By Dr. Mercola
Flip-flops may throw off your stride and cause pain in your lower legs and feet, according to researchers at Auburn University in Alabama.
Researchers recruited 39 college-age men and women, and measured how the participants walked on a special platform wearing thong flip-flops. On another day, the same participants walked across the platform wearing their own athletic shoes.
When the participants wore flip-flops, they took shorter strides and their heels hit the ground with less vertical force. When people walk in flip-flops, they apparently alter their gait, which may explain why lower leg and foot problems can occur in people who wear such shoes frequently.
Throwing on a pair of flip-flops to putter around your garden or walk along the beach is an integral part of summer for many people. However, according to Tony Bruno -- a certified Muscle Activation Techniques Specialist -- wearing flip-flops can not only cause dysfunctional changes and pain in your foot, these changes can resonate all the way up to your head, neck, and jaw.
This happens because your toes try to grip into bottom of the flip-flop to hold them on your feet. Look at your toes in flip-flops. The distal part of your toe is trying to flex down (planter flex) to hold the flip-flop on, while the other part of your toe (middle) is trying to bridge up (dorsi flex).
Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what your toes should be doing at that time. This improper toe action shortens natural stride, prevents the natural “locking” of your foot, and forces your hip and leg musculature to work harder, forcing some muscles to shut down. Muscle Activation Techniques is one of the ways to “turn on” the muscles that are shut down from improper foot wear and other compensations.
Hammer toes are the result of years of compensation from the intrinsic (small) foot muscles and long term flip-flop wear can contribute to this. So if you want to avoid hammer toes, you may want to reconsider wearing flip-flops.
Are You a ‘Cow-Walker’ or a ‘Fox-Walker’?
One of the classic works on the topic of going barefoot is Take Off Your Shoes and Walk by Simon J. Wikler D.S.C. In it, he explains that improperly shaped shoes -- including high heels and pointed toes -- are responsible for modern-day foot troubles. In fact, the book describes a study from the late 1950s that found children who were allowed to go barefoot had:
- Greater agility
- Denser muscles on the bottom of their feet
- Less deformed toes
- Greater flexor strength
- More ability to spread the toes
- More flexibility of the gluteal and hamstring muscles
Meanwhile, an article last year suggested that shoes lead to what’s called “cow-walk.”
Cow-walk puts tremendous pressure on your joints.It starts with the squeezing of your foot inside the shoe and continues with a constant jarring the knees as they're locked straight upon the pole-driving impact of the heel. This force travels straight up your spine, all the way up your neck.
In contrast, "fox-walking" is the walk of the natural hunter-gatherer -- the graceful flow of your body in total synchronization. Your knees are bent rather than locked, the ball of your foot touches the ground first, followed by your heel, in a virtually soundless step motion.
If you’ve ever seen a baby walking barefoot, they actually display the correct walking technique that we adults have lost touch with.
Should You Go Barefoot?
Bunions are non-existent in barefoot populations of the world, but from a practical perspective, going barefoot all the time is just not an option for most people. But you can certainly do so inside of your home or backyard -- and you may even feel some benefits, particularly from walking on a natural surface.
If you decide to go barefoot, do it slowly, progressing to more and more time spent without shoes. Also, when you start going barefoot it is best to initiate on naturally softer ground like grass and sand, not cement or hardwood. When the muscles and joints of the foot are “stable” your body can handle progressively more time barefoot.
There have been some very compelling studies suggesting that when you are "grounded," free electrons can easily come up from the earth and essentially nullify free radicals in your body. Ancient philosophies call this life-force energy Chi (also called Qi or Prana) and believe it can be absorbed through the soles of your feet automatically and unconsciously when walking barefoot.
So walking barefoot -- on clean, natural surfaces -- could be an easy way to contribute to your overall health.