The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, is the collection of pilgrimage routes in Europe that thousands of people walk each year en route to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in northwestern Spain.
In 2013 more than 210, 000 people undertook the walk, hailing from all over the world. What drew them to the Camino varies.
Some pilgrims walk the hundreds of miles to clear their mind and reflect on life and others progress in the name of religious beliefs. Still others come to the path for the simple challenge of a beautifully long walk, or for reasons they don’t quite know themselves.
Most of them however, have one thing in common: they all wear shoes.
Did it hurt?
“I had just one complication. I hit my baby toe. I made a mistake. At one point, the path was full of jagged rocks, and when it turned I went into one. I can walk but if I put shoes on it hurts,” Kenney said in an exclusive interview with RateMDs.
What drove her to walk 11 days straight on the famous path, barefoot?
“People thought I was doing it for my sins!” she laughed. “Really, I do it [go barefoot] because it’s a choice. It’s not to make a statement-it just feels better, for me.”
Kenney walks barefoot almost every day and is part of a growing trend.
While it may come as a surprise, many people are now choosing to who go without shoes for the sake of comfort and better health, citing a connection with the ground as an important part of their day.
As Kenney, who has even developed a line of unique soleless shoes, pointed out, the movement is so popular that megastars like Julia Roberts and Justin Bieber are joining in.
Roberts was recently caught going barefoot on the red carpet at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival in France, and Bieber was documented strolling with naked feet around Boston before a show.
A society called The Society for Barefoot Living has even been founded.
Sue Kenney in barebottom shoes on the Camino
So what does it all mean, to throw away your footwear?
It sounds like freedom for some, but for others, danger.
There is, naturally, the pragmatic view that shoes protect our feet from harmful cuts and improve our gait. The unattractive risk of contracting a fungal infection, tetanus or hookworm from being barefoot, is enough to prevent many people from doing so.
What’s the sell, then?
The good news is that doctors say the problems of going without shoes aren’t actually that common.
According to the New York Times at least one podiatrist, Dr. Mitchell Greenbaum, of St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, says he has seen more sprained ankles and stubbed toes in his time as a professional than infections from going bare foot.
And Harvard states that, in their view, only people who have sensory nerve damage in their feet should avoid going shoeless.
All others are open season for giving it a try.
Sue Kenney on the Camino, 2016
What were Kenney’s thoughts?
“Well, we have 7000 nerve endings on the bottom of each foot,” she explained. “These receptors tell the nervous system about the environment we’re in, so our body can adapt. If we wear shoes, our feet are and hot sweaty and they feel confined. But with them off, we bring blood to the feet and make our step lighter. Maybe it adapts our lungs and maybe it adapts the going oxygen to our brain. We’re allowing our foot to do what it normally does. All of a sudden, our body works more evenly. ”
OK, but Spain is kind of warm. What about doing it in winter, with all that Canadian snow?
“Try it!” Kenney laughed. “Start with just a few minutes. I go for longer. I love it! Your whole body reacts, and you feel alive. You should see-people start laughing out loud.”
Kenney’s advice for those who want to give regular barefooting a try, without traveling all the way to the Camino, is straightforward.
“Find a place you’re comfortable. Do it indoors or in the forest or in your own backyard. Try it for just for a few minutes- you’ll notice a change. For me, going barefoot is about that wonderful sensation- it let’s my body do what it’s supposed to. You get to feel the freedom of being a child again,” she said.
The benefits of going barefoot it seems, may outweigh the potential, lurking dangers.
For those who are interested, check out these other fine tips for giving boots the boot. Happy trails.