Beyond Biomechanics | Addressing Foot Pain with Sensory Stimulation

When I teach on behalf of EBFA Global or speak to my patients I always emphasize that there are two sides to foot function (and dysfunction) – biomechanical and neuromuscular.    Now both play and important role in foot function which means that both must be appreciated - however to solely treat foot pain with just one belief system in mind is inherently flawed.

In most Podiatric Medical Schools we are taught foot function and foot pathology solely from a biomechanical perspective.   This means that every patient is tested for foot mobility and told to stand statically to determine arch height and foot type.   Based on this foot-focused biomechanical assessment and foot classification system the patient cause of injury and treatment protocol is determined.   Some of the favorite treatment recommendations include motion-controlled footwear and custom-posted orthotic both of which are prescribed with the hopes of controlling foot-focused biomechanics and thereby reducing their foot pain.

How "tuned in" is your nervous system? Advances in barefoot science.

With the foot as the only contact point between the body and the ground - much of this “noise” enters our nervous system through the feet.   If this foot “noise” is tuned out or unable to be sensed by the nervous system inaccurate movement patterns and delayed time to stabilization (i.e. injury) is the result.

One of the biggest causes or reasons for the inability to sense the essential noise of human movement is footwear.   Thick, cushioned, supportive footwear with smooth insoles completely “tunes out” the foot during dynamic movement.

The Evolution of Touch, Emotion and Barefoot Science

Touch is a powerful input system that 1.  allows us to navigate and manipulate our environment (i.e. feeling the sharpness of rocks under our feet cues us to walk slower) and 2. allows others to navigate and manipulate our environment (i.e. feeling someone grabbing you strongly warns you of a possible attack).

Now when it comes to evolution – touch is no different.   The art of touch has gone from simply survival (is this a threat or not) to more finite and discriminative.  This higher processing of touch refers to both the hands and feet - allows us to coordinate complex tasks such as micro-dissection surgery to the ability to read braille.

Advancing the Science of Proprioceptive Insoles

Imagine experiencing the same proprioceptive stimulation and neuromuscular control you do barefoot - but in your shoes!

The concept of enhanced neuromuscular control in footwear was first introduced by the advance in minimal footwear.   From Vibram FiveFingers to VivoBarefoot shoe companies and footwear are now allowing more and more natural foot function than ever before.

The Barefoot Advantage: Understanding Surface Science

It’s been well accepted that footwear changes the proprioceptive input between foot and ground.   Despite consumer associations between cushion and comfort, a 1997 study by Robbins et al. has demonstrated that increased cushion in shoes actually decreases foot position sense and alters overall stability.   This same study by Robbins et al. further demonstrated that the ideal shoe for improving balance and stability is a thin, hard-soled shoe.