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If you have pain in your feet, it could be that your feet’s intrinsic muscles are weak and are not supporting and moving your foot bones properly during gait (walking).   As a result, certain bones can bear more weight pressure than others and develop pain; for example the first metatarsal-phalangeal joint (big toe joint).

Muscles can become weak when they are underused, or immobilized in some way over a long period of time.  For example, if you fracture your lower leg and had to wear a cast for three months, that leg would be smaller than the non-injured leg after taking off the cast.  This is because the calf muscle in the injured leg would experience some atrophy due to three months of decreased muscle activity.  You would most likely feel the difference in leg strength as well, after removing the cast.

But what would cause the foot muscles to weaken?  It’s a very simple action just about everyone does in the morning  before going to work, and that is putting on shoes.  Shoes, especially snug fitting ones like lace-up formal leather shoes with hard heels constrict the feet and don’t allow proper engagement of the foot joints when walking.  Basically, shoes act like a cast or splint on your feet.  Imagine wearing a shoe-equivalent on your hands, lacing them up tightly for nine hours a day.  Your hands would weaken eventually, and probably experience pain.

So what’s the solution?  Realize that the feet are designed to grip the ground with the toes/ forefoot, and elongate slightly at the arch to build up energy for toe-off during gait.  The toes splay out when bearing weight to increase stability to the body above.  Wearing shoes inhibits all these actions and can have an adverse effect on foot biomechanics.

Therefore, it is a good idea to exercise your feet by walking barefoot; preferably on a non-flat surface.  Find a grassy park and try running barefoot.  These activities will offer badly needed exercise (strengthening and stretching) for your feet.  If you’re like most people who have been wearing shoes most of their lives, your feet will be highly sensitive to the pebbles and small objects on the  ground; this is normal.  Keep walking and running barefoot as much as you can, breaking them in but obviously avoiding sharp objects on the ground.  This will strengthen your feet and make it more resistant to developing foot problems.

If you arent’ into going barefoot, the next best thing is to wear the Vibram Five Fingers KSO – Men’s walking “shoe.”  It offers the protection of a shoe, while offering the most freedom of movement of your feet.

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