Have you ever broken a bone and worn a cast? I have. I fractured my elbow in high school after flying off a horse. Guess I couldn't fly very well. I wore a cast for 6 weeks. A funny thing happened when the cast was removed. My previously casted arm was smaller than the other one and I couldn't pick up anthing on that side for a while.
While being constantly supported in a cast my arm didn't need the muscles. Being the efficient machine it is, my body stopped production, so to speak. The muscle declined greatly. If I had been older or wore the cast longer I could have lost some function in that arm. No one wants that, but it is a risk/benefit thing. The cast helped the bone heal while the muscle suffered.
We certainly wouldn't wear a cast with all of the risk and none of the benefit, but this is what we are doing to our feet every day almost from birth. We are casting our feet in shoes that have a solid sturdy sole so it can't articulate with the ground. The shoe hugs our feet squeezing the small bones in the forefoot together so we cannot wiggle our toes much, if at all. If all of that isn't enough we then raise the heel! Yes guys, you are wearing heels too. You are all wearing heels when you think you aren't. Just take a ruler and measure the heel of your athletic shoes and compare that to the measurment of the sole at the front of the shoe.
Taking a closer look we will start with the heel. When we raise the heel, even a little, we are placing our bodyweight into the most vulnerable part of the foot, the small bones of the forefoot. This structure is not meant to support your weight, your heel is. We are also shortening the calf muscles and tendons.
Shortened calf muscles may not seem like a huge deal, but they are. A shortened muscle does not allow proper blood flow. A shortened calf muscle causes everything from plantar fasciitis to back pain and pelvic floor dysfunction. Yes, pelvic floor dysfunction. (I won't go into detail here, but one day we will look at the contributing factors to pelvic floor dysfunction.) For now just know it is so, or check out the KatySays blog among others.
When your weight shifts, as it does in a heel, you aren't leaning forward with your entire body at a 45 dgree angle to the floor. You are making tiny adjustments throughout your body increasing your lumbar curve, tilting your hips, bending your knees slightly, all to accomodate.
So, two of the first things I do will all clients is teach them how to stretch their calves in a manner that is biomechanically similar to walking so you have the muscle length to walk without overusing your hips and knees and without spinal compression. Then I discuss shoes. The first step is usually ask them to wear zero rise shoe, or a perfectly flat shoe.
Perfectly flat shoes are relatively easy to find. Converse is an example. All skateboarding shoes, like Vans, are perfectly flat. So this is fairly simple. They may be used to a lot of support in their shoes which is something these shoes do not offer so we may add an orthotic to the shoe until we get the foot worked out a bit more and can remove it, because an orthotic is another type of cast.
Once this is going well the client is asked to walk around the house barefoot (except in a few cases of neuropathy which could make this dangerous)
So we have removed the heel. The shoes are still acting as a cast though. When the client is ready we start to switch to minimal shoes. This process is important. You may remember a few years ago minimal shoes were a fad. Particularly the kind with the spaces for each toe. They have all but disappeared becuase people did not transition properly and injured themselves. So transition we must. We cannot just hop in a pair of totally flat minimalistic shoes and go run a marathon. We have been stretching the calves, the hamstrings, the feet and working on different textures before this point to transition.
There are a lot of blog posts out there recommending minimalistic shoes, but I have a few to add that have been left out. I am also going to cover what to look for in a minimalist shoe.
First ANY shoe you buy should be as wide as our foot, even the zero rise shoes I mentioned above. When looking at shoes place your bare foot next to the shoe. Is the shoe as wide as your foot? Unsure? Place your foot on a piece of paper and trace around your foot, or trace around the shoe. Use the paper as a guide.
Next. Is the shoe flexible? I mean really flexible. Can you wad the shoe up in your hand. This is what I'm looking for.
This means you can walk around and feel the ground. Your feet are having to contort to match the ground you are walking on, and hopefully you aren't just walking on flat surfaces all the time. A flat surface also acts as a cast becuse your foot is not changing positions as it should.
That is why these bones are small and there are all of these tiny muscles, to move your foot over a textured surface. This will also bring back the circulation to the foot you have been missing.
I have a few suggestions for you. The first is the same shoe I have folded up in my hand in the picutre above. It is by Sperry and they are on sale right now on their website! They are actually water shoes, but I wear them for everything. I wore them all over Oregon and Washington in the fall. I wore them to the beach, which is great since they're water shoes. I wore them on the hike to the top of Multnomah Falls, that is 700 feet up. I wore them yesterday on a 6 mile hike locally. We ended up at the river and waded a while, again the water shoe aspect came in handy. I wear them to work, the store, the mall, to drive kids around. Everything. You can throw them in the washing machine when needed. Huge plus. They have a removable inner sole if you need more cushon. I took mine out and never thought of it again. Love them.
The next is Xero Shoes. These are FUN! You can order a kit starting under $20 to make your own! You get the rubber sole in 4 mm or 6 mm. I have the 4mm for the most minimal feel. You trace your own foot on the rubber and cut it to fit. You get ties in your choice of color and there are a million ways to tie them. You are punching the holes so it is going to go perfectly between your toes. Don't like it between your toes? Just punch your holes on the sides of your forefoot and tie them that way. . If you like flip flops but know they're bad for your feet (they really are), these are for you. My only concern is that with the 4mm sometimes the front of the sole can fold under and create a tripping hazard for me. I have long toes so this may not happen to everyone, especially if you get the 6 mm. I still love them. Oh! And you can add beads to your creative tying styles!
If you don't want to make them yourself they have pre-made styles or will custom make them for you. They are for men and women.
If you think I love the above shoes you haven't talked to me about these soft sole Minnetonka moccasins! I'm walking on suede here people! It is awesome! You may think they'd get ruined. Nope. You just have to walk in them on the grass, even damp grass, and dirt for a few days until the bottom gets a bit shiny. No walking on concrete until the soles are cured that way.
I was really concerned about winter as my feet get cold and I didn't want to spend a fortune on winter minimal shoes or be stuck in athletic shoes all winter. These were not on any minimal list I found and I can't figure out why. Lots of people wear Minnetonka, and list them as 'minimal', but unless you get the soft sole they really aren't. There is a zipper in the back of these so they're easy to put on. As you can see there is a seam and at first the seam may rub next to your pinky toe or big toe, but I just put on some thin socks and they wore in in about a week. I now wear them without socks. Super cute with jeans. I wore them hiking last weekend over rocks, grass, and damp dirt and did some mild climbing. These are my winter go-to shoe every day. You can buy them directly from the Minnetonka website. They also have 2 other soft sole styles that come in men and women's sizes. They come in black or brown.
For the little kidddo in your life I loved Robeez for my kids. They are basically soft soled moccasins. Very easy to slip on and off. No more casting your kids feet!
There are also Soft Star shoes. These come in men's, women's, and children's styles and some are similar to Robeez, some look more traditional. All are very minimal. They are having their annual clearance right now if you hurry..I haven't tried them as they're a bit expensive, but I've heard good things.
There ya go. Shoes for healthy feet and bodies for every age, season, activity, and price point.