The Importance of Walking on Uneven Surfaces
Living in Boulder, I am lucky to have access to multitudes of trails right out my front door. Anytime I’m out hiking, I purposely walk on top of rocks I come upon. Often, we may try to avoid these rocks so as to not trip or alter our seemingly flat and straight path. But walking on them allows our feet a chance to open, stretch, and increase their adaptability.
In today’s world, we spend the vast majority of our time walking on hard (often concrete), flat surfaces. To deal with the impact this has had on our feet, we’ve developed tennis shoes with thick soles to minimize the shock we experience with each step and to give us some cushion. Our feet then get squished into the shoe which then causes our feet to move as one unit, as opposed to the bones in our feet being able to spread out with each step.
Let me break this down.
Ideally, when we walk, there is a spring-like motion that occurs in our feet. When we step on the ground, the foot underneath us should open up and there should be a spreading motion through the foot. This function allows the shock from each step to be dispersed throughout all of the bones of the foot. There are 26 bones and 33 joints in each foot. When we push off from the ground, that is when our arches engage, springing us off the ground.
From a young age, we are put in shoes that don’t allow us to spread the toes of our feet independently. Shoes that constrict our feet. Shoes that don’t allow our feet to adapt to our environment.
So many people wonder why they have issues with their feet. My belief is because of the above, because our feet have never been given the opportunity to move as they should and adapt with each step.
Because of this, I am always curiously seeking out opportunities to walk on uneven surfaces. To go back to the example I gave earlier of when I’m out hiking and purposely step on rocks. I do this to allow the rock to push up into my foot a bit and move the bones of my foot. Sometimes I’ll linger on a particular rock simply to get a nice stretch in my foot. Walking on uneven surfaces such as those we find on trails and intentionally seeking out the rocks, allows our feet to regain a bit of their adaptability and movement. It also works with our proprioception, our ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding our position, motion, and equilibrium in space.
Why is working with our proprioception important?
Our proprioception helps us to know where we are in space, our spatial awareness. This directly affects our balance and perception. I won’t go too in depth here on proprioception, I’ll save that for another article, simply wanted to mention it as another added benefit to walking on rocks and other uneven areas. 🙂
My main intention from this article is to help emphasize the importance of getting movement between the bones in your feet and allowing them to move and adapt with your environment. If you live in a city and no trails are near you, get creative. When stepping up on a curb, step up with only half of your foot so that your heel hangs off a bit. Look for those bumpers at the end of parking spots and walk across them. Wear toe socks in your regular shoes so that your toes have the opportunity to move a bit more. Anytime you come across gravel, take your shoes off and slowly walk around on it. Roll a small ball under your feet to help open them up at the end of a long day.
Our feet our what take us through life and yet, we tend to neglect them. If movement is limited in our feet, the first ‘link’ in our body, it directly impacts movement throughout the rest of our body. If we lose the adaptability of our feet, over time, we lose the adaptability of our body.
So today, I invite you to go out and play. As you go about your day, look for interesting new places to give the bones in your feet a chance to move and stretch a bit.