Are Minimalist Toe Shoes Good for Your Feet? (2023)

Some people prefer shoes that truly fit like a glove.

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A group within the minimalist shoe movement swears by odd-looking footwear featuring separate slots for each toe. These so-called “gloves for your feet” are meant to mimic going barefoot, encouraging a more natural movement as you run or walk.

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The simplistic gear lacks the cushioning and arch support found in more traditional shoes. Why? Well, the idea is that a stripped-down shoe strengthens your foot muscles, ligaments and tendons, which helps reduce your risk of chronic injuries.

In truth, the concept has some validity … but the theory isn’t all that sure-footed, either. Let’s walk through the arguments for and against toe shoes with podiatrist Nicole Nicolosi, DPM.

What are toe shoes?

For starters, they’re a bit controversial. They exploded on the running scene a little more than a decade ago before seeing sales drop amidst lawsuits questioning the veracity of all those good-for-your-feet health claims.

In 2011, the U.S. Army even banned soldiers from wearing toe shoes while training with this edict: “Only those shoes that accommodate all five toes in one compartment are authorized for wear.”

A niche market for the glove-like footwear remains. There have even been signs of toe shoes becoming somewhat of a haute couture fashion item.

Overall, running and athletic-focused toe shoes are noted for being:

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  • Close to flat from heel to toe.
  • Devoid of cushioning.
  • Flexible.

Are toe shoes good or bad?

The answer to that question isn’t exactly clear-cut. “These minimalist-type shoes are good in certain respects and negative in others,” says Dr. Nicolosi. “That being said, they’re definitely not for everyone.”

So, let’s look at the potential advantages and disadvantages, as well as who might want to consider adding toe shoes to their closet.

The pros of toe shoes

The argument for toe shoes begins with strength-building. One study found that runners and walkers who wear toe shoes increase muscle thickness in their feet, which can help stabilize their arches.

Supportive shoes, on the other hand, don’t work those foot muscles quite as hard because they’re offering support. Over the long term, that may contribute to a gradual flattening of the arches.

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“One of the main selling points of minimalist or toe shoes is that they’re meant to reduce stress injuries that could come from wearing more of a structural or restricted shoe,” says Dr. Nicolosi.

Toe shoes also may:

  • Change your gait. Toe shoes encourage strides that are shorter and more compact, meaning your feet will touch down more directly beneath your torso. (Barefoot running or walking does the same thing.) That pattern better aligns with your body’s center of gravity, which can save your ankle, knee and hip joints from extra pounding.
  • Indirectly protect you from plantar fasciitis. A better running or walking technique may reduce your chances of developing plantar fasciitis, a common (and often painful) overuse injury.
  • Protect your feet (at least compared to going barefoot). Toe shoes offer many of the same benefits of running or walking barefoot, but without the vulnerability of exposed skin on whatever surface you’re roaming.

The cons of toe shoes

As explained above, the “good” thing about toe shoes centers on their lack of extra support for your feet. The “bad” thing? It’s exactly the same thing. (As we said, this topic tends to stir up some debate.)

“With this lack of support, you’re predisposing the foot into other mechanical conditions that can lead to problems,” states Dr. Nicolosi.

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Concerns include:

  • Increased risk of stress fractures. In one study, more than half of monitored runners who wore toe shoes for 10 weeks showed increases in bone marrow edema, which is a sign of undo stress.
  • Achilles tendinitis. The flatness of toe shoes puts extra force on your Achilles tendon, which can lead to irritation, inflammation and some serious pain when you walk around.

Who might benefit from minimalist toe shoes?

There may be a place for toe shoes on your shoe rack if they’re used in moderation. If you’re a runner or distance walker, for instance, a trek in the shoes could be viewed as a cross-training variation to your routine.

“A minimalist type of shoe could be beneficial for an experienced runner or active walker who wants to take it to the next level,” notes Dr. Nicolosi.

Just be careful not to do too much too soon while wearing the shoes. Give your feet time to adjust to wearing shoes that offer less support, as it will be more taxing on some muscles, joints and tendons.

Overall, though, Dr. Nicolosi suggests that you’re probably better off sticking with your tried-and-true footwear. “I’m more in the camp of giving your feet some support,” she says.

In other words, keep “gloves” as a hands-only item.

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Do minimalist shoes strengthen your feet? ›

Conclusions: Minimalist shoe walking is as effective as foot strengthening exercises in increasing foot muscle size and strength.

Can you wear minimalist shoes everyday? ›

Well in our opinion, you would use these shoes on a day to day basis. This allows your foot to wake up and rehabilitate, your muscles, bones and joints to get stronger and for neural pathways to develop. The only time we don't wear a minimal or barefoot shoe is when we need a dress shoe for weddings etc.

