the assertion that being barefoot while young will prevent flat feet.

    Evan wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Evan, wearing flipflops is not “going barefoot”.

      Mark Sisson wrote on October 8th, 2009
      • I understand its not the same as barefoot. But it provides 0 support that a typical shoe does. Nor does it force toes inward as the examples in the post.

        A typical flip-flop used in my youth:
        http://www.localslippers.com/catalog/catalog-pics/slippers-locals-black.JPG (work/family safe)

        Well, in retrospect I do recall having SEVERE foot/heel pain while wearing various sporting shoes (mainly the baseball/soccer cleats) as a youngster.

        I dunno, I’m at a loss then. If wearing sport-only footwear can cause damage to ones foot structure, what’s a youngster to do?

        Evan wrote on October 8th, 2009
        • Don’t flip flops require that you sort of “clench” your feet around the toes to keep the shoe in place as you step? I think its a pretty different movement to, say, closed sandals with no arch support or bare feet, for example.

          Alison wrote on December 29th, 2012
    • The high stress portion of your “day” you were in shoes…

      NicoB wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Srsly. Have ya seen how flip-flop wearers walk. That’s not walking it is shuffling along. Ya can hear ‘em from a mile away. Ya think that’s natural? Nuh uh.

      Marnee wrote on October 8th, 2009
  21. Great post, Mark. Thanks. I can’t agree with you enough that it’s important to go slowly. After years in shoes that were actually too small (my feet looked like the shod person from 1905 above), I first moved to standard shoes that were simply the right size (FWIW I went from 11.5 to 13). Made a huge difference – DUH! – but took a long time for me to accept that I really needed bigger shoes since the smaller ones seemed to “fit.” After a couple of years in proper fitting shoes I was able to move to a more minimal shoe (Earth Lazer-K) for about 6 months, and then the Nike Free 3.0. I spent 2 years in the Nikes before finally getting into my Five Fingers. It was a long process but worth it. By going very slowly I was able to do it painlessly. Now just don’t expect me to post pictures of my feet!

    Geoff wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Ahhhh!

      C’mon Geof. Your feet would be perfect for scientific study…

      Yes, I’m picking on you.

      NicoB wrote on October 8th, 2009
      • Sorry. Nico, didn’t know you had a thing for feet (yes, I’m picking on you). Sadly I don’t have any “before” pictures.

        Geoff wrote on October 8th, 2009
        • Only in a scientific study…

          (Gee, I set myself up for that one didn’t I?)

          NicoB wrote on October 8th, 2009
  22. i am one of those blessed with wide, flat feet(south american ancestry)
    i remember the one time my dr. tried to arch support me when i was younger, pure torture!!!!

    the best shoes for running and hiking, because i cannot afford to get my toes on a pair of vibrams are worn out classic vans. they dont offer not much in the way of support of thickeness of sole and i find it better to run trails and scramble rocks with them because i can really feel what i am on and grab stuff with my toes…

    jessica wrote on October 8th, 2009
  23. Hi Mark,

    First of all, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog. It has been so informative and inspriatinal to me. Last year, I moved to Stockholm, and the new apartment that I am now living in has hard wood floors that are overlayed on concrete. At least that’s what it feels like. After trying to go bare foot since March, I’ve switched to wearing my Chaco flip flops. It seems like the right thing to do. What are your thoughts?

    Bridget wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Bridget, whatever works for you. If your feet are strong already and the hardwood makes you uncomfortable, who am I to tell you not to wear the Chacos. OTOH, my floors are all stone and I love going barefoot all the time on them. Socks only?

      Mark Sisson wrote on October 8th, 2009
  24. I have wide feet. I blow out the sides of shoes. I had mashed up toes like snapshot “A”.

    All my toes spread naturally now like the snapshot “B” except my pinky. He might be a lost cause.

    About 5 months of Five Fingers & Injinji socks were the cure. If I have to wear “normal” shoes now, I at least wear a pair of Injinjis to keep my toes from meshing together so much.

    Grok wrote on October 8th, 2009
  25. Grok,

    I have the exact same thing with my pinky toe. Maybe the pinky is supposed to be that way?

    -Rafi

    Rafi Bar-Lev at Passionate Fitness wrote on October 8th, 2009
  26. I’ve love my VFFs (got them 4 months ago), and I have developed little arches over the past 3 years from yoga and walking in my VFFs (used to be totally flat), but I live in a mountain town that gets a fair bit of snow. Anyone have any good ideas on what to do when there’s 2 feet of snow on the ground?

