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The Top Reasons To Wear Minimalist Shoes

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:
  • Narrow design with narrow toe boxes: this will prevent your toes from spreading and splay and strongly affect the way you use your toes and their muscles during ambulation. Crammed toes that lack mobility also affect the ability of your foot to support your arch.
  • While we are still discussing toes, another problem with regular shoes is that many of them are built with a toe spring. The problem is that this design holds your toes up, in a position of extension. That means your toes are always off the ground and you are then unable to use them to press down on the ground. One thing that is puzzling…Some brands designed their entire shoe lines on their “feature”. If you combine a toe spring and narrow toe box, you really make pushing from your toes difficult.
  • Many shoes are designed with excessive arch support: this will eventually contribute in making the muscles that support the foot arch weaker. And so adding arch support can certainly contribute in making these muscles lazy and weak, therefore perpetuating the problem instead of fixing it.

Does this look comfortable?

  • Most modern shoes, from heels to casual to sports and running, are designed with a raised heel, which prevents your foot from resting flat and place it in a pointed down position… What we called  plantar flexion​.
    What this will do is shortened the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. So if you experience ankle, calf or knee tightness, aches or pain, this could well be the reason.
  • By raising your heel, traditional shoes affects the flexibility of your ankle. When that is the case, one thing your foot and ankle can do to compensate is by progressively collapsing the arch. That is called overpronation.
  • Overpronation can be a sign of a weak arch and weak foot muscles. It’s effect can be felt all the way up the chain, into your ankle, knee, hip, pelvis and lower back. Excessive pronation could lead to valgus knee deformity.
  • ​Supination, the opposite of pronation, is defined by a high arch and rigid, poorly mobile foot and ankle. That can also be problematic, affecting mobility of the entire leg. Excessive supination could lead to varum knee deformity.

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:
  • Minimal support and cushioning throughout the shoe to allow close contact to the standing surfaces and allow as close to normal brain-feet neuro feedback.
  • Flexible soles that are thin, with minimal extra padding. Minimalist shoes will feel close to standing and walking  barefoot and you will be more in tune with your feet, their movement and how you distribute your weight through them . Walking barefoot when not wearing this shoes will help with the transition and breaking them in.
  • Wide toe box that will fit your forefoot and toes without adding pressure, allowing them to splay so the proper muscles can be recruited. It is the most immediate change that is felt when wearing minimalist shoes for the first time. Being able to move your toes like you have never before in a shoe will help in stabilizing your arch. I would not recommend to try to switch to a minimalist shoes if you are currently experiencing plantar fasciitis as it could be to extreme of a transition.
  • Lightweight: minimalist shoes are made of very light material and that is also a nice feature. Even normally heavy hiking boots can be made into light weight shoes that still allow good support of the ankle.
  • Low heel-to-toe drop, as previously described. Minimalist shoes toe drop should be less than 6 millimeters. The best minimalist shoes have 0 mm drop.
.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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