Is Walking Barefoot Bad for My Feet? We Asked a Podiatrist
You take off your shoes every time you get home—and ask anyone visiting to do the same. But is walking barefoot bad for your feet? Even indoors? We checked in with Dr. Miguel Cunha, founder of Gotham Footcare in New York City, who told us, “I always advise people from walking barefoot, especially in public.”
Risks associated with walking around barefoot
1. Athlete’s Foot
“Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the foot that develops commonly on the soles of the feet and in between the toes,” Dr. Cunha told us. It usually produces itchy, dry, scaling skin or, in more severe cases, inflammation, cracks and blisters. Dr. Cunha sees a lot of these issues as a result of people walking barefoot in public places or at the gym, since your feet are exposed to bacterial and fungal organisms that can infect the skin and nails.
2. Plantar Fasciitis
According to Dr. Cunha, “Your foot contains a thick band of tissue called plantar fascia that stretches from your heel to your toes. That tissue’s job is to support the muscles and arch of your foot.” Too much tension on the tissue can cause it to stretch too far, resulting in tiny tears that cause pain and inflammation. What causes too much tension? It could be walking around without shoes on, since there’s no arch support when you’re barefoot. “Walking barefoot allows your feet to flatten as your arch collapses, which will cause arch and heel pain.”
3. Nail Fungus
Nail fungus is a condition that occurs when a microscopic fungus enters one or more nails, and often begins as athlete’s foot (which we’ve already established is often caused by walking barefoot). “As the nail fungus penetrates deeper into the nail,” Dr. Cunha says, “it may cause the nail to discolor, thicken and develop crumbling edges—an unsightly and potentially painful problem.” He says that nail fungus can be treated at home using an over-the-counter ointment, but he suggests seeing a podiatrist, who can likely solve the problem in a matter of weeks (versus months).
4. Plantar Warts
A wart is “a thickened and elevated small growth of skin that develops when the skin becomes infected by the human papillomavirus (HPV),” Dr. Cunha says. They can develop anywhere on the foot, but typically occur on areas of direct pressure under the foot, such as the ball and the heel. “If you walk barefoot in public, like at the pool or waterpark, you can catch warts, as they are easily contagious.”
Shoes to Wear Instead of Going Barefoot
Dr. Cunha told us that while there aren’t a lot of perks to walking barefoot, there isn’t as much risk if you’re walking on sand or on carpet, which offer more support. Still, he told us, “I advise people to wear indoor shoes at home with arch support (no flip-flops).” If you are leaving the house, here are five podiatrist-approved styles to consider.
1. Riding Boots
Dr. Cunha is a fan of the very slight heel most riding boots have. “It’s actually better for you than shoes that are completely flat,” he tells us, “because it takes the stress off the Achilles, which can help maintain proper posture and alignment of your ankles, knees and spine.” Everyone's feet pronate (a natural movement of the foot that occurs when your foot lands while running or walking), but flat shoes can cause your feet to pronate too much, which could increase the progression of underlying foot deformities like bunions and hammertoes. No, thanks! Also, look for riding boots that have a wider toe box, “which will give the forefoot more wiggle room and places less aggravation onto feet,” Dr. Cunha says.
2. Low Wedges
According to Dr. Cunha, a low wedge (we’re talking three inches max, preferably with only a 1.5-inch difference between the heel and the toe) allows you to add a little height without overworking your arch. In general, the foot expert advises against any heel over three inches, since higher styles change the way you walk, which could lead to shorter strides, more pressure placed on the balls of your feet and unnecessary stress on your knees and lower back. Another advantage of the wedge boot? It provides support to the foot and ankle—but remember, only if it’s lower than three inches.
3. Chelsea Boots
As previously mentioned, wearing a short heel is preferable to a completely flat shoe. Another great option, then, is a Chelsea boot with a low, thick heel. Dr. Cunha stresses the importance of choosing a chunkier heel with a wider toe box, to accommodate the toes comfortably. This, he tells us, can reduce the probability of developing Morton’s neuroma (a condition that affects the ball of your foot) or aggravating an existing bunion.
4. Block Heels
Stilettos simply aren’t good for your feet, we all know this. Because of their height (and how thin the heels are), a single night in stilettos means risking ankle sprains and foot injuries, Dr. Cunha says. If you’re looking for a taller shoe, he suggests a block heel with an ankle strap, which will offer support, hold up your weight better than a stiletto and reduce the risk of a twisted ankle. They’re also much comfier to wear and easier to walk in. Win-win.
The advantage of the oxford, Dr. Cunha says, is that they have a little bit of a heel to them, and offer your toes more breathing room, which eliminates the risk of ingrown nails, irritation, bunions and more. Foot health benefits aside, we love how they add a borrowed-from-the-boys flair to any look.