Free Your Feet
Did you know that there are 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than one hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments in each of your feet?
Did you know that there are almost as many nerve endings in the soles of your feet as there are in your fingertips?
Our feet are designed for strength, mobility and tactile sensation. They are our foundation and function best when we are barefoot. Footwear was invented to protect our feet from temperature extremes and rough terrain. Unfortunately, the dictates of culture, fashion and marketing have overrun common sense and science, leaving us with the curious notion that our feet are inherently weak and need supportive shoes and orthotics.
Turns out, most of us do have weak feet. But the problem starts not with our feet, but with our shoes. Most modern day footwear - even “sensible shoes” - damages our feet and impairs our alignment, balance and coordination. Narrow, stiff, heeled and overly cushioned shoes can leave our feet weak and immobile. Foot problems such as bunions and plantar fasciitis, and ankle, knee, hip, back and neck problems can result.
You can see in the image above what narrow toed shoes do to our foot bones. Ouch!
Fortunately, there is growing awareness about the connection between footwear and foot health, and a good number of companies have started making “barefoot” or “minimal” shoes. Minimal shoes protect your feet while allowing them to maintain their natural shape, and move well.
There are four criteria for a minimal shoe.
A roomy toe box - Healthy feet are widest at the toes, allowing for optimal balance and proper gait for walking and running.
A thin, flexible sole - This gives your feet freedom of movement and feedback from the ground. (A truly minimal shoe can be rolled up into a ball!)
No heel - Even the slightest heel alters the alignment of your body from the ankles on up because you are basically standing and walking on a ramp.
An upper that holds the shoe on securely - If you have to clench your feet at all to keep your shoes on you could be damaging your feet. (Think flip-flops and slides. Wearing those too often can lead to fused toe joints!)
Here is a snapshot of a couple of styles of running shoe. The one on the left is a very popular brand, but alas is not toe friendly. The shoe on the right is a "minimal" brand and provides a roomy toe box.
I started the transition to barefoot walking and minimal footwear about two years ago. I have high arches and my feet were very rigid. I used to have a lot of lower back and hip pain whenever I walked for any length of time. I wore thick soled, supportive shoes to compensate, not realizing that I was making the problem worse. Once I learned about the benefits of minimal footwear I gradually switched to minimal shoes, and started doing some foot exercises. I was astonished by how quickly my feet became stronger and more mobile. I can now walk for long periods of time without pain. It is also great to be able to feel the ground! I remember a walk I took in the woods soon after I got my first pair of minimal shoes. What a delight to feel the many textures of the forest floor under my feet!
There are minimal shoes available for all ages and occasions, from winter boots, to sandals, casual and sports shoes. I have listed a couple of great places for online and in-person shopping on my Resources page.