Barefoot and Minimalist Shoes for Walking

Dr. Michael Nirenberg is the inventor of FloWalking, which helps many to walk pain-free.

by Dr. Michael Nirenberg, DPM

Walking au naturel may sound a bit naughty but when it comes to your feet, going barefoot is one of the simplest ways to make walking better and healthier.

As a podiatrist, I have studied the benefits of barefoot activity and embraced them to the point that I advise many of my patients to dare to go bare. Research shows that when populations of people who wear shoes regularly are compared with those who do not, the shoe-wearing people have more foot problems and deformities. Beyond that, science is finding that other ailments, such as back and knee pain and arthritis, may be lessened with barefoot activity. Feet evolved to walk. So why do they need to be encased in thickly padded, supportive shoes? After all we didn’t exactly evolve with latex foam under our feet.

Shoes do offer protection for those of us who live in man-made environments. Walking with feet unclad likely means walking unprotected, and nowadays protection is king: We want our cars to have more air bags, our government to stop the terrorists, and our sex free from disease. The thought of trudging down a city street barefoot may conjure up a fear of stepping on a rusty nail or something even worse. In my 20 years as a podiatrist I have rarely seen patients come in with a rusty nail embedded in a foot, but of course the possibility does exist. Then again, you could also get struck by a meteor!

So how do we protect our feet while still being able to give our body the remarkable benefits of going barefoot? Fortunately, shoe companies have begun to recognize a demand for people to use their feet as evolution intended them to by offering “barefoot” or minimalist shoes. Minimalist shoes provide protection from the environment while being light and flexible enough to allow our feet to function almost as if they were barefoot. It’s like having your cake, eating it too, and also realizing that it’s a diet aid!

In fact, the choices for minimalist shoes recently exploded. There are many great shoes, but here are just a sample for you to consider: Asics Gel Neo 33, Nike Free 3.0 v3, Brooks Pure Connect, Pearl Izumi Kissaki, Newton MV2, Reebok Realflex, Mizuno Wave Universe 4, Skechers GoRun, Inov-B Bare-X 200, Merrell Barefoot Road Glove, New Balance Minimus Zero Road.

If you have spent your life wearing thick, supportive shoes and want to start wearing minimalist shoes, it is important to transition to walking in them gradually and cautiously, and be sure to not “over do it.” Supportive shoes often do much of the work that our muscles were meant to do and as a result our muscles may need to strengthen initially. Furthermore, people who have medical issues that could affect the feet, such as diabetes, neuropathy, deformities or poor circulation, are at risk for injury and should see a podiatrist prior to transitioning to minimalist shoes. And no, I’m not just trying to drive more business to my profession!

So now you have the basics on walking in the bare. It doesn’t matter how well heeled or straightlaced you are, you’ll find that minimalist footwear satisfies your sole!

This essay original appeared on Dr. Michael Nirenberg, who has been featured on Fox News, the History Channel and in numerous magazines, newspapers and other publications, is a podiatric physician and surgeon, and forensic podiatrist, and the inventor of FloWalking.

11 Responses to “Barefoot and Minimalist Shoes for Walking”

  1. Andrew says:

    “other ailments, such as back and knee pain and ARTHRITIS, may be lessened”

    This statement hits home for me personally. After running for years in traditional sneakers I developed Halux Rigidus (sp?) due to shoe pronation. Now I am running more naturally for long distances in minimalist shoes without orthotics and loving it.

  2. audrey says:

    Mark, how did you manage the transition? I have HR in both big toes and have been in orthotics for 10yrs. Am now trying Nike frees in desperation as developed pain in ankles and lower leg.

    Still dont see how running barefoot or indeed atall, with HR is possible although im hoping it bloody well is!


    • MarkC says:


      tough call without seing your feet. even with 10-20 degrees of bend (ideal 30 degrees) allows you to run better. sometimes the restricition is not all bone arthritis so some mobility work on the toe can help.


  3. Kay says:

    The barefoot revolution sounds sensible to me. However, born a country girl and having preferred to pad barefoot all my 67 years whenever I can, I now suffer from a great deal of pain in the ball of both feet. It’s been a gradual ailment, starting at least 40 years ago when I was in my 20s. I’ve worn “sensible” shoes whenever I’ve had to wear them – most of the time when I’ve been out of the house. I feel most comfortable in bare feet, but why the pain?

    Please don’t print my email address.

  4. Kelly says:

    Hi- I am not a runner. I’m a fitness walker and I like to ride my bike with my kids. I just discovered barefoot shoes and I LOVE them. I used to have issues with my feet going numb while fitness walking or doing a fitness class. I kept trying different styles of shoes, arch supports b/c I have high arches and thought that was the problem. My feet never go numb when I walk several miles in barefoot shoes! I am sold!! What I’m wondering is that will it “confuse” my feet and muscles to go from barefoot shoes to ‘regular’ shoes. My regular shoes consist of dansko and Sanita closed back clogs and birkenstocks for the most part. Thank you!

    • MarkC says:


      your body will begin to reject the thick and stiff Dansko type shoes as if you were wearing a catchers mitt on your hand all day. listen to what your body tells you though.

  5. HeleneB says:

    Hey! I’m so curious about these barefoot/minimalist shoes! I do want to change my way of livlig, become more “natural”, both in diet and the body’s natural movement- to prevent diseases etc. My work involves constantly moving on hard surfaces, inside aswell as outside. What kind of shoes would you recommend me as the beginner in this game? I need one pair of shoes to ware inside and one pair to the outside movement (not necessarily running).
    My challenge is that when I’ve been without shoes for a day my feet (under) hurts, most the heel.


  6. Carol says:

    I’ve read that when you walk barefoot you walk differently. Toes or sides of the foot first. I’m wondering if you need to do this when wearing minimalist shoes. I’m so used to putting heel down first and when barefoot I can do the other way because I’m careful where I step but it’s awkward in my soft star shoes which I’ve been wearing for a year now. I’ve never really gotten into barefoot walking like my daughter but may one day when I have the energy (long story). Thanks

    • MarkC says:

      Carol we land on out heel and roll forward with the “rockers” of the foot and ankle while walking. do not land on forefoot walking. Mark

  7. when i go for a walk from station to my home, i wear high shoes so i feel hurt bigtoe. perhap i should change my style because this will be good for my health

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