Can Going Barefoot Improve Foot Health?

Posted 12/28/2015 | By HealthCorps

You may have heard of barefoot running, and certainly there are benefits and drawbacks to running without athletic shoes, but how about just walking around your house barefoot? Is this a healthy habit or can it cause some harm to your feet?

As we break out the heavy shoes and boots we typically wear during the colder months, putting aside our summer sandals and flip flops, and barefoot beach walking, you may want to consider the benefits of walking around your home without shoes. Barefoot walking may actually help us to improve our balance and posture, and also help to minimize the risk of injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, bursitis and tendonitis in the Achilles tendon. In fact, similar to the way fitness professionals recommend “working your core,” it appears that the small muscles in the feet play an important role and can benefit from being challenged during barefoot walking.

There are important neural connections between large extrinsic muscles in the foot and leg, and small intrinsic muscles of the foot. The interactions send important messages to the brain, which results in behaviors like adjusting your length of step and how you place pressure onto your foot as you walk. When the feedback loop from your brain to your feet and back to your brain, gets broken, it can lead to overuse injuries. Athletes and weekend warriors in particular, are prone to those types of trauma.

Wearing shoes can also interfere with the feedback loop, since you are now stepping and pressing on a large, thick sole which tends to dampen sensations to the neural connections. Since muscles are the primary absorbers of force in the body, anything (like a sole) that interferes with feeling force or impact can cause muscles to over-compensate or over-exert past the point of exhaustion and also impair the natural ability to repair. You know how your feet feel when you walk around all day in heavy shoes shopping. When you finally take off your shoes the sense of relief is immediate and it may be only then that you realize how much your feet hurt, or that pain that won’t go away in your foot.

So there’s nothing wrong with wearing shoes, and we certainly need them to navigate the outdoor landscape but, the consequences of wearing supportive shoes on a regular basis may cause loss of information that our bare feet would receive and send to the brain. That loss of information then puts us at risk of some type of injury. Many of these injuries, if they don’t receive proper attention, can become chronic.

How can you strengthen your foot core?

The easiest way is to lose the footwear whenever you can. Barefoot walking at home, Pilates, yoga, martial arts and some types of dance can build the foot core when you do them sans footwear. When you change positions often, as you do in these types of workouts, you allow the force from the ground to interact with your foot and your body and this can help to build core foot strength. You can also consult with a fitness trainer or physical therapist to learn some specific exercises to help with foot core health.

A cost-saving payoff might be less need for expensive athletic footwear. If your foot core is strong and healthy, you won’t necessarily require all the fancy new technology that athletic shoe companies innovate, unless you really want to spend dollars to have these expensive training shoes. Shoes were really meant to protect feet and help you to grip the ground. Your foot should not be passively in a shoe while it provides support. In fact, think about the super light running shoes elite runners wear. They have minimal support and the soles are actually quite thin. It can take years to achieve that level of foot core strength, but it is quite doable. You just need to lose the shoes on a regular basis!!

Source: Science Daily

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