Among all the treatments for plantar fasciitis, walking barefoot has to be the most heavily debated. Some experts claim that any type of shoe – no matter how carefully researched its design is – will interfere with the normal gait pattern and thus aggravate plantar fasciitis. It’s even said that barefoot running for plantar fasciitis can help individuals reach full recovery much faster. Then there are those that suggest that walking barefoot applies excessive pressure and stress on the plantar fascia, exacerbating the symptoms.
So, what’s fact and what’s fiction? Can barefoot mobility really help PF, or will it bring you a step closer to greater pain and injury? Find out here.
Barefoot Mobility for Plantar Fasciitis Arguments
There are quite a number of arguments that make this debate a little tricky, even for experts. Here are the most common arguments presented on either side of the discussion:
For Barefoot Mobility
- Barefoot mobility decreases the work load on the feet by 4%
- Natural arches are strengthened and stiffened when running or walking without shoes
- Strike pattern is efficiently adjusted to lighten impact and ease each step
- Strides are shorter, putting less weight on the feet during each heel strike
- Individuals tend to land on their toes – a process called forefoot running – rather than their heel when running without shoes
Against Barefoot Mobility
- Running and walking without shoes can only be beneficial as a preventive measure for plantar fasciitis. Individuals who already have the condition may put themselves at risk of greater complications and pain if they engage in barefoot running and walking
- Exposing the feet to environmental hazards like rubble and uneven terrain can put extra pressure and stress on the plantar fascia
- There is no evidence to suggest that orthotic shoes or inserts are any less effective at managing PF pain during walking and running
- Excessive pain when running and walking barefoot in the presence of PF will cause an individual to compensate and cause more harm
- The ideal course of treatment for PF would be to rest and reduce activity while supporting the affected limb with proper orthotics and shoes. Choosing to run and walk barefoot completely contradicts these proven methods
What Do the Studies Show?
Barefoot running and walking have become increasingly popular throughout the years. There’s a growing community of individuals who believe that going completely barefoot or that wearing minimalist shoes can be beneficial for foot health. These notions are rooted in the claim that barefoot mobility allows people to assume the most natural gait possible, and provides the opportunity for us to strengthen the structures of the feet to avoid injury.
Lots of different movements that advocate for barefoot running and walking cite a variety of resources that highlight the benefits of minimal footwear or complete lack thereof. A study published in 2001 revealed that barefoot running could be beneficial in that it reduces the energy cost by 4%. The researchers attributed this to the fact that running without any sort of footwear allows individuals to optimize their gait cycle to reduce energy expenditure.
Another publication released in 2014 supported these findings, saying that barefoot running and walking changes the strike pattern of the feet upon heel stike. Without shoes, people tend to land on their forefoot and toes instead of the heels, thus reducing the chances of damaging the plantar fascia. What’s more, it also helps promote stiffer arches which reinforce the natural topography of the feet without need for the plantar fascia to work harder to support it.
Of course, there are equally convincing arguments that claim barefoot running and walking actually aren’t ideal for plantar fasciitis at all. One study from 2011 claimed that barefoot mobility could be detrimental to plantar fasciitis, and may pose the risk for a variety of other problems that outweigh its benefits.
Sinclair, Taylor, and Vincent reinforced this idea with their study published in 2015. Their findings suggest that while running and walking barefoot can be beneficial for individuals who are prone to developing the condition, it is detrimental to those who already have PF. In fact, if you check majority of the published studies available on the web, you’ll find that there isn’t any article that claims that running and walking barefoot could actually be beneficial if an individual already has the plantar fasciitis.
Basically, the idea behind this claim is that barefoot running and walking in the presence of plantar fasciitis places the damaged structures of the feet under greater pressure. Without the support and comfort the feet need in order to manage pain and pressure, barefoot running and walking leaves an individual without protection and stability.
With that, it can be concluded that barefoot mobility can be beneficial – as long as you’ve not yet developed a case of plantar fasciitis. The process of running or walking without footwear can help reinforce the structures of your feet and may even help you save up on energy.
But at the end of the day, barefoot walking and running may prove to be too painful and damaging for someone with compromised foot health. In any case, an individual with plantar fasciitis would be better off using orthotic shoes instead of barefoot shoes or any other minimalist alternative.
Yes, barefoot running may seem beneficial, but if you’ve already got a nasty case of plantar fasciitis, it might be something you’d want to avoid. Research has shown that zero drop shoes, minimalist shoes, and any other footwear alternative developed to ‘mimic the foot’s natural flexion and movement won’t provide you the support you need in order to manage the pain associated with plantar fasciitis. So invest in those full on orthotic athletic, everyday walking shoes or running shoes and you’re in the clear.
If you’re prone to developing plantar fasciitis, on the other hand, then barefoot running and walking for plantar fasciitis prevention can be ideal. Some of the best designs come from Xero Shoes, so be sure to check them out when you find yourself in the market for minimalist shoes that can help you curb a case of plantar fasciitis.