Why Does it Hurt to Walk Barefoot? [Updated 2024]

Pain when Walking Barefoot is a Modern Problem

Many centuries ago  everyone used to walk barefoot.

Our feet were perfectly designed for uneven and soft or hard surfaces.

All the joints of the feet and the various muscles and tendons that act like pulleys on our feet were adapted for walking on sand, dirt, grass etc.

In fact it is thought to have been good for us to walk all over rugged terrain to keep our foot and ankle joints supple.

What I'll Cover in This Post

So, Why Does It Hurt When I Walk Barefoot?

There are a large range of reasons as to why your feet may hurt when you walk barefoot, but if you have noticed any of the following, then it’s worth making an appointment with your podiatrist:

  • a sudden increase in the intensity or regularity of the pain or if you had no pain previously.
A pair of bare feet that are scrunched up due to pain.
  • you are unable to put any weight on your foot.
  • you notice swelling and or redness in your foot. NB: this requires an immediate visit to a doctor or hospital.
  • If you have diabetes and you notice that your feet hurt or that the sensations have changed in your feet.
  • You notice a tingling, numbness, or pins and needles like pain in your feet.
  • you notice an open sore on your foot or blood or pus or any other fluid in your socks or shoes.

Some of the Most Common Causes of Foot Pain When We Walk Barefoot.

  • Unfortunately you’re not going to like me for this one, but the leading cause is related to age. As we age the fat pad underneath the bones at the front of our feet (metatarsal heads) and under the heel bone become thinner or “migrate” away from where they are most needed.
    Also remember that in days gone by people did not live to the ripe old age of 80 plus very often.
    A lot of people describe this feeling as being like they’re “walking on the bones” of their feet, which essentially they are!
  • Arthritis – can go hand in foot with ageing but not always.
    The most common form of arthritis is osteo-arthritis which is a slow wear and tear of the joints and bones which can be accelerated by injury or over-use.  For information on hip pain try this great article here.
    But there are several other types of arthritis which are not related to age such as rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis. See your doctor if you are concerned that your arthritis is not normal for your age.
Sometimes walking barefoot can cause crons.
  • Corns or callous – yes, these seemingly minor thickened areas on the bottom of your feet can feel like you have a stone stuck in your foot, and you almost do.

Corns are made of keratin, the same material that not only hair and skin are made of but also buffalo horns, so these guys can be extremely hard.

So when you walk barefoot, there i no cushioning to stop corns and callous from digging right into the soft tissues of your feet
Podiatrists can quickly and painlessly remove these from your feet, although they will grow back if the cause of the pressure in that area is not addressed.

You can book an appointment with one of Dynamic Podiatry’s experienced podiatrists by clicking here.

 

 

  • Metatarsalgia: damage to or inflammation of the connective tissue that holds your metatarso-phalangeal joints (where your toes join your foot) together (the plantar plate) and the joint capsules themselves. This will sometimes occur with a shift in position of your toes, causing them to fan out.
  • Morton’s neuroma – this is a thickening of the nerve that runs between your metatarsal bones. Due to irritation from the way the bones are moving, often caused by high heels or narrow toe boxes in footwear.
    Some people will get a neuroma surgically removed. There are however some complications with this procedure including numb toes and possible regrowth of the neuroma.
    Some of the terms people use to describe this pain are – a hot poker stabbed into my foot, pins and needles, a shooting pain into the toes or up the foot, and an electrical feeling.
    To learn more about Tingling Toes click here.
  • Tendinitis – our feet are controlled by muscles both within the foot (intrinsic) and several contained in the lower leg (extrinsic). Most of these muscles have tendons to connect them to the bones they move and if there is excessive stress on these tendons through overuse, poor alignment, flat feet, or a traumatic event, they can form tears and swell within the sheath (conduit) they are contained in.
    So when you walk barefoot, this will cause any movement of these tendons to be painful, sometimes intensely.

    Learn more about heel pain 

These are a few of the most common causes of feet hurting when we walk barefoot but there are quite a few others.

What Can I Do To Reduce the Pain When You Walk Barefoot?

Unfortunately the answer to walking barefoot is quite an obvious one, wear footwear.

At least for a while. Wear some type of cushioning footwear for up to 6 weeks, this is how long it can take for soft tissue injuries to heal.

A podiatrist checking out a foot

The Alternative To Walking Barefoot - Shoes!

The footwear doesn’t have to be a bulky shoe, even trying a cushioning pair of thongs such as Archies, or a cushioning slipper or lightweight shoe may do the trick.

I need to make a note here: some footwear which is very kind to your feet in the short term because they are soft, can be very unkind to your feet long term for the same reasons.

A lot of people will put certain shoes on in the store and they feel wonderful, only to find in a few weeks of wearing them that something else in their feet or lower limb goes wrong.

When you decide on buying a shoe you need to see if the upper is supportive, or if it is really floppy, also the sole of the shoes should only really bend at the front where your feet are designed to bend.

Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of shoes which provide great cushioning but also provide some support and structure to protect the rest of the tissues in your feet:

  • The Hoka One One range – this is my personal favourite and I now wear them as often as possible. 
    Very light but a bit bulky looking, they have support for your feet as well as providing a rocker – this means that your feet are under much less stress when walking or running. Not for everyone.
The Hoka One One shoe is a great option rather than going bare foot
  • The Hoka One One range – this is my personal favourite and I now wear them as often as possible.
    Very light but a bit bulky looking, they have support for your feet as well as providing a rocker – this means that your feet are under much less stress when walking or running. Not for everyone.
  • The Hoka One One range – this is my personal favourite and I now wear them as often as possible. 
    Very light but a bit bulky looking, they have support for your feet as well as providing a rocker – this means that your feet are under much less stress when walking or running. Not for everyone.
  • The Asics Cumulus or Nimbus – both named after clouds, you can see what they are getting at here. Both these shoes are quite supportive but their secret is in the gel – providing great cushioning in the spots you need it the most.
  • The Nike Vomero is described as like walking on a cloud. And I have to agree! For me this shoe was a little too unstable for my liking, but my wife absolutely loves them. So I still think they are well worth a look.
  • Another cushioning shoe with good support is the Mizuno Sky – I have had a couple of pairs of these and really liked them.

There are many other shoes that I think would do the job well.

N.B. In the end you really need to feel comfortable in the shop before you buy a shoe. Walk around for a good 5 to 10 minutes when you think you’ve found the shoe so that you can get a decent feel for them.
Some shoe stores are very kind and will actually let you bring shoes back if you have only worn them in the house for a few days. 
Check with your shoe store to see if they offer some kind of returns policy.

But if you’re not getting the relief you need, it’s time to ask for help. You don’t want a small acute problem, turning into a long term chronic problem which can affect all weight bearing activities even when you’re wearing shoes.

If You Want to Walk Barefoot

Important Note: If you have diabetes, and especially if you have peripheral neuropathy or poor blood supply in your legs you should NOT walk barefoot.

If you are otherwise healthy and not high risk, there are some things you can do to get your feet used to walking barefoot.

 

Introduce Barefoot Walking Gradually

Here are some things you can do to gradually introduce barefoot walking into your life:

Build up your intrinsic foot muscles:

 The feet have four layers of muscles underneath them which help to control your them over all types of terrain.
These muscles are also extremely important in controlling your balance as you walk barefoot and provide shock absorption.
To learn more about your intrinsic foot muscles and some awesome exercises to build strength in them click here.

Find a safe surface:

First and foremost you want to be safe, so find somewhere that is unlikely to have broken glass, sharp rocks or sticks or even hyperdermic needles lying around. 
This might be your backyard or the beach.
Top Tip! If you are going to the local park, scope it out first whilst wearing shoes to check for any dangerous items.

Gradually Increase:

Massaging your feet can help reduce pain

For the first week give yourself about 10-20 minutes per day of walking barefoot, especially if you have not done it for quite a while.

Each week you can add 5-10 minutes as long as what you weredoing wasn’t causing you any pain.

Give your feet and legs a massage!

If your feet haven’t walked bare for quite a while, the four layers of muscle under your feet, and the muscles in your lower legs are going to be working harder than they are used to. 

So give them some love with a ten minute massage after each time that you walk barefoot.

Our Podiatrists Are Here To Help.

If you’d love to walk barefoot again without pain, our podiatrists can help.

The first thing we’ll do is assess you and your feet to make sure that walking barefoot is a safe thing for you to do.

We’ll check your vascular (blood flow) and neurological (nerves) status to see if everything is okay.

Then we’ll ask you some questions relating to balance to ensure that you aren’t likely to have a fall.

Note: walking barefoot can put you at a higher risk of falling if you don’t have good balance. 

As we age our proprioception decreases – proprioception is that feedback that we get from our feet to our brain to tell us how the ground we are walking on is changing.

To learn more about Falls Risk Prevention click here.

 

Discuss Where You Can Safely Walk Barefoot

Once we’ve established that walking barefoot is something that you can safely do, we can discuss the most appropriate place to start.

This may be your local park or a beach that you regularly visit.

As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to walk around the are in shoes first to scope out any dangerous objects that could injure your feet.

 

Plan Your Path to Barefoot Walking

Now that we know where you’ll start walking barefoot, we can work out a program to get you gradually used to it.

This program will be common sense to many people, but it’s amazing how many of us (I’m guilty as charged) tend to go too hard too fast when starting something new.

in the previous section I outline what would be a typical pathway to getting you gradually back to walking barefoot with a minimal chance of injury.

 

We're Here to get You Back to Activity

As mentioned above if your case is an emergency (unable to weight bear, swelling, redness, fluids or exudate) – then seeing a doctor or a hospital is crucial.

If not an emergency but you are suffering from painful feet that affect what activities you can enjoy pain free – then it is time to see your podiatrist about getting you back to your best.

A family running barefoot on the beach

At Dynamic Podiatry our mission is to enhance the lives of all family members to allow them to get the most out of themselves without foot or leg pain.

So we’d be very happy to help you back on the road to recovery.  Call 3351 8878 or book online below to make an appointment.

Disclaimer

The advice on this page and the website dynamicpodiatry.com.au is general in nature and should not be considered as medical advice, but for informational and educational purposes only.
Although we are podiatrists, unless you are a patient of our clinic and have been given the advice directly, then it may not be suitable for you.
Please consult your podiatrist or medical practitioner before taking on any of the advice given.

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