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Is walking barefoot bad for our feet? What foot problems are associated from walking barefoot?
WHY IS WALKING BAREFOOT SO BAD FOR US? WHAT ARE COMMON FOOT AILMENTS THAT ARE CAUSED, OR FURTHER IRRITATED, BY WALKING AROUND BAREFOOT?
Walking barefoot on hard surfaces allows our foot to collapse which can lead to a tremendous amount of stress not only to the foot but to the rest of the body. Our feet naturally pronate during the gait cycle, however when we walk barefoot we pronate for a longer period of time which then alters the biomechanics and distribution of pressure and weight across the foot. This imbalance may increase the progression of underlying foot deformities such as bunions and hammertoes and lead to painful conditions associated with excessive pronation such as arch/ heel pain, shin splints/ posterior tibial tendonitis, and Achilles tendonitis. This imbalance can then translate upward affecting other parts of the body such as our knees and back.
Walking barefoot also exposes our feet to bacterial and fungal organisms that can infect the skin and nails. These organisms can lead to infections that change the appearance, smell, and comfort of the foot such as athletes foot or fungal nails. Often time people with thickened, dry, scaly feet assume that their feet need moisturizing with an everyday cream when in fact what they need is an anti-fungal cream instead because they have a fungal infection that is causing the scaliness. These organisms tend to grow in dark and moist environments. People often contract these infections as they are highly contagious by walking barefoot in communal bathing facilities and gyms. These organisms first infect the skin and then they may infect that nails leading to thickening, discoloration, and brittleness of the nails. Both conditions become not only unsightly but also contribute to an unpleasant odor. Ultimately the skin and nails become painful as the skin fissure and cracks and the nail thickens putting more pressure onto the toes.
IS THERE ANY PART OF THE POPULATION THAT IS MORE PRONE TO THESE AILMENTS?
Diabetics: because the disease changes the normal hydration of the skin which then alters the texture, tone, and turgor of the skin. This may lead to fissuring of the skin of which increases the chances of contracting an infection. The infection is then exacerbated by the fact that diabetic people have a compromised immunity and thus a greater difficulty fighting off infection
Other population that may be more prone include people in labor professions such as construction workers who may have to use boots for prolonged periods of time in outdoor environments where they are more likely to be exposed to microbes and moisture.
HOW CAN YOU BEST TREAT THESE INFECTIONS? ALSO, WHEN SHOULD SOMEONE SEE A DOCTOR AS OPPOSED TO PICKING UP OVER THE COUNTER MEDICATION?
The best way to treat an infection is to first determine whether the infection is bacterial or fungal. Most infections that present with scaliness and itchiness to the bottom of the foot and in between the toes are a result of a fungal infection commonly known as athlete’s foot. It’s worth trying an over the counter anti-fungal first for 2- 3 weeks to see if some improvement in the condition is noted. I recommend spraying Lysol into your shoes regularly to kill any organism present in the shoe and to avoid walking barefoot at the gym and/ or pool. If the medication fails to resolve the condition, a prescription strength medication will be most suitable. If there is nail involvement, then a prescription topical and sometimes on oral medication may be preferable if indicated. Laser treatment does not always work.
IS IT SAFE TO WALK AROUND BAREFOOT AT HOME?
Avoid walking barefoot outside of the house in most places unless absolutely necessary (such as when participating in yoga) and when you do inspect and cleanse your feet immediately to avoid contracting an infection. You can use baby wipes to first clean the feet and even an anti-fungal spray to kill any fungus prophylactically. You can contract an infection from walking barefoot at home if your spouse or roommate has an infection. Therefore, I recommend also spraying Lysol into the shower to help kill any microbes that may cross contaminate.
WHERE ARE OTHER PLACES YOU SHOULD REFRAIN FROM WALKING AROUND BAREFOOT?
You should avoid walking barefoot in gyms and communal bathing facilities.
ARE YOU MORE PRONE TO THESE INFECTIONS IN CITIES SUCH AS NYC? ALSO, ARE YOU MORE PRONE TO THEM IN THE SUMMER MONTHS?
These infections can happen anywhere. The odds increase when you walk in an environment that is wet as these organisms grow in dark and moist places. In regards to the time of year, most people will have athlete’s foot in the winter because they wear thicker shoes and boots that air out less and may be exposed to more moisture from rain or snow. These infections are still common during the hotter months people go to pools and gyms more and often times walk barefoot in these locations.
ARE THERE ANY BENEFITS OF WALKING AROUND BAREFOOT?
There are benefits to walking barefoot on soft surfaces such as carpeted flooring, grass, or sand (not hard wood floors) which include increased circulation which increases the nourishment of nerves, muscles, and bone of the foot and also helps minimize swelling of the lower extremities. Walking barefoot may also help improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles and ligaments of the foot improving the function of the feet ultimately reducing injuries of the feet and improving posture and balance of the body.