    Matt wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Matt,

      Keep walking barefoot! Seriously, learn to walk such that you curl your toes under when you lift your foot off the ground and stretch them back out before you put it back down. This will keep your toes moving and stave off numbness. With practice, you can walk up to a half a mile this way with no danger of frostbite.

      Erin wrote on July 21st, 2010
    • The high school in my town offers free walking inside during the fall, winter and spring.

      brenda grundt wrote on November 4th, 2011
  27. very interesting. my sister and i are the perfect examples of different lifestyles and how they affect feet. i’ve always walked around barefoot everywhere and my sport was dancing, especially barefoot african dance or martial arts. walking around outside on any surface is quite easy for me. she played a lot of running sports in highly supportive athletic shoes..basketball, soccer, etc. my feet are very wide with a high, strong arch and picking things up with my toes is easy and i’ve often toyed with the idea of doing some paintings with my feet :):):). she is the opposite, with flat narrow feet that hurt her all the time. her toes are practically on top of each other and she NEVER walks barefoot. even getting out the shower, she has supportive athletic flip flops with arch support, not the cheapy $3.75 strips of rubber from old navy.

    jennifer wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Isn’t that amazing! I’ve had feet that roll in and low arches since I was a child (I can’t really remember when it started, as it was pointed out to me later in Primary School) and I can’t imagine being able to do a painting with my feet or dancing barefoot. The muscles really are so weak! My entire life I’ve been recommended shoes that mold around my foot, supporting it. I can really feel my muscles are weak and squishy, and that supporting them is basically compensating for the fact that they are so weak that they’re practically physically sensitive and shaky! Maybe I need to try starting to gently exercise them more, because its not until reading this article that I’ve noticed just how unsteady and uncoordinated they are… I can actually FEEL the weakness in the muscles of my feet!

      Alison wrote on December 29th, 2012
  28. Mark,

    I have high arches and bunions. I have been told that the bunions were caused by over pronating and that I needed orthotics to correct the dysfunction and associated knee pain. Going barefoot is suppose to be really bad for the bunions. Any suggestions on how to handle these foot problems even though I am 61 years old?

    Earl wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • This is anecdotal, but I’ve read stories on the barefoot boards about people’s bunions shrinking/going away after dedicated barefoot walking/running!

      Charlene Jaszewski wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  29. I have high arches (they do not touch the ground when I walk) and have been given inserts and/or shoes with arch support. Any opinion on what kind of shoe I should where, be it minimalist or the five fingers?

    Mike H wrote on October 8th, 2009
  30. My toes look like the photos (not the good ones either). I was such a good doobie all my life that I took the expert advice on super supportive running shoes. Now am I to blame them for my bunion?

    THanks Mark. I guess going primal in as many was possible is the best course of action.

    Hiit Mama wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • All I can say is “what a bunch of BS.” I can’t say anthing more because there would be no point in arguing with anyone who actually thinks running barefoot is actually 100% better than using shows.

      Brian wrote on March 29th, 2011
      • shoes.

        Brian wrote on March 29th, 2011
      • agreed.

        Mahya wrote on January 8th, 2012
      • I came across this site because i am trying to find methods to improve my aching feet. I have a par of toe shoes that i use during aerobic class. I used them because they arent so heavy and clunky, and after an hour of jumping around i dont feel like I’m tripping over my own feet. (this probably wouldnt be a problem for someone in better shape than me, but you have to start some where.) Im posting, because i couldn’t help it. Your comment sounds so closed minded and i just wanted to say that it didnt sound very smart. When you say things like “a bunch of BS”, and “any who actually thinks”, you are discrediting everyone on this blog that goes barefoot”, and that would be fine, if you could give your account, or experience on why wearing shoes is better for you. When you say “there would be no point in arguing”, then you sound like you dont have any reason, theories or thoughts, on why your way would be correct. I’m telling you this, so in the future when you post thing, you dont sound stupid (unless you dont care how you sound, and in that case i will try to hold my comments, and ignore any information you have to give) that being said, I dont know what would be better (hence the reason for my research), but i do have to say that that every thing on here makes alot of since. I love shoes, but i take them off any chance i get. This is why it makes since to me. Most people will agree that if you dont use your muscles, than they get weaker, for example, if you set in a wheel chair for a year, and never used your muscles, than those muscles would become weak, and you wouldnt be able to just get up and start walking immediatly, it would be a gradual process. I would think that the muscles in your feet would be the same way. You dont completly stop using your foot muscles by wearing shoes, but their ridged structure would make it hard to use your foot muscles to their full potential, and orthotics would seem like it would make it worse, because any amount of muscle use would be restricted even more, causing even more muscle loss. I do understand how you would want more cusion on your feet. It does hurt if you run barfoot on a hard surface, my two factors would be my weight and not running correctlly. Your body is made to adapt and evolve to your environment, my feet has adapted to wearing shoes for the majority of my life, so it would seem reasonable to me that one or two times of barefoot running is not going to feel good on my feet. Like any time you start working muscles, you ease into. Another thing that seems to persuade me to believe that shoes are not good for your feet is when i think about dentist (I know, completly different end of the body, and by know means do i think one thing has to do with the other) anyway, if dentist (orthodontist), can manipulate your teeth by putting slight pressure on your teeth (braces) over a period of years, than wouldnt it go to reason that putting your foot in a shoe will eventually cause it to change shape, which will cause you to support yourself differently, because your foot structure has changed.

