What every kid seems to know instinctively — that going barefoot is good for you — has been confirmed by an orthopedist and rehabilitation specialist who has studied foot problems in various parts of the world.
“A high proportion of the world’s population walks barefoot most of the time, and the average person who walks barefoot has much healthier feet than the average person who wears shoes, says Dr. Paul W. Brand, chief of the rehabilitation branch of the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital, Carville, La. and professor of surgery a Louisiana State University Medical School.
Dr. Brand conducted an orthopedic clinic in India for 18 years and has also treated orthopedic problems in Ethiopia and the United Kingdom. On the basis of these experiences he suggests that maybe we in America should walk barefoot for at least part of each day.
Common foot problems in the United States include corns, bunions, hammer toes, athlete’s foot and ingrown toenail – but none of these is a problem in countries in which most people go barefoot.
“Every one is a product of footwear. They are caused either by poorly designed or poorly fitted shoes, or in such conditions as athlete’s foot, by the simple fact of wearing shoes that prevent free access of air between the toes,” he says.
Shoe-wearers also receive mechanical stress from walking on the same part of the foot with each step, while the rough, uneven thrust of the ground is transmitted to a different part of the barefoot walker’s foot with each step.
In shoes, Dr. Brand says, sensitivity, mobility, and intrinsic muscle strength of the feet are lost.
” The barefoot walker receives a continuous stream of information about the ground and about his own relationship to it, while a shod foot sleeps inside an unchanging environment. Sensations that are not used or listened to become decayed and atrophy. There is a sense of aliveness and joy which I experience walking barefoot that I never get in shoes,” he says.
Such direct contact with the ground has a great deal to do with preventing fractures of the ankle from “turning the foot over” by stepping on a rock or edge of the pavement. In India Dr. Brand saw no ankle fractures except in those who wore shoes.
The reason for this, he says, is that a barefoot person has instant information about the situation relayed by the touch-sensitive nerves in the skin of the sole and gets the information in time to avoid putting his weight on the unstable foot.
The person wearing shoes may not get this information in time to remove his weight from the leg to prevent a fracture.