Feet are an oft neglected part of the body. Our poor feet get shoved into stiff, tight shoes every day and are rarely given the chance to function in their natural state – bare. Worse, some health-care professionals warn against going barefoot, arguing the feet need constant support lest they get injured. As long as peripheral neuropathy is not an issue, there is no reason to fear going barefoot.
Strengthening your feet can improve function no matter your current condition. The feet are vitally important, providing connection to the ground and enabling us to walk. Free your feet to experience a new world of sensations and improved health. Proceed with caution, though, as a lifetime of wearing shoes has most likely deformed and atrophied your feet. Suddenly doing large amounts of barefoot activity can be a shock to the body.

Here are a few tips to help strengthen your feet and decrease foot pain:

1. Start inside your home
You may already be going barefoot at home, but if not, why? The home is a safe place to let the feet function naturally. If you wear shoes around the house due to foot pain, just do as much as you can tolerate barefoot, even if only for a few minutes.

2. Give yourself a massage

A great way to treat your feet is with a massage. This can decrease pain and discomfort and induce relaxation. You may choose to cross one leg over the other and use your thumbs to rub the bottoms of your feet. Rolling gently over a tennis ball works well, too. If you have a partner, trade foot rubs with them! This is a great way to bond and relax together.

3. Use your toes

Decades of wearing shoes has left the small muscles in and around your toes weak. Practice picking up marbles or golf balls, or place a towel on the floor and crunch it up with your toes. Additionally, see if you can separate your toes from each other and move each one individually. This will provide a good laugh in addition to improving your dexterity.
Remember to treat your feet with respect and the dividends will be abundant.

By Jared Rogers
Exercise Physiologist and Personal Trainer
Duke Center For Living at Fearrington