Being Barefoot Benefits Brain Development

Bare feet are important to optimal nervous system and brain development

Shoes prevent one of the most nerve-rich parts of the body from sending important messages from our environment to our brains, and therefore stunt brain development, argues Dr. Kacie Flegal, a chiropractor and member of the International Chiropractic Pediatrics Association.

Babies use the five basic senses — touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell — to send feedback from their environment to their brains and develop their neural pathways.

But there are two other sensory systems that are rarely talked about — the proprioceptive system and the vestibular system.

Proprioception gives us the ability to perceive the motion and position of our bodies in space, while the vestibular system is responsible for balance and coordination.

The development of both of these senses relies heavily on sensory input we receive through bare feet, especially during infancy and childhood, Flegal explains in an article for Natural Child Magazine.

When activated by pressure and movement, nerve endings in the feet called proprioceptors send signals to the brain telling it how the body is oriented, she says.

The information gained from proprioceptors “is used to protect the foot itself from injury, but it’s also used by the brain to make subtle adjustments in your gait to protect bones and joints all the way up your body and to maximize the efficiency of your movements,” explains author of The Barefoot Book Dr. Daniel Howell.

Shoes block these receptors from doing their job and therefore inhibit the development of strong neurological pathways and connections.

Often parents often put shoes on their babies the moment they learn to walk, or even before they even start walking, Flegal notes.

By doing this, they are preventing stimulation of the proprioceptors, limiting their child’s movement, and impairing balance and coordination, as the little muscles and joints in the feet cannot adjust to the changing terrain.

“When a child is allowed to be barefoot, her tactile pathways feel the surface of the ground, proprioceptors respond to pressure, and the terrain creates slight imbalances that create neuromuscular strength, spacial orientation, balance, and coordination,” Flegal writes.

Of course we want to protect our children’s feet from harsher environments, but Flegal recommends letting them run shoe-free on a variety of natural surfaces, such as grass, dirt, sand or wet leaves, as often as possible.

“As a result, you will permit them a great platform for the development of higher brain centers responsible for emotional control, problem solving, language, social skills, and self-assurance,” Flegal says.

RELATED: American Foot Binding






28 responses to “Being Barefoot Benefits Brain Development”

    1. Margaret Avatar

      Well thought out… I bet your mommy never let you go barefoot.

    2. Barbara Norton Avatar
      Barbara Norton

      How do you know it is wrong? I been barefoot for the best part of 60 years. I test well above average. Very flexible too. I love bare feet

  1. christopher toles Avatar
    christopher toles

    … sorry… RIGHT… stupid… J

    1. David Kwabena Ofori Avatar
      David Kwabena Ofori

      Please, it explesion opinion and self filling studying. So don’t insulting. But to act on respectable manner.Thanks.

  2. Dina Avatar

    Oh wow, great information!
    It’s also really healthy as our feet absorb natural minerals from the earth. I always take my shoes off to walk on grass or the sand, love the feeling. Running barefoot is easier and faster too!

  3. Christine Avatar

    Wouldn’t it be great if articles such as this one were the whole story? Few things are quite so simple, including going barefoot.
    Following is an article which explains a very good reason for using care when deciding when and if to go barefoot.

    1. n Avatar

      The article you posted here is about people walking around barefoot in public…like the county fair, restaurants ect. The suggestion in THIS article is merely stating that allowing your children to run in the yard, park – those sorts of places is highly beneficial.

    2. Robert Lamoreux Avatar
      Robert Lamoreux

      If you read any of the commentary below that article, you’d see at least one doctor shot it to pieces. The CDC recommends not walking in areas commonly infected with hookworms. So, unless people are routinely defecating around your house, this article is a poorly thought out scarefest and the benefits noted by Sara Burrows far outweigh it.

    3. Rebecca Avatar

      Read all of the comments too!