What do podiatrists say about zero drop shoes? ›

Cunha actually believes that zero drop shoes actually increase the risk of injury. "I frequently treat patients coming into my office suffering from injuries after wearing minimalist shoes—like stepping on a foreign object, spraining an ankle, or developing a stress fracture," says Dr. Cunha.

Do toe shoes help feet? ›

The pros of toe shoes

One study found that runners and walkers who wear toe shoes increase muscle thickness in their feet, which can help stabilize their arches. Supportive shoes, on the other hand, don't work those foot muscles quite as hard because they're offering support.

Who should not wear minimalist shoes? ›

A history of metatarsal stress fractures (and other forefoot injuries), plantar fasciitis, arch strain, posterior tibial tendonitis, Achilles tendinopathy and calf muscle strain are conditions which may not respond to minimalist footwear, especially if over used.

Do minimalist shoes cause plantar fasciitis? ›

By going barefoot or wearing a minimalist shoe, there is a risk that your plantar fascia will become over-worked or strained, leading to troublesome plantar fasciitis.

Should I wear socks with minimalist shoes? ›

A frequently-asked question: do you have to wear the shoes barefooted, without socks? The short answer is: socks are allowed! When they hear the term 'barefoot shoe', lots of people immediately think of conspicuous toe shoes.

Do minimalist shoes have arch support? ›

Because minimal shoes are constructed with a low heel and have no built-in arch support, they may recruit the ADM differently than standard running shoes.

Should minimalist shoes be tight? ›

Fit tips: The heels and toes of barefoot shoes should fit like a glove. (A snug fit is especially important in the toes of “five-finger” style barefoot shoes in order to prevent chafing.)

Who should not wear zero drop shoes? ›

They may strengthen foot muscles and improve your balance and walking stride. But they might not be suitable for people with certain conditions, including Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, or flat feet. If you try zero-drop shoes, slowly transition into them, gradually increasing the time you wear them each day.

Do zero drop shoes cause back pain? ›

A zero-drop shoe is simply one that doesn't have a variance in height between your heel to your toe. Again, there may still be cushioning around your foot to give you support, but your heel-to-toe ratio is protected. These are both great shoe options that won't aggravate your back pain further.

How long does it take to adapt to zero drop shoes? ›

Getting used to a pair of zero-drop shoes can take several weeks. Give yourself time to adapt to your new footwear and strengthen your legs and feet. Don't tackle any long-distance runs immediately, or you're likely to feel some soreness.

Why is Vibram good? ›

Vibram's® unique compound blends foam and rubber to create an outsole that has the best traits of both materials — the softness and springiness of foam, and the durability and traction of rubber.

What is the point of open toe shoes? ›

Turner admits that open-toe shoes have their appeal — in certain settings. “They are breathable, reduce blisters, are easier to take off and on, and you can wear them around water,” Turner says.

Is spreading your toes good for you? ›

Toe spreading is healthy for your feet.

The intrinsic muscles inside your foot are responsible for correct movement patterns. If your feet do not function correctly, your entire body will start to compensate, which could easily injure your muscles and tendons over time.

How long does it take to adjust to minimalist shoes? ›

It might take several weeks, months or years for your muscles, ligament, nerves, and skin to adapt to the new stresses of being in barefoot shoes. This is why going slowly and carefully is often the best path.

What are the dangers of barefoot shoes? ›

At risk for cuts, blisters, splinters and treading in goodness knows what. Barefoot running shoes are just as pricey, if not more so than traditional running shoes (although they last a heck of a lot longer) High impact running and heel striking can increase the risk of stress fractures to the feet and tibia.

Are minimalist shoes good for ankles? ›

Minimalist shoes, especially the models that possess completely flat and flexible soles and wide toe boxes, can help prevent ankle sprains and numerous other foot, ankle, and lower leg problems, including bunions, plantar fasciosis, shin splints, and runner's knee.

Are minimalist shoes good for arthritis? ›

A new study accepted for publication in Arthritis & Rheumatism says patients walking barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes have reported a reduction in knee adduction as well as reduced pain.

What shoes should I avoid if I have plantar fasciitis? ›

Not wearing supportive shoes

You should avoid shoes that put a lot of pressure on your feet, such as high heels. You should also avoid wearing cheap flip flops, which usually lack sufficient arch support.

Are barefoot shoes healthy? ›

One proven way to optimize this foot-brain connection is to wear barefoot shoes. Provides less impact on your joints. You're less likely to heel strike when running and more likely to have mid or forefoot strikes with barefoot shoes which means less impact on your joints. Reduces the risk of bunions and hammertoe.

