An introduction to feet and footwear

Your feet are a magically well engineered body part and yet despite the massive role they play and how robust they are, most people neglect foot health. Much of the population is either uninformed or misinformed about how to maintain healthy and well functioning feet. This article is a reality check about the important role our feet play, how your feet function best, what to look for in footwear and why so many people in the western world develop foot pain.


Humans are very unique animals on planet earth. For starters, we’re bipedal and walk upright on 2 feet. Might seem simple to us but walking is a mega complicated motor pattern – exactly why we’re the only ones that can do it – and the feet play a big role in our ability to do it properly. The feet are the only part of you body that touch the ground as you navigate the world and because of that they have a rich and extensive network of nerves within their soles that relay vital information to your brain about the ground beneath you. Balancing on 1 foot is another seemingly simple task but involves a very detailed and complex series of signaling pathways to and from different joints and muscles to keep you from falling over. There’s a reason we can fly at supersonic speeds and go out into space but we can’t make a robot that walks smoothly like a human – its complicated stuff.

The feet might be complicated body parts but they’re very robust. By that I mean they can take a lot of wear and tear and punishment before they start to become dysfunctional and painful. If you were a human 50,000 years ago and could run away from a sabre tooth lion because your feet hurt your genes wouldn’t last very long in circulation. With that said, if you have foot pain it means you’ve been messing up your feet for a very long time and they finally have had enough and become painful.


feet hurt = cant run = saber tooth lunch


Built to be barefoot

The human foot has been refined to function amazingly over the course of our evolution and its a masterpiece of structural and functional engineering. It contains 25% of the bones in our body, has 33 joints and over 100 muscles/tendons/ligaments. Evolution has designed our feet to work optimally with nothing on them. FACT. Slap a narrow fitting piece of material with a slab of cushioning on them and it turns out they don’t work so well. Drive a car designed for unleaded fuel to the gas station and fill it up with diesel – let me know how that goes. Its probably not doing to turn out so hot. You need to use something according to the way it was designed (or as close to it as you can) or bad shit happens.


What a human foot is designed to look like

Our human body hasn’t changed much if at all in the past thousand years from an evolutionary point of view but we are using it in a very different way from what nature intended. We have Paleolithic bodies in a post-paleolithic world and from that stems countless “diseases” that could be avoided it we simply lived closer in line with our biology.

We aren’t designed to have salt and sugar instantly available in unlimited quantities, we aren’t designed to sit all day, we aren’t designed to wear shoes…..that list goes on for a while. Plantar fasciitis as with many other “diseases” like type 2 diabetes, low back pain, flat feet, and depression are mismatch diseases. They stem from evolutionary mismatches because they are either caused or made worse by modern lifestyles that are out of sync with our bodies ancient biology.


Footwear 101

We consider shoes to be so normal that when I walk around the clinic barefoot people look at me strange but when you look at the human evolution timeline, footwear is a very recent trend. They are abnormal and comfortable things that are responsible for slowly but surely killing our feet.



Because of shoes and their effect on our feet we’ve event had to invent things to help get out of pain like orthotics and “stability” or “motion control” shoes. These things help treat the symptoms but we’re clearly doing a terrible job at preventing the problem from occurring in the first place because foot injuries are steadily increasing. I’m not saying ditch your orthotics and go barefoot everywhere from now on. What I’m saying is we need to rethink the way we build shoes and revert back to making them based on our biology and not based on making some new weird form of cushioning that appeals to an uneducated population who has no idea how bad most shoes are for their feet.

The fact that the sign above is so recognizable demonstrates how truly detached we have become from our bodies. Being barefoot is seen as unhygienic and vulgar and many restaurants wont even serve you if you aren’t shod (wearing shoes). Healthy feet? no food for you

Humans have been walking and running barefoot for millions of years and many people still do. When humans did eventually start wearing shoes 45,000 years ago, they were very basic and looked nothing like today’s footwear. The shoe industry has done such a successful job at brainwashing the uninformed public that people think cushioned and supportive shoes are actually healthy. I even have patients tell me their doctor told them to wear expensive built up running shoes at all times, even in the house. THAT’S INSANE. The improper assumption is that a comfy shoe is a healthy shoe because for many in the western world, a shoe needs to have a slab of cushioning to be comfy and this is far from healthy for our feet.