        Mandy wrote on February 23rd, 2012
        • I agree…if you exert regular pressure on something over time physics dictate that there will be a structural impact

          Diane wrote on March 27th, 2012
      • exactly my point

        quinton wrote on September 19th, 2012
        • Well spoken Diane! I agree with your comment!
          Mark and everyone who posted their advice and experience, a bit thank you! I noted down all the shoe store suggestions, I started stretching my toes and doing the strengthening exercises. I was a bit scared at first because I have not used my feet this way in a while and they felt very week at first but they are improving!
          I have tendonitis on my ankles that is due to a combination of injuries during my active days with the lack of sports thereafter (since i started working and didnt exercise for a few years) and also walking for 50hours in bad shoes at work!
          Not doing sports which require foot activities weakened my feet a lot and I felt it in my calves, they were very tense! I have always had one semi-flat and flat foot. however, my feet used to have wide toes and i used to fit into men’s shoes only. I did sports only barefoot (judo, swimming…) and never had problems, my feet were strong.
          When I first had tendonitis, I couldnt walk for a very long because of the pain. My physiotherapist and my dr advised me to walk as little as possible, wear insoles and rest for a few weeks for my feet to improve their condition. Instead, i started doing sports: skiing, rollerblading (they got my condition worse) and yoga (which improved my condition). I was amazed to find out how yoga improved my feet though it was the activity that uses feet the most.
          Unfortunately, I work in a factory and I have to wear steel toe shoes. So going 100% bear foot is not possible. But I may try to find a better pair of shoes that is both safe and that are good for my feet! As well, I workout at home bear foot. Today, I can walk for hours (up to 8hours) without pain! My next step is to strengthen my feet furthermore.

          Lana wrote on March 24th, 2013
  31. Mark,
    What do you think about Nike Free type shoes…supposed to simulate barefeet while strengthening your feet…

    Jeff wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • Not at all impressed with Nike Frees.

      Mark Sisson wrote on October 8th, 2009
    • They aren’t good because the goal of a barefoot shoe is to have 0mm drop (aka there isn’t any drop in the height between the heel and the toe) and nike frees have a large heel drop (6-7 mm). They are better than normal shoes, though (12-15 mm) which often mess feet up. The best shoe possible is a vibram, hurache sandal (legit ones, not the ones your grandma wears) and vivos. There are other brands too, but those are the closest to the ground that I can think of off the top of my head! :)
      If you have really bad feet, you could use the frees as a transfer point between conventionals and barefootshoes/skinfeet.

      Anna wrote on March 21st, 2014
  32. My arches are decent (probably since I wear “bad shoes” like converse and flip flops 90% of the time) but my toes are really close together and apparently have been since I was born- my mother can confirm this. I always joke that I was somehow genetically designed for those awful pointy women’s shoes. But seriously, do you think the exercises would work to spread out my naturally squished toes? I’m concerned that I won’t even be able to put vibrams on if I were to buy a pair because my 2nd toe rests on top of the big one.

    Tina wrote on October 8th, 2009
  33. Suddenly ballet slippers and roman sandal like contraptions are en vogue… which means that a lot of people might be able to get away with wearing minimal shoes to work.

    http://www.zappos.com/burberry-nylon-ballerinas-black

    Not that I’m planning on spending $300 dollars on this flimsy little thing, but… nobody would blink if I wore them to the office.

