WHY WEARING MINIMALIST SHOES COULD HELP YOU MOVE BETTER AND RELIEVE FOOT, ANKLE, KNEE, HIP AND BACK PAIN
You might have heard of them... Or seen more and more people wearing them...Or maybe had a glimpse at them at your favorite shoe retailer. Shoes that look quite different than what you’d consider traditional…they look wider, look shorter, with a very small sole that looks like the manufacturers saved on using material…
Could these really be comfortable and how would it feel to walk in them?
You might be skeptical has you have had foot problems all your life, been told to wear extra insoles with an increased arch, or have seen countless foot doctors that recommended you do so…
In this post I would like to discuss what has been dubbed minimalist shoes, how they could allow a more natural way to move , and how they could help you with aches and pain.
It is undeniable that humanity has had a need to wear shoes since prehistoric times. At that times, they were made only of animal skins and pelts/ furs. Humans have always had to protect their feet from the cold and the elements.
Shoes design has evolve greatly over the past centuries, always changing on trying to add "comfort" and cushioning.
The problem is that our feet are not designed to be restrained and squeezed into narrow, overly supported or cushioned shoes. The most normal function at our feet occurs when we are barefoot.
Modern life tends to seriously limits the amount of time we spend barefoot.
The way a foot and ankle are designed, with a total of 33 joints, 112 ligaments, and 34 muscles allow the foot to adapt to walking on a variety of surfaces.
The bottom of our feet, or plantar surface, is similar to our hands, very sensitive, as it contains a high amount of sensory nerve endings that sends information to our brain regarding the pressure under our feet as well as the position of our body. So always wearing shoes will affect this feedback to your brain by preventing normal stimulation. To sum it up, most people feet are understimulated.
Many of us, when not used to walk barefoot, have very sensitive feet when we do and do not do well on rougher surfaces because we have lost the need to rely on this natural feedback. I am here to tell you that can change and you can build strong and versatile feet.
1. The Problem With Most Traditional Shoes:
Traditional shoes, the one you have been wearing since you were an infant, and their designs affect the normal mechanic that should occur when we stand and ambulate.
Here are some common problems traditional shoes create:
2. What Minimalists Shoes Are & What They Can Do For You
If you google minimalist shoes, you get the following definition:
"Footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices."
To clear this up, stack height of a shoe means the total overall height of the sole.
Before I continue describing what makes a minimalist shoe, I would like to discuss why I switched to wearing them almost exclusively. Over several years, I started developing some calf and foot stiffness with a few episodes of developing pain in my left hip and calf and having to stop running after 4 miles. For the longest time, I was tucked at that distance and each time I try to go further, my hip started aching. This did not prevent me from running a half marathon in 2005 and I powered through it. Despite stretching, my left ankle and foot have always been stiff. Overtime, I also observed a decline in my overall balance, particularly when standing on my left leg.
I tried wearing various kind of shoes, with and without orthotics, strengthen my hip, knee and ankle/foot and problem solve myself until I encounter minimalist shoes.
Around the same time I bought my first pair, I focused on mobilizing my feet and ankle and especially try to regain the splaying of my toes, which I had lost from wearing normal shoes. I used a silicon toe spreader and started wearing at home when barefoot...Which takes time getting use to as it can be uncomfortable first, stretching and maintaining the toes and foot soft tissue in position it is not familiar with.
One of the first thing someone switching from traditional shoes to minimalist shoes notice is the comfort a wide toe box provides, being able to move your toes freely... and not hoping for the end of the day to remove your shoes once your home...which most people on earth experience.
The lack of extra cushioning and thick sole is hardest part to get use to but that quickly pass, and feeling the ground with your feet the way nature intended is nice.
I can now say I wear almost entirely minimalist shoes, for work, casually and when working out, hiking, etc... The options of type and look of shoes is increasingly growing which helps. Many people will not like the look of them but I believe function and health are more of a priority. And everyone should experience what nature intended your feet to look and feel like.
The idea behind the minimalist shoe design is to mimic inside a shoe the way the foot and ankle would behave when walking or running barefoot.
Minimalist shoes, no matter what the brand, share the following features:
.I hope this post was helpful in understanding the reason for wearing minimalist shoes and what you should look for in them.
Minimalist shoes are not for everyone. Most people should benefit but if you have foot deformities with a long standing history of surgery and joint collapse, they might not be appropriate. Consulting with a physio or a podiatrist should be helpful in determining if you are a candidate if you are unsure.
Minimalist shoes have a true benefits and will actually make you feet stronger by recruiting the appropriate muscles and strengthening them. Minimalist shoes and their effects have been studied. Here are links to a few research: Ridge ST, Olsen MT, Bruening DA, Jurgensmeier K, Griffin D, Davis IS, Johnson AW. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Jan
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Pierre-Yves Butheau, MPT, CMP has been a physiotherapist for 19 years and has a passion for helping people move better, return from and prevent injuries, as well as improve their function and quality of life. He has a strong interest in addressing the root cause of and treating neuro-musculoskeletal conditions while educating his patients with the knowledge to manage their conditions and prevent recurrence. Pierre also has a niche in treating Bell's palsy and temporomandibular joint dysfunctions.