The debate over barefoot shoes vs. arch support shoes is a sweaty one.

When it comes to choosing footwear, the options seem endless. One common debate revolves around barefoot shoes and shoes with arch support. These two types of footwear cater to different needs, expectations, and preferences. In this post, we’ll explore the cases made for each and help you decide which might be the right fit for you.

Barefoot Shoes: Embrace Natural Movement

Barefoot shoes, as the name suggests, aim to replicate the sensation of walking or running barefoot.

Here’s why they might be a great choice:
Natural Movement: Barefoot shoes are designed with minimal cushioning and no arch support. This design encourages your feet to move more naturally, allowing your muscles to work as they were intended to.
Improved Balance and Posture: By mimicking the natural gait of barefoot walking, these shoes may enhance your balance and posture. They encourage a more stable and aligned foot placement if your consciousness overrides any abnormal biomechanics, potentially reducing the risk of certain foot and joint problems. If the biomechanics and integrity of your feet is excellent, which for most is not the case, then you may reap the benefit of better balance and posture.
Sensory Feedback: Barefoot shoes provide better sensory feedback from the ground. This heightened awareness can improve your proprioception, helping you adapt better to different surfaces and potentially reducing the risk of injury.
Increased Foot Strength: With minimal cushioning and arch support, your feet have to put in more effort. Over time, this can lead to stronger foot muscles and greater foot flexibility. BUT, if your feet don’t rise to the challenge, they may suffer from greater wear and tear, leading to a “trickle up effect” through the weight bearing joints of the body.
Pain Relief: Some individuals suffering from specific foot conditions or discomfort find relief in barefoot shoes. The natural movement and reduced pressure on certain areas can alleviate pain.



Shoes with Arch Support: Prioritizing Support and Stability

Now, let’s explore why shoes with arch support might be your footwear of choice:
Arch Support: These shoes are designed to provide additional support to your arches. They’re particularly beneficial for individuals with flat feet or low arches, reducing discomfort and offering much-needed stability.
Pronation Control: Arch-supportive shoes can help control excessive pronation, which is the inward rolling of the foot, which can lead to serious problems in your joints. This control maintains proper alignment of the feet, preventing overuse injuries and reducing the risk of pain and dysfunction in the feet, knees, and lower back. Longterm pronation and the harmful effects on weight bearing joints throughout your body, have been documented.
Cushioning: These shoes often feature extra cushioning in the heel and forefoot, which is excellent for people who spend long hours on their feet or engage in high-impact activities, like running and walking
Medical Conditions: If you have specific foot conditions like plantar fasciitis, shin splints, knee pain, hip pain, low back pain or Achilles tendonitis, arch-supportive shoes can provide significant relief from pain and discomfort.
Comfort and Support: For many individuals, arch-supportive shoes simply offer superior comfort and support throughout the day. This is especially true for those with high arches or other foot-related concerns.

Do arch support shoes “enable” the feet giving them false support that leads to deconditioning?

This is possible, but here’s why it’s still ok. Unlike a brace for your shoulders that holds your spine straight and shoulders back, these areas can be easily strengthened and are not weight bearing in the same way that your feet are. Your shoulders and upper back can get more of a break from constant stress. Your feet only rest when you are not on them. They are weight bearing, and they take more of a beating than other areas of your body. They are also your foundation upon which the rest of your body sits. If your foundation is bad, the rest of your body will suffer.

Your choice between barefoot shoes and shoes with arch support largely depends on your individual needs, expectations, foot structure, underlying conditions and symptoms, as well as your daily activities. If you have specific foot concerns or medical conditions, consulting a healthcare professional or podiatrist is crucial to determine which type of shoe suits you best.

In the end, it’s all about finding the perfect fit that keeps your feet happy and healthy for now and in the long term. Whether you opt for the “natural” movement of barefoot shoes or the structured support of arch-supportive shoes, remember that comfort and functionality should guide your decision-making process. It is important to remember that natural doesn’t always mean good. Cocaine and heroin are natural, but they are not in your best interest. Our next two blog posts will highlight why the science behind supporting the feet is more compelling than not supporting the feet, and why advancements in footwear are a good thing.

Dr. Lou Jacobs is a chiropractor and acupuncturist in Portland, Maine. While he loves the feeling of minimalist shoes, he favors the science behind supportive shoes and orthotics. His favorite brand is ALTRA which combines the zero drop heel and wide toe box of a barefoot shoe, with the support and stability of an arch support shoe. Jacobs Chiropractic Acupuncture may be reached at (207) SPINAL-1