    4. Soca Avatar

      I went barefoot most of my first 20 years of life, lol. BAREFOOT MAN, if you know of him, called me the barefoot woman. Never ever had any issues with diseases. In fact, I’ve only been to the doctor twice, to have 2 c-sections

  4. Sarah Avatar

    I have always been a ‘barefoot by choice’ girl woman and child
    Just 6 months ago I had a serious spinal injury which has impacted or killed the nerves down my right leg and affected proproperception
    If I shut my eyes or it’s dark, and walk, i fall over
    Walking barefoot allows the nerves in the soles of my feet to get stimulated and as such I find it easier to walk and balance
    This process allows my brain to reconnect and there is a greater chance that I may one day do a sprint triathlon without crashing into every one, even if I have to get someone to hold my hand x
    I do use vibrobarefoot shoes too because of this sensory input

    1. Doug Avatar

      Way to go!
      After a bad motorcycle accident, my kneecap and femur were broken badly. I walk barefoot now, toe first, in order to protect my joints. Good luck with your continued recovery!

  5. Karen T Avatar
    Karen T

    Is this why I never seem to see little ones wearing baby shoes like when my 3 boy’s were baby’s they always had something on there feet

  6. Soca Avatar

    I went barefoot most of my first 20 years of life, lol. BAREFOOT MAN, if you know of him, called me the barefoot woman. Never ever had any issues with diseases. In fact, I’ve only been to the doctor twice, to have 2 c-sections

  7. Judi Avatar

    EARTHING/GROUNDING connects you to healing energy to benefit your mind, body and spirit.

  8. Debbi Caudill Avatar
    Debbi Caudill

    As a baby l always kicked my shoes off. 64 years later l am still going barefoot. But l am a Ky. gal. And Cherokee Indian so that could be why.

  9. Marri Albert Avatar

    This could why babies don’t like to keep their socks and shoes on.They know:)
    They knew this long before this article was written.

    1. Emmyjoyful Avatar


  10. Steve Avatar

    We kids went barefoot a lot in L.A. 40’s and 50’s; especially summertime, hardly ever wore shoes. And here’s one for ya: I piloted and gave flying lessons barefoot (at times), because I got better feedback from the rudder/brake pedals in the Cessna 150. However, wouldn’t look good for an airline pilot, I admit.

  11. Anne T. Avatar
    Anne T.

    I did not have high hopes for this article, and it did not disappoint.
    There is no research mentioned, and no one other than Flegal (a chiropractor who thinks babies and children need spinal adjustments) is quoted, or even asked about this claim.
    Follow it up with a bunch of replies from people who now feel a little more superior because this article describes them, and share it with all the crunchy moms you know, and somehow I’m supposed to find this believable?


  12. Michael Avatar

    This is my 14th year running marathons barefoot! I run 7 miles every day, and it is the best thing to do. This year I will run 11 marathons barefoot.

  13. Gary Avatar

    Resonate with the earths natural frequency

  14. Joyce M McGhee Avatar
    Joyce M McGhee

    I went barefoot 99% of the time beginning in the 40’s all the way to now!Indoors and outdoors!!

  15. Libbylou Avatar

    I’ve been goung barefoot most of my life…absolutely HATE being restricted by shoes. My IQ is indicative of that!!

  16. Sondra F. Avatar
    Sondra F.

    I am 44 and still go barefoot when I can. Obviously not to work, shopping, or any other public event unless it’s an outside event. I have always been a barefoot person and still to this day if my kids are at a sporting practice in the park or I’m at an outside concert in grass you will see my shoes in my hand and walking barefoot. I’ve only been to the doctor when pregnant other than that I don’t get sick, my balance is great, and for me, it’s
    relaxing to feel the earth under your feet. Truthfully you can find an article telling you “why this isn’t a good idea” to every thing in this world. It’s up to us to make the best judgements for ourselves.

  17. Tom P Avatar
    Tom P

    How come dogs live their lives barefoot and still get vestibular syndrome? Because this only applies to humans?

    1. Lynny Bishop Avatar

      No one thing is the full answer, I’d say the modern dog’s diet and probably lack of exercise and possibly breeding has a lot to do with dogs ill health