The bare foot is optimized in terms of versatility for safety and functionality for performing weight-bearing activities (standing, walking and running) on both naturally deposited ground and manmade surfaces. The bare foot is highly functional within a relatively wide range of ambient temperatures - from freezing to relatively hot temperatures. Protective footwear are required outside of this range. There is a vast amount of anecdotal evidence that barefoot running remains reasonably safe and efficient on most man made surfaces, such as concrete and asphalt. The bare foot may be more efficient than any footwear for distance running because barefoot running is more energy efficient compared to any footwear system examined.
Specific protective footwear are required under specific conditions when there is significant risk of foot crush injuries, penetrating wounds, electrocution through electrical conduction through feet, foot damage from hypothermia and exposure to materials that are toxic to human skin.
Whereas the bare foot is probably extremely safe in terms of injuries and versatile when in contact with many natural and manmade surfaces, footwear designed to be functional on a single surface can improve athletic performance. For example, it is not difficult to design footwear that are superior to the bare foot in terms of traction (grip) on a specific substrate. As examples, rubber soled shoes are superior to the bare foot with urethane finishes of gym floors, and spiked running shoes are superior to the bare foot in acceleration in sprints on tracks. This increase in performance with footwear undoubtedly comes at the cost of greater injury frequency.
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