Is it better to walk around the house barefoot or with shoes? ›

IS IT SAFE TO WALK AROUND BAREFOOT AT HOME? Avoid walking barefoot outside of the house in most places unless absolutely necessary (such as when participating in yoga) and when you do inspect and cleanse your feet immediately to avoid contracting an infection.

Do barefoot shoes change your feet? ›

The most common visible changes are for the toes to spread out and the entire foot to widen and even lengthen. Very flat feet might actually shorten as the arch muscles become more active, and some people find they have a visible arch where none was before.

Are minimalist shoes the same as barefoot shoes? ›

By definition, minimal shoes are supposed to be a step above being barefoot and just below trainers or running shoes. Minimal shoes will typically have a wider toe box to simulate being barefoot by allowing your toes to spread out, but will have a sole that is thin with little to no arch support, and fairly flat.

Why are minimalist shoes better? ›

Barefoot, minimalist shoes are super comfortable and less painful than regular footwear. They are shaped anatomically and don't restrict your feet' natural range of movement. A thin, soft, and lightweight sole is better for body health, and it looks and feels better.

Do minimalist shoes last longer? ›

That's not because the uppers are any less durable than those on traditional shoes, but because runners are able to put hundreds of more miles in minimalist shoes without having to replace them due to sole or midsole breakdown. The uppers tend to give first.

Do minimalist shoes hurt? ›

Some of them may have not been working much at all and could be very weak (one of the links between conventional shoes and foot pain). Hastily switching to minimal shoes that engage all of those foot muscles differently can be a shock to your system and may lead to injury.

How do you store minimalist shoes? ›

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Are Birkenstocks considered zero drop? ›

Birkenstock sandals are zero drop (heel is at the same elevation as the toe). This is another uncommon find in a supportive shoe (but an unequivocal feature of barefoot shoes), and is very beneficial to your spinal health and overall alignment.

What shoes should I avoid? ›

Shoes to avoid
  • High heels. Three- to four-inch heels change the alignment of your body, which puts extra stress on your legs, hips and back. ...
  • Pointed-toe shoes, particularly high heels, that scrunch your toes together. ...
  • Flip flops. ...
  • Ballet flats. ...
  • Flexible shoes.

Are Skechers shoes zero drop? ›

What Skechers says about the GObionic: GO like never before in the Skechers GObionic shoe. This zero-drop, ultra-minimal performance running shoe features a design developed using advanced biomechanic innovations inspired by the human body.

Are zero drop shoes better for knees? ›

Zero-drop shoes affect the way you step, and in those that lack cushioning, it changes the way your heel strikes the ground, which in turn helps to reduce knee injuries.

Is zero drop good for plantar fasciitis? ›

Are Zero Drop shoes good for Plantar Fasciitis? While I don't like barefoot or minimal shoes for Plantar Fasciitis, Zero Drop shoes with the right cushion and arch support can be a good choice. This is going to come down to personal preference and what feels good for your foot.

What are low drop shoes good for? ›

Less than 6mm drop: low drop that is getting close to a barefoot stride. Best suited to runners who run regularly and whose forefoot or midfoot hits the ground first.

How do I prepare for zero-drop shoes? ›

Consider wearing your new minimalist shoes for a very short period at first, such as 30 minutes per day, and then gradually increasing wear-time by 30 minutes per day as your feet and body adapt to the changes.

How do I transition to zero-drop shoes walking? ›

"Most people who wear zero-drop shoes one day on/one day off are able to fully transition within four to six weeks." If you're swapping to zero-drop running shoes, Robinson suggests transitioning even more slowly. Start with one or two miles, and then slowly increase your mileage one week at a time.

What is the best heel to toe drop for walking? ›

Runners need shoes with a higher difference in height from the heel through the toe called the heel drop, while walkers should choose shoes with a heel drop of less than 8 millimeters.

Why did Vibram get sued? ›

Vibram, the company behind FiveFingers shoes, just settled a $3.75 million class action lawsuit over false claims that its running shoe yields health benefits, Runner's World reports.

Is Vibram good for plantar fasciitis? ›

Vibram FiveFinger shoes fall into the Minimalist shoe category. Minimalist shoes are designed to allow the ball of the foot or the midfoot to strike the ground before the heel, leading to almost no impact collision. Meaning reduced impact. This is said to reduce the risk of plantar fasciitis and ankle sprains.

Are Vibram soles good for your feet? ›

Waterproof: Vibram soles keep the water out, so you can hike in rainy and boggy conditions without getting wet feet and painful boot rub. Durability: Vibram soles are known for being especially long-lasting against wear and tear, meaning even if you like to hike a lot you can expect to get years out of your boots.

