Why are the soles of our feet so sensitive? July 11 2014, 0 Comments

It seems counter-intuitive that the surfaces on which we rest the most weight are some of the most sensitive in the body - think of the last time someone tickled your feet, or you tried to walk across gravel in your bare feet...

To some extent, this is the result of wearing shoes.  People who habitually go barefoot all the time develop some fatty padding under the skin, and the skin of the soles becomes thicker, forming a protective cushion.  Even factoring this in, the concentration of nerve endings in the soles of the feet is extremely high, and the nerve fibres leading from the to the brain are very fast - so why?

As pointed out by Dr Mick Wilkinson of Northumbria University, if you normally run in shoes, and then take them off and run on a hard surface, you will find that your gait changes naturally.  The feeling of a heel-plant, which is perfectly OK with a couple of centimetres of padding on your sole, no longer feels right,  so you  change your gait to soften the impact.  You will probably move more to a forefoot landing, or at least a much flatter one - much the same as the way that children run.  It has been hypothesised that this is why the feet are so sensitive - that this acute feedback causes us to adjust our gait to fit whatever the conditions may be, and to lessen the impact on our soles and through our joints.  It is further argued that this results in a more economical style of running.

And in order for this to work well, we need sensitive soles and fast message transfer through the nerves to adjust our running as quickly as possible.