Barefoot vs Common Footwear: A Systematic Review of the Kinematic, Kinetic and Muscle Activity Differences During Walking

Gait Posture. 2015 Sep;42(3):230-9. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2015.05.019. Epub 2015 Jun 3.


Habitual footwear use has been reported to influence foot structure with an acute exposure being shown to alter foot position and mechanics. The foot is highly specialised thus these changes in structure/position could influence functionality. This review aims to investigate the effect of footwear on gait, specifically focussing on studies that have assessed kinematics, kinetics and muscle activity between walking barefoot and in common footwear. In line with PRISMA and published guidelines, a literature search was completed across six databases comprising Medline, EMBASE, Scopus, AMED, Cochrane Library and Web of Science. Fifteen of 466 articles met the predetermined inclusion criteria and were included in the review. All articles were assessed for methodological quality using a modified assessment tool based on the STROBE statement for reporting observational studies and the CASP appraisal tool. Walking barefoot enables increased forefoot spreading under load and habitual barefoot walkers have anatomically wider feet. Spatial-temporal differences including, reduced step/stride length and increased cadence, are observed when barefoot. Flatter foot placement, increased knee flexion and a reduced peak vertical ground reaction force at initial contact are also reported. Habitual barefoot walkers exhibit lower peak plantar pressures and pressure impulses, whereas peak plantar pressures are increased in the habitually shod wearer walking barefoot. Footwear particularly affects the kinematics and kinetics of gait acutely and chronically. Little research has been completed in older age populations (50+ years) and thus further research is required to better understand the effect of footwear on walking across the lifespan.

Keywords: Barefoot; Footwear; Kinematics; Kinetics; Walking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Foot / physiology*
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Knee Joint / physiology
  • Shoes*
  • Walking / physiology*