The most important function of a shoe is to protect your feet. In our natural habitat and unshod, humans would develop thick calluses to do this job but because we always protect our feet, the skin of most peoples soles are thin and at risk of being punctured. Any shoe you wear interferes with the sensory input coming from your feet about the ground below you. The thicker the sole, the less information you get – thus why many martial artists and yogis go barefoot to enhance their sensory awareness. Shoes basically numb the sensory network in your feet and without the input from the ground, the muscles of your foot stop working like they were designed – welcome flat feet. The modern shoe has turned into a foot binding contraption that systematically shortens our heel cords so its really no surprise foot pain is so common. Here are some of the main issues with modern footwear and the logic of why they are bad:

  • A higher heel than forefoot: usually done to slip a pancake of cushioning under the heel, it shortens our heel cords. No wonder so many people have tight calves and Achilles issues are running wild.
  • Too much structural assistance: a shoe that holds up the arch of your foot will eventually weaken your natural muscles that play that role – a big part why so many people have pronated or flat feet. No arch support = the muscles of your feet need to work to create your natural arch.
  • Too narrow: Squishing your foot into a skinny shoe compresses everything laterally and prevents the natural splay of your foot when standing that gives you better balance and position sensing of the ground.
  • Unecessary cushioning: This is a big one. Attaching a big slab of squishy stuff under the heel of a shoe does a few crappy things. 1) it places your calf in a shortened position, 2) it numbs your sensory feedback from the ground, 3) It promotes heel striking because its width shortens the contact distance to the ground, 4) it takes away the natural feedback correction to proper running. Let me explain this last point – Its easy to run crappy in cushioned shoes, much harder when youre barefoot. If you have a big slab of squishy stuff between your heel and the ground it becomes very easy to heel strike and allow for a strong hard impact on the back of your foot with each landing. Try doing that barefoot – you wont do it for long because its pretty painful. The pain from heel striking is what moulds your running technique to take advantage of the natural elasticity in your Achilles and use that as a spring. Using the spring in your body is much more efficient because you are simply storing and releasing energy instead of only relying on muscular effort. Not only is heel striking inefficient (you basically put the brakes on with every step), its also quite harmful to your body. Your heel might not be painful but those impact forces get translated upstream to your shins, knee, hip, low back and all the way to your neck.

A prime example of silly modern day shoes


Good idea, bad execution


Much better. Doesn’t squish your feet, lets you feel the ground

A few tips for better foot health

  • An easy way to reverse the effects of footwear is to use a hard lacrosse ball and roll the sole of your foot over it 2 minutes per day per foot. Roll it front and back and side to side until you can walk barefoot without pain
  • Slowly increase the amount of time you spend barefoot during the day
  • Keep your calves loose by massaging them with a foam roll or softball for 2 minutes per side everyday until it doesn’t hurt. When you have tight calves that reduce your ankle range of motion you steal that missing movement from your foot by crushing the arch with every step.
  • Walk barefoot on a variety of surfaces: walk on rocks, on grass, on sand etc etc. The more variety the better, just don’t puncture your skin. Walking on a river rock garden 5 minutes a day can be a crazy powerful way to rescue your feet and get them healthy from years of built up damage.

In summary:

  • Feet are impressively designed body parts and are mega important – show them some respect
  • Human feet are designed to function best when barefoot (or as close as you can get to it)
  • Wearing crappy footwear kills your feet and leads to foot pain
  • Spend time walking on different surface varieties – its a powerful way to regain foot health

A lot of the material in this post is taken from the book The story of the human body by Daniel Lieberman – a tremendous and highly recommended read

Hope you found the article informative and it helps guide you on footwear selection going forward. Show your feet some love and they will show it back by staying painfree and letting you run away from saber tooth tigers.

-TFC team

Showing 30 comments
  • Renee

    Really appreciate what you’re doing here! I love going barefoot, but I needed helpful information on foot health and good footwear!

  • Satz

    Website looking awesome! Good read 🙂

  • Erin

    I will be following the blog now, as well as on Instagram. I’ve been told my enitre life that I’m flat footed, and have always worn exceptionally supportive shoes and experience a lot of pain when I go barefoot. I will be using some of the exercises I’ve seen on Instagra, and will increase my time without shoes throughout the day.

  • Fabián Moreno

    Could you please send me some reading material or your sources for this? I’m working on an essay about the subject for college.
    Thank you and best regards!

    • TFC Team

      The story of the human body by Daniel Lieberman, Whole body barefoot by Katie bowman and online articles about the benefits of barefoot are a good place to start. Cheers

  • Roxy

    Anyone have any tips for mortons neuroma. I have one in both feet and want to avoid surgery any help would be great

    • TFC Team

      Will post some information today about it, hope you find it useful. Surgery can always be avoided for Mortons Neuroma and a lot of it comes down to footwear choices.

  • Adria

    You talk about orthotic insoles. I would like to ask your opinion about them. I know I have to go to the physician to get evaluated, but I might have to end up wearing orthotic insoles for flat feet or arch issues, they said. They might make my knees stop hurting. But I’d like to be well informed before going to the physician.

    I’m not planning to go barefoot in short-term, but I’m trying to walk as naturally as possible, slowly approaching to barefoot. It’s hard to find 0 drop shoes, and harder to find ones with almost no cushion here in Europe.

    Well, back to my main concern. What do you think about orthotic insoles? I want to try to avoid them unless they are really necessary. What do you think?

    Thank you very much!

    • TFC Team

      Hey Adria – Work on your foot mobility, gradually spend more time barefoot and continue searching for barefoot-style footwear. Vivobarefoot makes some tremendous products that are available in Europe – check them out. If possible, avoid orthotics as they simply stiffen and weaken your feet even further when used chronically. Cheers, TFC team

      • Adria

        Thank you very much! Will do.
        You are doing an awesome job spreading the word. I will try to do my part within my people.

