The month of June is all about bare feet on LYT! This week, Lara interviewed podiatrist Emily Splichal for her Redefining Yoga podcast and on Saturday, June 18th, I’ll be doing our monthly workshop on LYT Daily about being Barefoot Happy. If you’re like me, you find yourself barefoot around the house all the time. I do it for comfort reasons, but being barefoot has dramatic benefits for our bodies as well.
The human foot is a very complex structure, which allows it to be adaptable to the loads placed upon it. During the gait pattern, it must be stable at heel strike and push off, while becoming a mobile adaptor during mid-stance. The arch possesses spring-like characteristics, storing and releasing energy with each step and the deformation of this arch is controlled by both intrinsic and extrinsic muscles. Therefore, stability of the arch is imperative for normal foot function and can be likened to the “core” of the foot.
The general consensus in the literature is that habitually barefoot people have stronger feet and fewer foot deformities. Studies have shown that barefoot walking individuals tend to have a wider forefoot, higher arch, more pliable feet, and reduced bunions/hallux angle as compared to people who regularly wear shoes. The literature has also shown that footwear has a significant impact on the gait pattern and can be an extrinsic factor for decreased gait performance over time. McKeon et al. found that permanent support to the foot may result in decreased efficiency of the foot muscles. Their study also suggests that walking barefoot is less restrictive to the motion of the foot, thereby increasing the sensitivity of the stretch mechanisms and activating the musculature of the foot and lower leg.
Another advantage of being barefoot is the increase in sensory input received from the sole of the foot. Sensory input has long been recognized for its importance in postural stability and dynamic gait patterns. Stability has been shown to progressively decrease with increasing amounts of footwear support. It’s a fact that as we age, we lose sensitivity in our feet. Coupling that with losing mobility by wearing restrictive shoes all the time can have a detrimental effect on balance and increase the risk of falling as we age. Being barefoot sharpens the connection between the sensory receptors of the foot and brain, giving us better and quicker information about where we are in space. Walking barefoot is one of the most fundamental sensorimotor tasks we perform. If you don’t use it, you lose it. By using and stimulating the nerves in the feet more often, you encourage their physical growth, which improves sensitivity. It is even believed to improve circulation, as we use more of the fine motor muscle of the foot and ankle while barefoot, which moves the blood and lymph more efficiently. When we’re more sensitive to changes occurring under the feet, we’re more able to react when our balance shifts and therefore, reduce our chances of falling. So when we put an overly-supportive or overly-cushioned shoe on the foot, we significantly reduce the amount of sensory feedback from these receptors. In another study, Shinohara and Gribble found that even wearing thin socks decreases postural stability in single-leg standing as compared to bare feet! So one can only extrapolate the effects of regular shoe wear.
I think the message is clear here…slip off your shoes whenever you can! We do it every time we get on our mat, which is just one of many things I love about yoga in general. Try it around the house and around the yard. Free up those toes by checking out a pair of Correct Toes at our LYT Store! Your body and your brain will thank you in the long run!