Your feet are probably dysfunctional. A life-long addiction to shoes and chairs has trounced your tootsies and likely set off a chain of negative events on the rest of your body, from faulty movement patterns to migraines.
In 2005, after the book “Born to Run” became a best seller, barefoot running and minimalist shoes rose in popularity. Unfortunately so did injury rates. Physical therapists and podiatrists were overjoyed with their spike in business. The main problem is most of us are clueless when it comes to regaining the foot and ankle function of our youth. Look at how a 4-year-old picks up a ball: flat back, knees bent, butt to the ground and lifting with the legs. Watch them running in the park: forefoot striking, upright posture, forward feet etc. Most toddlers and little kids have perfect posture and fantastic biomechanics until…we strap them into sneakers and chairs. Multiply a whole bunch of years in tight fitting shoes with a sedentary lifestyle (sitting for more than 6 hours per day) and you’ve got a mess on your feet.
Can you run, jump, dance and climb while barefoot without pain? If not, your foot function likely needs repairing. The shoes you have been wearing for most of your life have likely encouraged dysfunction in your foot and ankle – which in turn affects your whole kinetic chain up to the top of your head. Until about age 10, most children still have soft, malleable feet. Kids’ feet are not just smaller versions of ours; they tend to be wider across the toes and mostly cartilage, which gets gradually replaced by bone. Most shoe companies design shoes with pre-defined shapes and overlook the natural architecture of the human foot. This is especially true when it comes to shoes for kids. Rigid and malformed shoes directly affect how a child’s foot bones and arch will shape. Kids’ feet are mal-shaped by their footwear.
- Increases in impact forces on all of your joints specifically your knees, ankles, and toes.
- Increased knee, hip, and spine pain due to the unnatural posture and gait.
- Increases in the severity and frequency of headaches.
- Reduction of the shock absorbing and elastic properties of your arches.
- Increased incidences of hammer toes, ingrown toes, corns, and bunions.
- A possibility of Morton’s neuroma (painful).
- Increased risk of ankle sprains, breaks, and strains.
- Decreases the proprioceptive function of the toes and foot.
- Strongly linked to arthritis in the knees.
- Shoes put undue stress on the lumbar spine and exacerbate, if not cause outright, lower back pain.
- Shoes cause excessive strain on the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.
- An elevated heel of any height shortens and weakens the calf musculature and Achilles’ tendon.
- A body weight shift forward changes your natural upright posture and causes muscle fatigue and compensatory movement patterns.
The foot-ankle complex contains over 100 muscles and over 200,000 nerve endings in each foot. After the genitals and fingers, it is the most nerve rich environment in our body. The foot brain connection is vital for equilibrium, gait, and dynamic/passive stability. The sensory blindfold of a thick-soled shoe confuses the entire connection. Those nerves are rarely stimulated. Since the proliferation of shoes, our brains scarcely receive information from our feet. This is a form of artificial neuropathy. The biomotor capabilities are severely limited, weakening the neural signals that create communication between your brain and lower extremities. Strong neutral signals would mean more power, better technique, less injury and increased joint health.
At this point, you might be saying my feet are weak and dysfunctional, so what? I feel fine and can still run, jump, dance and climb in my Air Jordans. Maybe so. However, foot/ankle function directly affects hip and knee mechanics which affect spinal alignment. The global movement patterns of your body become less efficient and flawed from their natural state (toddler years). This increases the chances of injury, arthritis, and decreases potential performance. Going barefoot is healthier than wearing shoes in almost all circumstances.
Here are a few things you can do today to repair your foot function:
- Go barefoot whenever you are able
- Challenge your feet by walking on uneven surfaces – even gravel or legos!
- Do the Janda Short foot exercise
- Wear minimalist shoes or shoes with no heel (zero drop) and little cushion
- Walk, hike and run barefoot – but progress slowly
- Stand on one foot while brushing your teeth (barefoot)
- Workout barefoot
- Check out these other exercises to strengthen your foot-ankle complex
I am not recommending you become a dirty shoe-less pariah. Those people are crazy. However, kicking off your shoes while at home, at the park, gym or office is a good idea for most. When was the last time you walked barefoot through the grass? Give your feet and break and free them in nature. Your soles will thank you.