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February 10, 2015 at 9:01 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Shoes in the House - Healthy or Unhealthy?

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

It's said that a man's home is his castle. For some it's a sanctuary. For some it's a representation of self.

When I enter someone's home I am always mindful of these things, so it can be a bit awkward walking through the threshold into another's abode. The dilemma ensues - shoes on or shoes off?  For some, this is a cultural no-brainer as shoes in the house are simply not allowed.  For others, it doesn't matter either way - wear shoes if you want to, take them off if you don't. 

As a doctor, I tend to also look through a health lens in consideration of such issues, but what ARE this health issues surrounding shoes in the house?

Home Bodies

For modern Americans, the concept of home is quite varied and time spent in the home is quite varied as well. It's often dependent on personality, work requirements, and other responsibilities, but as the virtual age has brought more and more of the outside world inside, the idea of home has become even more complicated.

Many people now meet socially on the internet courtesy of venues like Skype or have merged their work environments with their home. Home schooling and virtual schooling are more popular than ever too. Indeed, the concept of home continues to evolve. And as we merge these concepts, its important to consider with priority the preservation of health practices.  Footwear is a great example of this. Should the shoes worn for work, school, and social times be worn when in the home? 

Health Pros of Wearing Shoes in the Home 

Ergonomics: As a doctor I am continually amazed by the importance of the ergonomic foundation of the body.  People come in with back pain, hip pain, knee pain and other ailments that are directly attributable to a dysfunction in the mechanics of the foot. The most common cause of this is a fallen arch, known commonly as "flat feet" or scientifically as pes planus. (More on this subject in my blog "Flat Feet: A Common Cause of Lower Body Pain") Proper shoes hold the foot in correct position with arch support and a sturdy heel cup.  When the arch support of a common sure is inadequate, prescription or custom arch supports can accomplish this, placed within the shoe.  For some people this is a necessity to maintain proper body function when any sort of walking is done whether inside or outside a home. 

Protection: Outside of sports, most injuries to the foot occur in the home. Walking around in the dark, it is not uncommon for toes to get slammed into a piece of furniture or the foot to step on a misplaced object. Usually these injuries occur in bare or stocking feet and could be reduced significantly with shoe wear. Furthermore, shoes offer tread which can prevent some slip and fall accidents that occur in the home.

Health Cons of Wearing Shoes in the Home

Microbial Magnets: Shoes pick up and harbor a diverse microbiome.  A myriad of bacteria and fungal elements are tracked in on shoes from the outside environment and grown in the dark, warm, moist environment within the shoe.  These potentially harmful microorganisms are invited into the house when shoes are welcomed inside. 

Toxins: Lead has long been a feared contaminant in the paint of older homes. Public health efforts have been vast to seal or remove potential lead exposure. Besides paint, automobile pollution found in the soil and dust along roads contains significant lead. Such contaminants are readily found on shoes which walk the ground where cars are found in reasonable frequency. These contaminants are likely brought in the home via shoes. Pesticides and herbicides used outdoors are also potentially tracked into the home via shoes. The Environmental Protection Agency documented that the herbicide 2,4-D could be tracked into homes on shoes up to a week after its application. (1)

Foot Freedom: Some people don't need the support beneath their feet.  When such ergonomics are not necessary, freeing the feet from binding shoes can help the muscles stretch and reduce microbial colonization.  Plus, the feet just feel better. 

A Happy Medium?

Perhaps a “best of both worlds” approach is best when it comes to shoe wear in the home.  If support and protection are desired on the feet in the home, consider a dedicated pair of “house shoes” for the home that are not exposed to the outdoor elements.

Live, and live well!

Sources:

Distribution of 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid in Floor Dust throughout Homes Following Homeowner and Commercial Lawn Applications:  Quantitative Effects of Children, Pets, and Shoes,  Environ. Sci. Technol., 1999, 33 (9), pp 1359–1365

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