Is going barefoot better for your back?

It’s spring, and that means it’s time for super cute shoes to start making their appearance. Although trendy shoes may offer the perfect finishing touch to your outfit, they may also be wreaking havoc on your back.

Dr. Howell, author of “The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes,” said wearing shoes can interfere with your balance, posture and overall strength. His solution? Lose the shoes.

When you wear shoes, he said, your center of gravity shifts to the front of your spine – especially if you are sporting any sort of heel. The higher your heel, the more pressure is put on your spine and muscles because of postural instability. Dr. Howell suggests that in addition to causing back problems, the types of shoes you wear may also affect other areas of your body:

  • Blisters, corns and calluses – because of the added friction shoes put on feet, sores such as blisters, corns and calluses may develop
  • Bunions – due to improper weight distribution in shoes
  • Hammer toe – due to cramped toe boxes in shoes
  • Flatfoot and fallen arches – due to arch supports and cast-like nature of shoes
  • Knee arthritis – due to elevated shoe heels
  • Infections – like athlete’s foot & toenail fungus and pseudomonas

So, what’s a girl to do? Start out by taking a leisurely stroll around your neighborhood sans the shoes. Let your feet get used to the pavement or the grass. It’ll be a new experience and require some adjustment. In the long run, though, your back will be grateful.

Walking around outside barefoot is great, but what about going to work or walking into a food establishment? First of all, always check the shoe policy wherever you go to avoid complications if you’ve decided to opt for the barefoot life. If you’re not ready to graduate to going barefoot 24/7, you may consider investing in a barefoot shoe.

There are several brands available. The most popular version may be Vivram FiveFingers –the ones that look like gloves for your feet. If those are a little too far out of your comfort zone, you may consider a more shoe-like option such as Vivobarefoot shoes.

If you decide to take up the barefoot lifestyle, keep in mind that it will take several weeks or months to transition your body to going without shoes. Make sure that you research how to make the transition.

Or maybe you will continue wearing normal shoes like so many of us. The next time you purchase shoes, evaluate them with this list to determine if they will ultimately damage your spine:

  1. Does it have a high heel?
  2. Is there no arch support?
  3. Is the toe area narrow?

If you answer “yes” to any of those questions, you may consider leaving the shoes at the store and finding a solution that is better for your back. Whatever you decide, make yourself aware of the benefits of each option – maybe even develop a pro/con list. And remember, transitioning into going barefoot or using barefoot shoes may take up to several months.

Dr. Howell teaches human anatomy and physiology at Liberty University. He is an avid runner and spends much of his time barefoot. Dr. Howell has spent several years researching the effects of shoes on the human body. For more information about Dr. Howell and his book “The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes,” visit thebarefootbook.com.

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