Barefoot Shoes and Foot Health: A Study of Arch Stiffness
The human foot is a remarkable and complex structure that has evolved over thousands of years to provide stability, balance, and mobility. In recent years, the growing trend of barefoot shoes has led to a growing body of research into the benefits and drawbacks of this type of footwear. This article summarizes a recent study that investigated the effects of modern shoes and minimal footwear on the biomechanics of the human foot.
The study, which compared the arch stiffness of individuals who habitually wear minimal footwear to those who habitually wear conventional modern shoes, found that individuals who wear minimal footwear have stiffer arches both statically and dynamically. The researchers hypothesized that modern shoes reduce the role of foot muscles in maintaining arch stiffness, which can lead to arch collapse and flat foot in some individuals. In contrast, the relatively small foot muscles in conventionally-shod individuals could be related to features in their shoes that immobilize and protect the foot, such as restrictive toe boxes and raised arch supports.
While these findings are intriguing, the researchers caution that more research is needed to confirm the causality between footwear and foot biomechanics. Future research should target other foot muscles thought to be involved in maintaining arch stiffness, control for potential confounding factors such as genetic ancestry and physical activity levels, and determine the effects of specific features of modern shoes on foot biomechanics. Additionally, further work is needed to determine how the use of modern shoes affects foot function at different stages of development.
Despite the limitations of the study, the findings support the idea that the human foot is not entirely adapted for modern “conventional” shoes and that barefoot or minimal footwear may be more beneficial for foot health. While the use of modern shoes early in life may increase the risk of flat foot, the use of minimal footwear later in life may help treat the symptoms of flat foot by strengthening the foot muscles.
In conclusion, the study provides further evidence of the importance of foot biomechanics and the impact of footwear on foot health. While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between footwear and foot biomechanics, the findings of this study suggest that barefoot or minimal footwear may be a healthier option for maintaining foot health and preventing foot problems.
Holowka, N.B., Wallace, I.J. & Lieberman, D.E. Foot strength and stiffness are related to footwear use in a comparison of minimally- vs. conventionally-shod populations. Sci Rep 8, 3679 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-21916-7