    Actually, tell a lie! A whole lot of people would like be in shock and speechless if I wore them to work (I’m not famous for my sense of fashion), but there are about 100 other people at the company I work for who could wear them without anyone batting an eyelash.

    groquette wrote on October 8th, 2009
  34. I’ve had high arches for a long time… first noticed when i did ballet years ago… then again when i was figure skating (had trouble finding skates that gave enough arch support), again when i was downhill skiing – the arches in the boots never hit at the right spot. and definitely with most running shoes – the arch padding never comes up high enough. curiously, i get really bad shin splints when i run in running shoes. i got a pair of VFF this summer and did some running – no shin splints! yay!

    jennifer wrote on October 8th, 2009
  35. It’s funny…I ran around barefoot as a kid, all the time. There were even a couple of times in high school as a goofy teenager trying to be “unusual” enough to be noticed, I went barefoot. I walk barefoot around my house pretty much as a matter of course. When I’m not in the house, my shoes of choice are flip-flops (actually, right now I mostly wear a pair of “Fit-Flops”…love to know what Mark thinks of those!). I tend to like shoes best that don’t restrict my feet. I do own and wear heels, pointy-toed boots, etc, but not very often (I’m not much of a fashion plate in many ways). I’ve always associated barefootedness with a sense of lightness and agility and freedom. I almost feel sorry for my husband with his tender feet. I’m glad to know that going barefoot may be one of the few truly instinctive things I’ve done for myself. I’m proud of my calloused feet!

    Katie wrote on October 8th, 2009
  36. Me too. I use to run around the garden barefoot as a kid and now, as an adult, I am always barefoot at home (or just socks in winter). My feet are hard as leather. Despite having a number of number of biomechanical issues with my legs and ankles which would predispose me towards flat feet, I don’t have them.

    Indiscreet wrote on October 8th, 2009
  37. Hi Mark,
    I’m 29 years old and started hiking about a year or so ago. From the getgo, I noticed that after the hike, I would be in much pain for several days, while others talked about going on another hike the very next day. At first, I put this off as just being new to hiking. However, it didn’t go away and I noticed after a certain distance, I was getting a callous and sensitive area under my big toe. Then there was a hike where we did a lot of walking in small, loose gravel. I noticed that my walk made a lot more noise than others. Discovered that before toe off, my foot pronated, so it was step, twist, step twist; instead of step, step. I finally went to the podiatrist and was told I had functional hallux limitus. I bought his $400 orthotics which of course were no help. I did find relief with MBT shoes, but they don’t help on hikes because you can’t use those shoes for that. What, if anything, can be done about functional hallux limitus? (other than surgery) Thanks,
    Mike

    Mike C wrote on October 9th, 2009
  38. I work in a hospital, on my feet, up and down stairs all day. I used to come home with aching feet and sore knees. Earlier this year, I bought some Vivo Barefoots, and now my feet and knees (and calves and shins) feel strong, even at the end of my shift! I will never go back to conventional shoes.

    lr wrote on October 9th, 2009
  39. I used to spend a lot of time barefoot, so my feet are a lot less civilized than other women my age. However, I have very large feet, and two foot related issues. When I was a child I broke my left leg, and I wasn’t well rehabilitated in walking. So on one foot I walk “heel toe” and the other I use “toe heel” When I concentrate on it, I can make both feet do the same thing, but when I don’t think about it, they do what they do. Needless to say, I am not a good runner even though I am a good hiker and long distance walker. In college, I broke all the bones in the top of my right foot by dropping 50# of slab clay on it accidentally. Just recently I started a retail job where I stand on my feet all day. I really thought I was going to die, my feet hurt so much. I am only allowed to wear certain types of shoes as part of the dress code. Someone suggested orthotic insoles, and I tried them, and they do make it possible to get through the day. When I am not at work, I wear some flexible, croc-like shoes that don’t constrain my foot in any way. I wish I had a better option for work, I still agree that barefoot is best, but right now I have to do what I have to do to work without pain. The shoes I am allowed to wear at work include most “nursing shoes” including Dansko and NurseMaid.

    Halle wrote on October 9th, 2009
  40. Thanks for the great answer Mark, definitely been doing a lot of barefoot work. It’s weird, but my squat and dead-lift have actually gone up in coordination with the increase of going barefoot.

    Ahmed Serag wrote on October 9th, 2009

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