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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Barefoot Controversy

"Scientists, professors and foot specialists are now all singing the praises of going barefoot." (see link)

Those of you who lead a very active lifestyle and/or play sports, are probably aware of the barefoot controversy. StrideRite, Nike, and other shoe companies are, I'm sure, hoping not too many of us buy into the idea that bare feet are better--although some of them are smart and are buying into the idea. But what I am learning makes so much sense!

During the summer, my children and I typically go barefoot at home full time. I also do my daily exercises (in my living room) with either bare feet or socked feet. In the winter, we vary that by wearing socks or, if it's really cold, soft house shoes. I worry about my kids stepping in broken glass or unsavory substances outside, so in the summer we live outside in our sandals. But what I am learning about the barefoot movement is making me want to even do more.

First of all, did you know this? (Check it out: I didn't know all the facts at this site!)

Also: "The rise in joint problems, bunions, hammertoe conditions, and painful feet can all be attributed to wearing inappropriate footwear in many cases, and if we were all going barefoot many health problems related to the feet would see their prevalence dramatically fall. Athlete’s foot and fungal infections would not have the moist environment to proliferate and the feet would be a lot better off. The change in gait which results from running barefoot sees the foot land flatter, which lessens the stress on the heel and prevents jarring of the foot, ankle, knees, hips and lower back. Barefoot is as nature intended..." (see link)

Interestingly, extensive research was done long ago about the differences between people who go barefoot and people who wear shoes. One article I read discussed the findings of a study done of people in India and China who had never worn shoes (118 of which were rickshaw pullers who ran on hard roads for several hours each day):

"People who have never worn shoes acquire very few foot defects, most of which are painless and non-debilitating. The range of their foot motions are remarkably great, allowing for full foot activity. Shoes are not necessary for healthy feet and are the cause of most foot troubles. Children should not be encouraged to walk prematurely and should not wear any footwear until absolutely necessary. Footgear is the greatest enemy of the human foot."

Another article relates a study done not nearly so many years ago on the occurrence of flat feet in Europe and America, in contrast to the occurrence in India. The contrast is considerable, since:

"In India children are seldom brought for treatment for flat foot. The few children who do attend with this complaint are from affluent urban families and they all wear shoes. In our clinic we have never seen a child from the farming community or from the family of a manual labourer who complained of flat foot.

"The high concentration of flat foot among six-year-old children who wore shoes as compared with those who did not, implies that the critical age for development of the arch is before six years.

"Our cross-sectional study suggests that shoe-wearing in early childhood is detrimental to the development of a normal or a high medial longitudinal arch. The susceptibility for flat foot among children who wear shoes is most evident if there is associated ligament laxity. We suggest that children should be encouraged to play unshod and that slippers and sandals are less harmful than closed-toe shoes."

Another site states:

"Various myths persist about foot behavior due to poor understanding of its biology.

"The modern running shoe and footwear in general have successfully diminished sensory feedback without diminishing the injury inducing impact, a dangerous situation.
The solution to the problem of running-related injuries could be as simple as promoting barefoot activity..."

But what if you're like me and don't really want to have skin contact with everything in your environment? Or your feet aren't quite callused enough to enjoy a hike in the mountains without shoes? Well, that's where those weird-looking, but cool, Vibram fivefinger shoes come in. Seriously, after all I have learned, I want some of these. (But they're out of my budget for now.) Here is what their website has to say on the topic:

"The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles, and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised." (Contrast that with proponents of the supportive shoe who lead you to believe that the foot is just a delicate appendage to be protected at all costs.)

"Stimulating the muscles in your feet and lower legs will not only make you stronger and healthier, it improves your balance, agility and proprioception.

And for my last interesting tidbit from the latest research:

"Researchers reporting in the Jan. 28 issue of the journal Nature show that runners who run without shoes usually land on the balls of their feet, or sometimes flat-footed, compared to runners in shoes, who tend to land on their heels first.

"Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world's hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain."

"...A few calluses can help runners avoid injuries.

"Modern people have grown up wearing shoes, so running barefoot is something to be eased into... Modern running shoes are designed to make heel-striking easy and comfortable. He suggests runners who want to shed their shoes do so slowly, to build strength in the calf and foot muscles."

Anyone else want to go barefoot now?


Eric and Jessi said...

It's so true! Check out the book "Born to Run".

Raeofshine77 said...

Wow! A lot of this was new information for me. We are always barefoot inside and sometimes outside in the back yard (especially Nate). Oddly enough, Justin and I were walking the dog a few nights ago and a young man in the ward came up behind us running barefoot. This all makes sense. Thanks for posting all the good research :-)

Anonymous said...

Funny how we have to re-learn stuff over and over. Those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s already knew that. Going barefoot everywhere was quite a fad for young people, and you could see them barefoot even in urban areas, shopping, and doing almost anything barefoot on a nice summer day. Especially teenage girls and young women in their 20s. And they could walk on the hottest pavement, and sharp objects, with no problems, some got so used to it.


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