Why not to wear open toed shoes? ›

Here are some of the reasons why podiatrists often recommend avoiding flip-flops or other open-toed styles: They don't protect your foot from injury as well as regular shoes. They often have extremely poor arch and heel support, inflaming plantar fasciitis.

Why do medical workers wear closed toe shoes? ›

They are built to last, which is important for nurses who need footwear that can withstand the rigors of their job. Safety: Clogs have a closed toe and slip-resistant sole, which helps to protect the feet from injuries and slips.

Should toes be touched at end of shoe? ›

As a rule of thumb (or toe), you should have about 3/8″ to 1/2″ of room from the tip of your longest toe to the end of the shoe. Your big toe is not automatically your longest toe. Pick the shoes that match your foot shape.

How long should you wear toe separators for? ›

We recommend to start with 10 minutes and increase the time as you get used to them. Once your feet adjust you can wear them for longer periods, in the gym and while stretching. Do they help with bunions?

Can I wear toe separators all day? ›

Toe spacers or toe separators are usually made from gel, and come in options that can either be worn all day, or for a short period of time. Used properly, they can help spread your toes out to a more natural and comfortable distance, and can help prevent or even reverse damage to your feet.

Why do toe separators feel so good? ›

Toe Spacers for Running

After spending lots of time beating their feet up - toe spreaders can help improve pressure relief, realign your feet and improve blood flow. Honestly, it's also just nice to be able to give back to your feet and give them a micro-spa day when you ask them to do so much for you all the time.

Do Zero Drop shoes strengthen feet? ›

Zero-drop shoes are flat. Their minimal cushioning keeps the heel and forefoot on the same level. Because they allow more natural movement, zero-drop shoes help strengthen your foot muscles. They may also improve balance, reduce pain, and enhance athletic performance.

Does walking barefoot make your feet stronger? ›

Walking barefoot may also help improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles and ligaments of the foot which improves the function of the foot, reducing injuries of the foot, and improving posture and balance of the body.

What are the benefits of minimalist shoes? ›

Minimalist shoes encourage a low-impact gait: A lower heel-to-toe drop naturally encourages you to land more on your midfoot or forefoot rather than your heel. Minimalist shoes won't automatically alter your gait, but they can be a good teaching tool if you want to learn how to run with a midfoot or forefoot strike.

Do minimalist shoes strengthen your ankles? ›

Unlike conventional shoes that attempt to immobilize your foot and control its movement, minimalist shoes encourage strength gains in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that cross or act upon your ankle joint. Improving the strength of these structures can improve your ankle stability and prevent ankle sprains.

Do you wear socks with zero drop shoes? ›

A frequently-asked question: do you have to wear the shoes barefooted, without socks? The short answer is: socks are allowed!

Can Zero Drop shoes cause back pain? ›

A zero-drop shoe is simply one that doesn't have a variance in height between your heel to your toe. Again, there may still be cushioning around your foot to give you support, but your heel-to-toe ratio is protected. These are both great shoe options that won't aggravate your back pain further.

Is it good to walk barefoot in the house? ›

It's not just about the risk of getting dirt and germs on your feet. Going barefoot in your house can lead to foot problems such as heel pain and/or ball of foot pain.

Should you be barefoot or shoes in the house? ›

If you're wearing outdoor shoes inside, you can bring a number of bacterial and fungal infections to yourself. You can catch the virus from a spouse or roommate if they have plantar warts. That's why I suggest having an indoor shoe specifically inside. Do not walk barefoot inside and do not wear outside shoes in doors.

Are Crocs good for your feet? ›

They lack heel support

“Crocs are backless and do not support or control the heel,” Weiser adds. As a result, you could develop heel pain and tendonitis of the heel. The lack of heel support can make it more difficult to maintain stability as you walk, so you may be more likely to trip or fall.

Do your feet get bigger after wearing barefoot shoes? ›

The most common visible changes are for the toes to spread out and the entire foot to widen and even lengthen. Very flat feet might actually shorten as the arch muscles become more active, and some people find they have a visible arch where none was before.

Does walking barefoot make you healthier? ›

When we make a connection with the Earth, when we ground through barefoot walking, there has been found to be a reduction in white blood cells and an increase in red blood cells, which hints to better immunity. Barefoot walking has been shown to help increase antioxidants, reduce inflammation and improve sleep.

Can minimalist shoes cause knee pain? ›

Minimalist Shoes Provide No Support

Everything starts out with your form, so if you're not hitting the ground correctly, it's going to have a domino effect through your feet and knees, hence Runner's Knee pain.


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