The purpose of these experiments was to test the Robbins and Hanna hypothesis, which relates differences in discomfort from localized deformation at certain positions on the plantar surface to protective behavior (intrinsic foot shock absorption). A penetrometer was used to quantify the relations between localized load and pain and between load and depth of deformation. The magnitude of load required to elicit pain varied significantly (P less than 0.005) in relation to position on the plantar surface. With a load of 9 kg and a 10 mm spherical end on the penetrometer, 6% of the sample reported pain at the heelpad, 32% at the distal first digit, and 66% at the first metatarsal-phalangeal joint. This pattern was predicted by the Robbins and Hanna thesis. Two deformation patterns were observed which were best explained by deformation constraint by tight trabecular tethering of the epithelial membrane at the heelpad and distal first digit and unrestricted deformation due to loose trabecular tethering of the epithelial membrane at the first metatarsal-phalangeal joint. These data provide insight into how, when barefoot, the plantar surface resists perforation yet provides protection to local bony structures. These data further support the notion that plantar sensory feedback plays a central role in safe and effective locomotion.