Shoes or barefoot? – what you should consider

Today’s market offers an immense scope and choices when it comes to forms and the quality of shoes. The main question whether the so-called high-quality and therefore most expensive shoes are also the best for you – apart from their stability – is dealt with in the following text.

Many factors influence the choice of the right shoes. Starting from how long per day you want to wear them plus some obvious factors such as the form of the foot, your weight, the motivity and the general health of your leg joints and your spine. The modern market offers shoes with good or little absorption, which are formed more or less distinct, shoes with support for the arch of foot or shoes without, so-called barefoot-shoes and there are shoes that are either cut even and thus require correct leg mechanics or those which through their forms make the foot roll from heel to toe.

The human foot serves the shifting as well as the perpetuation of a healthy body structure. Related to shifting it is important to understand that joints are supposed to me moved. Whenever there is limited movement in a joint, whether it is biomechanically badly moved or not moved at all, the body has to compensate the limitation with the adjacent joints. A part of this limitation derives from too well built streets and sidewalks. The lack of variety in the form of the floor poses a growing problem especially for people living in cities. Speaking from my working experience with people and my experience with countless colleagues I can say that at least 90% of adults and almost as much adolescents go in a wrong way or at least in a way that could be better. What the basics of this and other mass phenomena are I will explain in detail in the article on social synchronization. Modern shoe science has also found out that the foot should move. This is basically a good approach. The solution to reach it doesn’t lie in the shoe for everyone. A normal, healthy step consists of two rolling processes, a phase of moving the weight and a “flight phase” of the unstressed leg. The two processes of rolling the foot are key moments in this: The process of putting the front heel to the floor determines how the weight shift takes place and how much pressure builds up in the leg and consequently in the spine, whereas the moment where the heel leaves the floor again determines which muscles are used to move the leg forward into the next step and thus affects the lumbar spine and even the respiration. For more details, please visit the tutorial on step mechanics on All this can be reduced to a single quintessence. The ankle joint there has to be in movement with every step. This is something which not even the best shoe can abate if you are not aware of it.


How do modern shoes try to improve your step?

First, there is the cushioning effect. That basically seems clear. Walking on soft ground the impulses from hitting the ground go through the body in a less strong form which leads to less stress in the area of the cartilage of the knees and the hip joints as well as in the area of the spine. But it’s actually not that easy. Cause what has the body done during thousands of years of not wearing cushioning shoes?! Right! It has its own compensation systems. For this, the body has several possibilities, apart from the mechanical cushioning areas of the cartilage. Those are the movement of the joints and the muscles, the cords and the ligaments. Despite today’s widespread opinion cartilage is not the first and only cushioning system. On the contrary it’s the last. Cartilage serves as a shifting layer in the joints and additionally hase the ability to cushion remaining pressures which derive from the movement. The primary cushioning should happen through the right use of the joints and adapted tension of the muscles.The body can do this only if the right coordination of the musculature is right and if it can rely on the constant feedback from its surroundings. The body steers the posture in movement sequences by analysing the visual and audio feedback from its surroundings. Additionally, the proprioceptive feedback system of the body plays a vital role. These can be described as pressure and position sensors which lie in the muscle, cords, ligaments and joints.

What does this all mean for a step? Imagine you walk on a forest ground barefoot. You see the soft conifer ground, you hear how your foot touches the ground and finally, you feel (consciously or unconsciously) how the ground feels that you walk on. The feedbacks from all three senses accord with each other. You move on a soft, conifer ground in the forest. Accordingly, the body can perfectly adapt the needed tension in legs and spine to the ground. Now imagine yourself walking on an asphalt ground with well cushioned shoes. Your eyes and ears tell you that the ground is solid. Only the proprioceptors in your feet and legs tell you that the floor is soft. This leads to a neurological confusion in the body. As it is not quite clear which information is the right one, the body raises the tension in the musculature. The reason is that, from a short-term point of view, danger derives from instability rather than from stability. joint pressureThis means that the body compensates the seemingly soft ground (which in fact is the cushioning effect of the shoe) with more tension in the entire musculature of the legs, because a soft ground can always change and the body is prepared to react faster. But a higher level of tension especially raises pressure in the joints. Scientific studies have shown that the pressure in the leg joints get bigger when a person wears shoes with cushioning soles (see “Biomechanics of the human joints – basics – pelvis – lower extremity” by Paul Klein and Peter Sommerfeld).


Which elements are important in modern shoes and their soles?

Shoes have different cushioning effects, depending on the label and the model. Each sole is put together by different artificial fabrics in different thicknesses. Another crucial factor influencing the step is the so-called chock. longitudinal chockThe more chock there is in the shoe the higher the foot needs to be lifted to avoid the heel hitting the floor when the foot is moved forwards. This is also one of the main points of criticism. Other than that the chock leads to a slight pre-opening of the ankle joint and thus supports that, in the first process of rolling the foot, the ankle joint is moved. Moreover, the foot which is slightly leaned forwards supports the movement. This can be an advantage but not necessarily. It strongly depends on the intention. The thickness and form of the chock also influences the cushion under the sole.

querkeilThe clearly less known aspect is the diagonal chock between the big toe and the ball of the pinky toe. To be clear, not all models and producers use such a chock. If it is used in a shoe it is always built in a way that the sole in the area of the big toe is thicker than in the area of the ball of the little toe. A slight movement outwards of the front foot is generated which is primarily supposed to lead to an opening of the ankle joint to the front. A further effect is that the ball of the big toe is quite well cushioned.

torquierungMostly unknown is also the slight torsion of the sole between the heel and the ball of the foot. This construction is supposed to stabilize the heel while the front foot is already slightly opened to the side in preparation for the next step.

