Our feet are wonderful, natural shock absorbers! If you are unsure about this, then try jumping and landing on your heels instead of the front of your feet – you will most likely feel an unpleasant shockwave going through your whole body…
But how often do we actually use our feet the way they were designed to be used? Most of us constantly wear shoes, which do a great job protecting our feet, but also isolate them, at a sensory level, from their environment.
Our feet, like most other parts of our body, are rich in various types of sensory receptors sending our central nervous system constant information about our environment. The sensory information from the feet (for example the pressure distribution under the soles) is integrated with other information from the rest of our body to determine the right amount of contraction in local and more distant muscles to move and stabilise our body. Our feet really sense the ground and help us coordinate our muscle activity to absorb shocks and remain balanced against gravity.
Shoes have a numbing effect on our feet – they deprive our central nervous system of part of the sensory information that would normally be coming from them. Interestingly, all the nerves supplying the feet originate from the lower back (levels L4, L5 and S1 of the spine). This is the very area affected by an epidemic of acute and chronic, pain-causing dysfunctions. One can then argue that reduced stimulation of the sensory endings in the feet may result in reduced stimulation of the lower back muscles and thus poorer spinal stability and increased risk of dysfunction and pain.
Minimalistic or ‘barefoot’ shoes have become a real trend among many in the sports and outdoors community. Such shoes have a very thin and flexible sole, and a wide toe box. They allow the wearer to better feel the ground and encourage a more natural function of the feet (also exploiting its natural shock-absorption ability when running). They are generally very comfortable to wear, but should be eased into, especially when it comes to running. With the foot and leg musculature solicited in different, and often more intense ways, it is beneficial to be very progressive with their use.
So should you go online or to the nearest shop and try to get a pair of minimalistic shoes as soon as possible? Why not, but there are a few other simple options to stimulate your feet. If you have access to uneven terrains (flat environments are uninteresting for our feet) and it is safe to explore these barefoot, then go for it! If you don’t have that chance, you could place large pebbles somewhere inside your house or in your garden and spend a few minutes walking on them barefoot every day.
Giving your feet a workout is a great way to improve your balance, stability and strength!
Originally written by Nicolas Roost for LiveBeingFit (www.livebeingfit.com)