Tag: minimal shoes

Shoes are so much more important to your health than you may realize

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Shoes are so much more important to your health than you may realize


This is indeed a blog about wearing minimalist shoes.  But, I want to disclose up front that I do still wear pretty shoes with heels for fancy occasions.  I admit that this is not an optimal strategy for my feet and my alignment.   It is a bit like having an occasional cigarette (which i do not do.)


Let’s start at the beginning.

Your feet and ankles have 25% of the human body’s bones and muscles. They articulate about 33 joints, and the tissues in between all these joints are full of proprioceptive abilities that signal to the pelvis how to make adjustments to keep you balanced when upright. It is logical to me that: the best way to optimize your balance is to allow all of the built-in engineering of nature to do its work. This means barefoot or minimally constructed shoes.  


Let’s talk about the effect of wearing shoes

Shoes were invented  to protect our feet from dangers on the ground.  Sadly, the stiff and bulky soles of today’s shoes make it difficult for your feet to feel the ground, and they also force your foot into unnatural shapes. The act of wearing shoes every day has created a mitten hand situation for your feet.  We have weak underdeveloped muscles within the foot and we have off- loaded a large part of weight bearing onto the lower leg and the joints in the foot.  Your toes should be able to move separately from your feet and your toes should also be able to move separately from each other.  Additionally the front half of your foot should move separately from the back half.


A stiff sole makes it hard for your muscles to do all of their work, and that affects your balance and your arches.  Fallen arches  can lead to pain and dysfunction along the chain.  Purchasing arch supports is often recommended by foot doctors,  But, just like wearing your arm in a sling or your leg in a cast, you have outsourced the work of your muscles and you will have atrophy from the sling or cast being in place.  This cycle can be broken, but it will take slow bit by bit work on your part.  


The shape of shoes affects your feet as well. Bunions are a result of undo pressure from shoes that pinch your feet.  Essentially when the toe box is too narrow.  They also result from walking with a turned-out foot.  That is because the turnout forces pressure into the side of the big toe joint.


Next on the chopping block.  High heels.  High heels are any height that is above the rest of the foot.  Go ahead and take a look at your “sensible” shoes.  It is quite likely that they have a positive heel.  A positive heel changes  the angle of the foot from its normal axis.  This geometry changes your alignment.  We compensate for the high forward pitch by adjusting the way our knees, pelvis and spinal curve are sitting above the shoes.  Our bodies will have individual differences in how we compensate for the heels, but rest assured, you will compensate.  This leads to pain anywhere along the chain.  In addition, the positive sole in your shoe reduces your ability to have a glute muscle and hip-building gait through a posterior push off.


The good news is that there are things you can do no matter what your age. 

  1.  Let’s start by getting out of your positively-soled shoes. The changes in your alignment from any elevation changes your center of mass and thus the path of weight through your body.  Start small, it can take a year or two to shift to minimal shoes.  Start with a slightly lower heel and the exercises on this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c07BmvH74mo
  2.   Begin with a small amount of time in the slightly lower shoe or sneaker.   Gradually increase the amount of time you spend wearing them.  You are slowly strengthening the muscles in your feet.
  3. Get a wider toe box.  Trace the outline of your barefoot on a piece of paper.  Put the shoe you wear most often on the page and trace the toe box of the shoe.  This will tell you if you are squishing your toes.
  4. Find a more flexible sole.  A stiff shoe prevents you from using all your muscles and joints.  You need more movement to increase your foot strength and the ability of your feet to feel the ground below them.
  5. An attached front and back of your shoe is, in reality, safer than slip-on shoes.  It can seem beneficial to slip on a shoe without having to bend over.  However, clenching your feet onto the shoe bed creates a clenching that shortens and stiffens the muscles in your toes and ankles, which once again inhibits foot strength and flexibility.
  6. Toe spring is a piece of the puzzle that I would be remiss if I did not mention.  A majority of athletic shoes have an upwardly curving toe.  This toe spring decreases the work of the muscles around the joints that connect the toes to the foot bones. The higher the upwards curve of the toes in respect to the rest of the foot, the less work the foot muscles have to perform to support the joints when walking. 


Choosing Minimal Footwear

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I wrote last month about how important your foot and shoes are to your alignment and bone density as well as your ability to reduce or eliminate foot, knee and ankle pain.


One of the things that I always advise people to do is to take things in small manageable steps, and I take that same approach to changing your footwear.  If you think of a rigid shoe with a positive heel as an orthopedic cast, taking it off and walking your 5 to 10K steps a day is a little bit like taking off an arm cast and trying to bench press hundreds of times. If you’re wearing traditional padded walking shoes and try to switch to minimalist footwear in one go, I promise you won’t like it! Switching over slowly will protect you from unnecessary pain, and support you in reducing leg and foot pain over time.


