Improve foot health through sensory stimulation

Dr. Monika Leitner is back with another foot health blog (see the full series here), this time looking at why we need to get more tactile with our feet, with some practical tips to get started.

I want to describe another challenge of our modern digital world (other than the physical inactivity caused by our working lives being more desk-based): the lack of ‘hapticity’. Let me explain…

The word ‘haptic’ derives from Ancient Greek and means ‘able to come in contact with’. You could use the word ‘tactile’ also as a synonym for ‘haptic’. Haptic perception means literally the ability ‘to grasp something’. With this experience of grasping something, our sense of touch is developed. For Martin Grunwald, a pioneer of haptic research, the tactile sense is the primal language, that accompanies our life from the beginning to the end. Without bodily contact, no baby could survive.

Tactile perception is achieved through the active exploration of surfaces. So how does this translate to our feet? Well, our feet, often encased in shoes don’t have a lot of sensory stimulation nowadays. However, when I watch an infant exploring its feet with its hands and how it grasps objects with its feet to actively explore it, I realise what we – as adults – have lost. When did you last explore your feet with your hands, gave the feet a nice rub or gently mobilised some joints of the foot for your sense of wellbeing? How much sensory stimulation do we offer our feet in our modern world? Are we still able to grasp something with our feet?

Hopefully this explains what I mean by the term ‘lack of hapticity’, and how our feet have insufficient sensory stimulation.

So, what can we practically do to give our feet more sensory stimulation? Here are some recommendations. Just pick the ones, that are possible for you or for which you feel some resonance.

  • Touch your feet more often.
  • When you use a foot cream, gently massage your foot with mindfulness, stay present and without any judgement.
  • Perhaps you want to thank your feet for how far they have taken you: for the many steps, the thousands of kilometres that they’ve carried you. This practice might enhance the appreciation for your feet and might contribute to a more positive body relationship.
  • Give your feet a self-massage. (It is nearly impossible to harm structures on the foot by doing it gently. If you have sensitive spots, you can remain there for some time, or you might go a little bit deeper into the tissue.)
  • If you don’t have enough mobility in hip and knee joints to reach to your feet, let someone else do it for you! Or treat yourself to a professional foot massage.
  • Walk barefoot outdoors during the summer season on the grass/soil whenever you have the opportunity. (This does not apply to diabetes patients!)
  • Practise grasping with your feet: try to lift a pen or scrunch a towel with your toes while feeling the structure of the textile.
  • When possible, stand and walk on a mat with bumps or texture. An acupressure mat offers good stimulation, but try sitting down rather than standing when applying the pressure to the feet as the spikes can be sharp.
  • Use the different tyfo insoles. At home you might use the Activation Slipper into which you can insert any of the insoles. Number 8, for example, is a great stimulus for me personally when I’m at home. I wear them in my slippers for 5-10 minutes during household activities. I feel very alive afterwards!
  • If you have a vibrating foot massage device, like this one, you can give a lot of sensory stimulation to your feet. You can also put one or both feet on the device.

Any sensory stimulation of the feet is a valuable contribution to hapticity.

Find out more about tyfo insoles here:

This blog is part of a paid partnership with our Family Partner ActivFeet.


Dr. Monika Leitner
Monika is physiotherapist from Austria, but has lived in Switzerland for over 30 years. She’s a runner, who uses running to help her sort through her thoughts. She has worked with mums to help them get back to physical activity after giving birth, has a counselling degree, and specialises in the female pelvic floor and musculoskeletal system. For the past 17 years, she has been a lecturer at the Bern University of Applied Sciences.

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