The foothold is a piece of solid plastic or metal in the area of the arch which should prevent a breakdown of the arch. Especially for people with already broken arches which already shows signs of damages in the area of the knee and hip joints the support is very useful. If your arch of foot is relatively healthy and you don’t have any pain in the adjacent joints you should avoid the support as the foot becomes lazy and passes all the supporting work on to the shoe. The mid-term consequence would be that the arch would collapse without the shoe.

In the past years more and more installations to support the ankle were developed. For a healthy foot I consider this as unnecessary even dangerous as in the case of a fall the movability of the joint is affected so much that the strength is passed on the neighbouring areas. For people with an instable ankle joint the support under the ankles makes sense until it has built up enough structure and strength and the area can be supported on its own.

sohlenbiegungAnother crucial element and an often used component in running and normal shoes is the longitudinal curve of the sole in the area of the ball of the foot and partly in the area of the heel. It should reduce the resistance towards the rolling foot and also define the axis of rotation in the area of the ball of the foot. Basically a good idea. Furthermore, a sole in this form has the advantage that, if the step is not done right, the foot has some space left and is less likely sliding on the floor. People with a physiologically correct step, have an additional support of the hypothenar. If there is no such a curve it doesn’t matter to the “healthy walker”. On the contrary, they benefit from a better feeling for the ground.

The case is different with the arch in the area of the heel which should bring the hitting point of the heel or the sole with the ground further below the calcaneus and thus maintain a better transfer of power into the foot. Furthermore, it forces the foot to roll from heel to toe. Both is counterproductive. First, the heel is built in such a way that, even if it is supported by a sole, the transmission of power derives from an extension of the calcaneus and does not lie directly under the tip of the calcaneus. The rounded sole form in the area of the heel also causes the step to spud in too hard, due to the difference between the sensed height and the actual height to the floor, ladder of which is shorter. So when you’re not used to the thicker sole of a new shoe, your foot might hit the floor harder in the beginning.

In short, a thicker sole in the area of the heel is an invention that doesn’t actually serve a healthy step and generally has more disadvantages than advantages. There is also the very contrary, a backward extension of the bottom part of the sole. It supports the cushioning when taking a step but also brings with it a little instability.

Pros for walking barefoot

  • The arch of foot gets strengthened in a natural way
  • The danger of twisting your ankle is lower, because there is more feedback from the foot. The joints and muscles in the foot are better trained to react on changes in the floor.
  • Due to the permanent massage of the sole of foot the blood flow in feet and legs is improved
  • The feeling of being connected to the floor is stronger.
  • From a bioelectrical perspective, the direct connection with the soil floor leads to a better charge balance of the body and the surroundings. This is important especially in these days of massive electro smog.
  • The body sees and hears what it feels and therefore uses tension levels of the musculature wich are adapted to the respective situation.
  • Through the permanent stimulation of the soles of foot and their reflex zones all internal organs get harmonised and emotional tensions get relieved
  • The relating to the surroundings is improved.
  • The spine is more relaxed when the step is right, which often leads to decreased headache and migraine.
  • It is cheaper.
  • You are clearly more aware and focused.
  • It stimulates the spirit of life and supports the immune system.


Pros for wearing shoes with cushioning

  • The sole of foot is protected from cuts and sharp objects
  • It offers a good isolation on cold days
  • For people with a weak arch of foot or a defective position, shoes with a sole and a cushioning are medically supportive as long as they are not worn permanently.

Healthy “correct” walking is to be learned. Or that’s what it seems like nowadays. A summary of “correct” walking can be as follows: A “correct” movement for the body is always one that uses all moving elements (bones, muscles, tendons, joints), synchronised in the best possible way, to reach the targeted goal with a maximum of efficiency. This means walking in a form that keeps the pressure in the joints low, the breathing and circulation system free and the tension in the muscles as balanced as possible. This happens if each part is temporarily and spatially adapted to its neighbour and uses the smallest amount of the needed tension that is possible to make the movement.

The shoes produces nowadays are becoming better and more expensive and are designed to support the arch of foot and to force the foot to a healthy way of rolling as much as possible. This comes with two problems. First, people with a natural feeling of a healthy step will be forced into “laziness” if they permanently wear these designed shoes. Second, for those whose perception of their bodies is not enough to perceive the commands of the shoe of how to roll their foot, not even the best designed shoe can help to improve their walking pattern. As the information is not perceived and processed consciously, the body reacts with a greater tension to compensate for higher insecurity and rockiness.

Conclusion: Modern shoes can be blissful if they are used thoughtfully. Therefore, a competent training in the physiological aspects of a shoe purchase is important. For people without any permanent damages it is best to learn a healthy way of walking again by wearing barefoot-shoes or shoes without cushioned soles. Re-acquiring a healthy movement is especially important for people with permanent damages or in rehab. For healthy people going barefoot is definitely the better option, as long as the temperature allows it. From a biomedical, medical and psycho-energetic point of view it has many positive effects.

For more details visit the video tutorial on the topic Walking and structure of the arch of foot. You can also learn the work on a healthy walking in workshops.



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