Last month I gave you some foot exercises to help you train to make the switch.  Here is another video that gives you more exercises, this time for plantar fasciitis.  These exercises here are helpful because Plantar fasciitis is oftentimes a result of underutilized over stretched feet or worse, flip flops.


Create an expectation that this will be a slow process.  Take your time and wear the new shoes for 30 minutes each day for a week.  Continue to do your exercises and gradually increase your minimalist shoe time by 15 minutes a day if you can tolerate it.


Now that we have the training out of the way, how are you going to choose a pair of shoes?


Transitional Shoes

If you have been wearing heavily padded sneakers or trainers with a lot of arch support and any amount of toe spring (an upward curve of the toe), I suggest going to a transitional minimalist shoe first.


I wore a transitional shoe by Altra for 6 months and it was worth the investment.  Altra features a wide toe box and claims that the heel and toe are always the same distance from the ground. The pair of running shoes I had 5 years ago had a bit of toe spring, but maybe that has changed. The shoes are not as flexible as some of the true barefoot shoes out there, but because Altra offers a variety of cushioning options, I think they are a great choice for someone who has been in highly structured walking or running shoes.  They carry many types of shoes and have a shoe finder program to help you find the right pair for you.   https://www.altrarunning.com


Joe Nimble is an American company that I am thinking about having my husband try.  He still wears traditional running shoes and we think it is time that he transitions to something with less toe spring and drop.  He really doesn’t want to leave the cushion behind.  Joe Nimble makes a shoe that is 10mm thick with lots of science behind their tred and wide toe box.  This is a zero drop shoe with no toe spring, but I would not call it barefoot.  They carry a broad range of US sizes.   https://us.joe-nimble.com/


Another company is Merrell shoes.  They have some shoes that they list as barefoot shoes that I would consider transitional. https://www.merrell.com/US/en/barefoot-1/


And still another is New Balance who has a nice transitional shoe.  https://www.newbalance.com/minimus


And yet another is the Camper shoe linked here: https://www.camper.com/en_US/women/shoes/peu_icon


And finally this transitional shoe named Kiouri from Skora Shoes.  https://www.camper.com/en_US/women/shoes/peu_icon


Minimalist Shoes


There are a great variety of minimalist shoes for walking or running that I would like to share with you. There are even more companies than I can get to in an article, but for the most part these companies ship worldwide.   Let’s take a look at them.


Baer Shoes is a European company with an expensive price tag.  I have heard good things about their quality and the range of products.  https://www.baer-shoes.com/


Belenka shoes describe their footwear as urban sneakers.  They also have sandals and boots.  This minimalist shoe is described as having a wide toe box and a super flexible sole to give you the feel of the ground below you.  Although I have not seen them in person, the range of available sizes is one of the most inclusive of any barefoot shoe company I have researched. Their sole is 4mm.  https://www.belenka.com/barefoot/


Davinci shoes are designed in California and made in Mexico.  Their leather shoes and boots are expensive but beautiful.  https://davincifootwear.com/


Drifter Leather shoes have been around for a while and are fairly established in the minimalist shoe world for people who want a custom handmade leather shoe or boot.  https://www.thedrifterleather.com/


Earth Runners are sandals, but they are designed to be used for more than just walking.  People run and hike in them.  https://www.earthrunners.com/collections/adventure-sandals


Luna Sandals are another sandal company that is rugged and secure on your foot.  It is designed to be used for walking and running as well as some light sports.  https://lunasandals.com/


Feelmax shoes are European and are available in adult and children’s sizes.. They are at a good price point. I am not familiar with them but wanted to share everything I have heard of.  https://store.feelmax.com/footwear


Freet barefoot shoes are made in the United Kingdom, but they ship worldwide. I do not know anyone who has tried them yet, but they have an interesting approach with some of their shoes offering what they call 4+1.  Basically there is a separate section for the big toe.  They make traditional shoes as well.  https://freetbarefoot.com/


Fit Kicks are a fun brand that specializes in simple sizes (S, M, L) and a pull-on flexible shoe.  They may be a nice around-the-house or casual shoe for people who can wear the general sizing. They also make a slipper that resembles the shoe.  The price point is so affordable that maybe you will want one shoe and one slipper! https://fitkicks.com/


Gea Soles are made in Spain by a woman named Esther.  Like many other barefoot walking or running enthusiasts she started making her own shoes after becoming frustrated with what was available. Her shoes are leather and without any type of insole.  If you love direct contact with leather and then the earth, these handmade shoes may be worth it to you. It appears that Esther will work with you on customizing your sizing as she asks for lots of measurements. You truly are getting a shoe made for you. They ship worldwide.  https://www.geasoles.com/en/


