By now, I hope that all of my readers know not to go barefoot outside of the home. Whether you’re running through the grass, heading into the locker room or about to dive into the community pool, shoes are a must outdoors: they protect you from cuts, scrapes, germs and that most feared entity: foot fungus!

So…that’s a given. But what about in the comfort of our own homes? After all, your own home is obviously spotless, right? Or, at the very least, the germs in it are your own, so you shouldn’t be facing too much of a risk…or are you? We'll take a closer look at the Do’s and Don’ts of going barefoot in your own house at the end of this post. But first, let's review the risks of walking barefoot.  

3 Reasons to Always Cover Bare Feet

While all of these risks can be mitigated, here are three problems you can develop if you walk around in bare feet.  Going barefoot puts the bottom of your feet at risk for a lot of avoidable issues.

1. Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s Foot is a fungal infection that usually develops in between your toes or on the soles of your feet. While we typically see people picking up this kind of infection by walking barefoot in public places, like the pool or in locker rooms, don't think it's not a concern at home. If any members of your famiy, or even your guests, walk barefoot with athlete's foot--especially in the bathroom--you're upping your risk by walking barefoot in the same space. 

2. Plantar Fasciitis

When you walk barefoot, your feet flatten out and your arch collapses. That puts pressure on your plantar fascia, a think band of tissue whose main job is to support the muscles and arch of your foot. And if that tension gets to be too much? It can overstretch your plantar fascia, causing inflammation and even tiny tears. And if that occurs, you may experience the heel pain of plantar fasciitis. 

3. Nail Fungus

Fungal toenails often develop from athlete's foot infections, when the invasive offenders make their way into or under your nail. So any activity that increases your risk of athlete's foot also increases your risk of fungal toenail infections. 

When NOT to Go Barefoot at Home

First of all, if you have diabetes, you should never go barefoot, either in or out of your house. 

Barefoot feels so good, but even at home, it's not always your safest option!

Advanced diabetes can cause a progressive numbing of the feet, which is called peripheral neuropathy. This decrease in sensation can prevent you from feeling something you stepped on, such as a splinter of wood or glass, or even a nail. Often this will lead to infection and can progress to the point where your foot is at risk for amputation. People with diabetes should always protect their feet with a shoe, house shoe, or a slipper with a firm sole. That’s the bottom line, and the only way to stay safe.

When CAN I Go Barefoot at Home?

If you do not have diabetes, there is some more leeway with this issue. The answer is more dependent on the type of floor on which you are walking. For instance, a home with soft, plush carpeting is nicely set up for walking barefoot. The carpeting will absorb shock from your feet and provide cushioning for long periods of standing.

Most of us, however, don’t have thick carpeting all over the house. In fact, it is a well-established fact that most families spend most of the time in the kitchen. And, with very few exceptions, the kitchen is not carpeted.

So what if we stand on a ceramic tile kitchen floor? When we stand or walk on a hard surface, there are two types of forces involved. One is the force of the impact of your foot on the ground surface. There is then an equal and opposite force known as the "ground reactive force," sent from the ground back in to your limb. Because of those mechanics, unprotected steps on a hard, unforgiving floor double the force on your feet. Running will increase that force fourfold.

The forces can be cut down by adding shock absorption. We typically call this "footwear." A rubber sole, for instance, will absorb some of the shock from the foot impacting the ground as well as a portion of the reactive force. In other words, even a rubber-soled slipper can go a long way towards preventing foot pain as you stroll through your house.

So, back to that idea of "kicking off" your shoes when you get home. You're generally fine to do that, so long as you protect your feet with some good, cushioned footwear in the parts of your home that have hard tile or wood flooring. That is, of course, unless you're diabetic or have another condition that’s reduced the sensitivity in your feet. In that case, it is better to be safe with shoes then sorry with a potentially limb-threatening problem!

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.
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