Rewilding your feet can have many health benefits, which I discussed in my previous blog post. The key is to remember that if you’ve been wearing shoes, especially really built up shoes, for most of your life, you have to transition slowly to barefoot.
If you’ve ever had a cast (or known someone who has) for a broken bone, then you’ve probably seen how small and shriveled their muscles were after getting the cast off. This muscle wasting is called disuse atrophy. The body very much works on the “use it or lose it” principle. While it’s not being used, the muscles cells are broken down and their constituents parts are either recycled of excreted.
Shoes are similar to that cast. They’ve held most of your foot muscles and joints immobile in one position for a long time. The muscles themselves are small and weak in comparison to what they would or could have been without the shoes. As any natural bodybuilder could tell you, it takes time, patience and diligence to build muscle.
Another thing to consider in rewilding your feet is the ‘toughness’ of your feet. Shoes are a protective covering and as such, your feet have not had the stimulus to build thicker, more protective skin on the soles of the feet. If we lived without shoes for most of our lives, our feet would have a nice little fat pad underneath the heel bone to help cushion them on hard surfaces. This heel pad is often very thinned and ineffectual in persons frequently wearing shoes.
So again, I reiterate- you must transition to rewilding your feet and going barefoot slowly, so as to not risk an injury because of weak muscles, nearly non-existent fat pads and overly tender skin.
How to do this…
- Begin by simply going barefoot more around your own home. (Slippers don’t count!) Socks can be used for purposes of warmth, but may not help your soles toughen up enough. Notice which surfaces in your home are more uncomfortable than others. (Concrete is an ‘unnatural’ surface and it can take time to stand comfortably on such a surface). Remember that its totally normal to be uncomfortable to stand for long periods of time like this. Start slow and work your way up. It will get better with time and patience.
- Once that feels comfortable, try small bouts of going barefoot in your yard or lawn (hopefully you don’t spray any toxic chemicals on your lawn). Sticking your barefeet in grass when its still covered in the morning dew is a divine delight!!!
- From there, you can begin to have barefoot adventures! I like to look for soft, mostly dirt trails to do short barefoot walks on.
- Use barefoot and minimalist shoes where appropriate. Something like the Vibram Five Fingers or Vivobarefoot shoes have very thin, flexible soles- just enough to give your feet a little protection while still allowing them to move through their full ranges of motion. By increasing the amount of time I wear such shoes, I have been able to strengthen my feet very safely over the last year.
- Do your corrective stretches!!! Remember that it’s not really just your feet that have adapted to wearing shoes- other muscles in your lower leg have as well. Stretch your calf muscles several times a day to provide them the stimulus to ‘lengthen’ after years of signals to ‘shorten’ because of positive-heeled shoes. Use a lacrosse ball and roll on the bottom side of you foot to break up any ‘sticky’ areas- bits of adhesive or scar tissue- that are limiting the range of motion of the various joints within your foot.
Has ditching your shoes improved your health? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
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