In today's Blog Post, Travis McKenna a Podiatrist at The Foot Centre Group shares his expert advice for helping people resume their feet's natural function and waking up their feet nerve endings. Read here for his fun techniques.
Leonardo da Vinci once said the foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art, which details the marvel that is the human foot. Our feet may look like relatively simple structures, but we have over 200 000 nerve endings in the sole of each foot, which gives them the ability to detect and interpret a vast amount of information from the world around us. However, when we are wearing cushioned shoes for long periods of time, we are essentially reducing that communication between the ground and our body (1,2). When this communication line is dampened it becomes a lot harder to balance and maintain a strong foundation, which can lead to compensations further up the body (1).
Thankfully, there are ways to wake up these nerve endings – it involves getting your feet out of their shoe coffins and exposing them to the different stimuli that are all around us. A fun way of doing this is forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) which involves spending time in the forest. Doctors in Japan even recommend forest bathing to help with stress levels, blood pressure and blood glucose levels. This can be further improved by forest bathing barefoot (3, 4).
Now I guess at this point you’re probably thinking ‘but what if I step on something?’ ‘I may cut my feet?’ ‘And without my shoes how will I have any support for my arch?’
In regards to supporting the arch, we have everything we need for support already built-in. We have 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendon and ligaments that control and support our arch (2). Unfortunately, our current lifestyles have reduced our ability to use this built-in support system and so we have to rely on artificial stimuli for support such as orthoses or shoes. If you have to rely on an artificial stimulus to allow your foot to function, then you are not using your feet to their full potential (5).
Now don’t stress, it doesn’t mean that you are stuck this way. The human body is marvellously designed, it is forever adapting and changing to the environment that we expose it to. So, if you can start exposing your body to new stimuli, you may be able to reduce the need for the artificial support and in turn strengthen your feet to support themselves.
Researchers in 2019 found that just wearing minimalist shoes such as Vivobarefoot, Vibram five fingers or Xero shoes was just as effective as foot strengthening exercises. What this tells us is that simple changes to your daily life can have large impacts on the strength and stability of your feet, which in turn provides for a better foundation for all the movements we do in our daily life (2).
Still not sure about going barefoot? There is always a range of options available and everyone has to start somewhere. For some that will be transitioning down to minimalist shoes, for others it may just going barefoot around the house, or going into a shoe with less heel pitch or less cushioning. The big thing to remember is that any small change will help to get your feet more mobile and stable, which will help to offset the compensations created from our current lifestyles.
Image source: Instagram - @two_barefoot_podiatrists
Travis McKenna is a Podiatrist based at The Foot Centre Group in Moorabbin and Edithvale. He strives to work towards getting people’s feet back to their natural function.
If you would like to see Travis regarding any lower limb conditions or to discuss transitioning to barefoot, bookings can be made at https://www.footcentregroup.com.au/book-online/ or by contacting the clinic on 03 9773 0894.
You can also follow him through his Instagram: two_barefoot_podiatrists
1. Cudejko, T., Gardiner, J., Akpan, A., & D’Aout, K. (2020). Minimal footwear improves stability and physical function in middle-aged and older people compared to conventional shoes. Clinical Biomechanics, 71, 139-145.
2. Ridge, S.T., Olsen, M.T., Bruening, D.A., Jurgensmeier, K., Griffin, D., Davis, I.S., & Johnson, A.W. (2019). Walking in minimalist shoes is effective for strengthening foot muscles. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 51(1), 104-113.
3. Ohtsuka, Y., & Yabunaka, N. (1998). Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing and walking) effectively decreases blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. International Journal of Biometeorology. 41, 125-127.
4. Park, B.J., Tsunestsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2009). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health Preventative Medicine. 15, 18-26.
5. Altman, A.R., & Davis, I.S. (2012). Barefoot running: Biomechanics and implications for running injuries Extremity Conditions, 11(5), 244-250.