  • Genome

    Do you have footwear recommendations for sports like basketball? Footwear options for the sport tend to be heavily cushioned. Is it really neccessary for basketball shoes to be that padded? Conversely, is it dangerous to play without cushioning?

    Thank you.

    • TFC Team

      Our recommendation is to transition to barefoot style footwear regardless of sport. Cushioning is never necessary but the transition from cushioned to non cushioned must be gradual to allow your body to adapt and if done correctly is not dangerous. Cheers, TFC team

  • Andy

    I wear orthotics due to Morton’s Neuroma but would love to rid myself of MN and also the orthotics. Any tips?

  • Jameel

    I’m loving this because I’m a sprinter and I have a bone spur on the top of my foot. I can’t afford surgery so I’m hoping all this advice can relieve all the pain and bring the loss of motion back to my ankle/foot.

  • Joaquin

    I recently bought your toe speeders and was wondering if was ok to wear them with shoes and/or exercise in them. Thank you!

    • Joaquin


  • Stefanie Mesic

    Hi there, I’ve been following TFC for a while and am currently using my toe spreaders! (which I love) . Can you recommend a shoe company that supplies wider shoes?

    Thank you!

  • angie Prokopetz

    Loved this article. I pass on this website to many of my massage clients when I step on my minimal shoe/ barefoot soap box. This article highlights so many of the things I tell my clients. Been following Katy Bowman for years and was so happy to find this Canadian Website.
    Thank you for what you guys are doing!

  • Greg

    Do you guys have any recommendations to help with hammer toe? Mine is severe and I’d like to avoid surgery. Recently purchased the separators from your shop. Thx

  • Nick

    I agree that most shoes nowadays are no good and that man was made to walk barefoot on natural surfaces such as grass, sand, dirt, etc. But, if we are to walk barefoot on man-made, hard, flat surfaces, how are we able to receive proprioceptive input from our arch? By only contacting the lateral aspect of our feet, we are not able to properly push off and rotate in the transverse plane of our gait cycle by activating our gluteus maximus.

  • Pat Lynch-Hayes

    All of this makes so much sense. I love going barefoot, but my feet do get cold very easily. Does walking around in socks give close to the benefit of walking barefoot? Thanks!

  • James

    I also am interested in how to treat bone spurs. I have them on both main joints of my big toes and they limit foot mobility and cause considerable pain.

  • Pablo

    Hi!! Since i’ve been a kid i was told i had flat feet, and ever since i use orthotic insoles, and my arch is weak so my ankles turn to the inside. You must’ve heard it many times, for me is amazing to have found this knowledge. I wan’t to thank you for this amazing job your doing, and for sharing your insight on how to get a healthy feet. I’m from Argentina, otherwise i would surely go to one of your seminars, as i want to reclaim my feet, and get them healthy. Thank your!!!

  • Michael

    Hi Guys, congratulations for your excellent work.
    I feel you should check out “Sunyogi Umasanakar”, an Indian Yogi who is constantly barefoot. He teaches Sun Yoga and has had profound expériences in the Himalaya, but also walking barefoot across the whole of India.

  • Connie

    I have posterior tibial tendonitis and disfunction, high arches, but my heel is rolling out and causing my arch to fall. one dr. wants to do surgery, no orthotics or braces have helped. Not sure what to do. Physical therapy caused more pain.

  • Reena

    My feet fold inward (badly) when I walk and recently bought orthotics but they are hurting my feet bad! Any tips for feet that fold inward?

  • Donna R Sawchuk

    I see that much of your clientel and website info is aimed at younger (than me) folks. I think you’re missing an important (and needy) demographic. You don’t have to look very far to see older folks, particularly women, toddling down the street. Go barefoot? Horrors! Well, at 73, I do. At least in the summer. I garden barefoot because I like the feel of the grass beneath my feet. I never thought to extend this to the rest of my life. I didn’t know barefoot shoes existed. Since doing so my ankles no longer hurt, my balance has improved, and I’m more willing to tackle the stairs. Yes, us seniors are entrenched in our ways, yes, we generally have less ready cash, yes we’ harder to contact ( less technological savvy), but by god, there are a lot of us and more all the time. How about developing some programming aimed specifically at us?
    I know it’s past the deadline for foot nerd enrolment, but I just found your site. Could I be considered?

  • AC

    What kind of shoes/brands should I be looking for? Altra? Newton? Are there any good “transition” shoes that you would recommend?

    Love what I’m reading so far!

  • Mike

    Do any of your posts talk about transitioning out of orthotics for diabetics who already have sensitive/numb feet and are at risk for bleeding, etc?

  • Joseph Hawkins

    Hey, this is a really good blog on footwear and feet. It took me back to my foot ailments, which are now almost non-existent due to orthotic footwear. This blog is what everyone must read to maintain good foot health.

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