Groundies are another English brand that is new to me.  They specialize in very stylish walking and casual shoes. They do not come in a big variety of sizes but they may be just the inspiration you need to try out minimalist shoes. They’re not cheap, but they sure do look good! https://www.groundies.com/


Luks Shoes are handcrafted in Czechoslovakia.  They are a good option for people wanting a leather shoe or boot for walking or casual wear that is made in and shipped from Europe.  The price point is a little high for most USD customers. https://www.lukshoes.com/


Leguano shoes are new to me but everything I have read sounds quite positive.  They are from Germany and were created with a technical fabric that is antibacterial.  https://leguanoshoes.com/


Lems are a shoe that I wear. They have a light insert that true barefoot people remove. I leave it in, as it is very minimal and by some people’s standards not really an arch support or cushion.  Lems have walking/running shoes, hiking boots, and casual shoes. My 90 year old father actually wears them!   https://www.lemsshoes.com/


Muki Shoes are made in Northern Portugal.  They have casual shoes for the entire family.  They produce their shoes in limited edition batches so size availability will vary a fair amount.  Their flexible sole is 3.5mm. The toe box is wide as well.  https://mukishoes.com


Paperkrane is an Australian shoe company whose shoes are made in Vietnam.  The two moms who collaborate on their fun designs began with children’s functional shoes and now include adult shoes in their offerings.  https://www.paperkrane.com.au


Sockwa is a company that began making a glove-like, thin footwear line for beach soccer and volleyball.  They also have a casual shoe now as well.  I do not know anyone who owns a pair, but I do find them intriguing.  If anyone reading this walks on the beach, this shoe company may be for you.  https://www.sockwa.com/footwear


Softstar Shoes have been around for a while and they make children’s shoes as well as adult shoes. They hand make everything from flats and sandals, to running shoes, to suitable office shoes.  I have heard both good and bad about these shoes.  I understand they are very comfortable.  I have heard some people who were underwhelmed by their durability (athletic shoes) over time.  https://www.softstarshoes.com/adult-shoes.html


Tadeevo is a Polish shoe making company that handmakes ballet flats and running  shoes for women.  They have a slightly broader range of men’s shoes available.  https://tadeevo.com/


Unshoes are an American, handmade, minimalist footwear company that started with sandals for hiking and rugged outdoor pursuits.  They also feature casual flats.  https://www.unshoesusa.com/


Vibram Five Finger shoes are exactly what the name states. I have a pair of original 5 finger lightweight shoes that look quite a bit like a shoe you might wear at the beach.  They now make 5 finger shoes with significantly more structure to them so that you can have a lace up running shoe that happens to have five toe slots.  I enjoy them, but I wear them on 1 or 2 mile walks.  I tend to prefer wearing socks when I walk for 5 miles.  https://us.vibram.com/


Vivo Barefoot is an established minimalist shoe brand that makes everything from casual shoes to running shoes, to hiking boots and even waterproof winter footwear.  They carry kids and adult shoes.  The quality is high and the price reflects it. The shoes ran big back when I tried a pair.  Maybe it is time for me to try again.  https://www.vivobarefoot.com/us/


Xero shoes have been in my closet for many years.  I like their price point and they hold up quite well.  They now offer more than a running or walking shoe.  They have a sandal and a casual shoe, as well as hiking shoes.  They are an American-made company that has a lot of positive energy about serving their customers.  https://xeroshoes.com/


Zaqq is a German minimalist shoe company that does not carry a size small enough for my foot, but their models look like they will do the job.  They are quite expensive for Americans but may be the right price for anyone whose currency is the Euro.  https://www.zaqq.com/


Tieks and Yosi Samra’s are both ballet flat companies that feature a flexible sole.  The Tiek is stiffer than the Yosi Samra.  The Tiek is more expensive than Yosi Samra and you can feel it in the materials.  But this is not to say that the Yosi Samra is inferior by any means.  The Tiek is hand stitched, the Yosi Samra is not. The Yosi Samra is a bit more cushiony.  I have tried both and prefer the Yosi Samra, but I think it is a matter of personal preference. Many people will want to order both and see how each feels on their foot.  I mention both because people have asked me about an alternative to slippers inside the home, and this type of shoe (with a secure back) is a simple alternative to a slip-on for around the house. Finally, Yosi Samra has now ventured into flip flops and slide shoes which I would avoid.  https://tieks.com/   https://www.yosisamra.com/


Some Helpful Accessories


There are a number of accessories that can help us transition to minimal shoes as well as deal with the decreasing natural padding in our feet as we age.


Metatarsal pads are designed to support the ball of one’s foot with a bit of specially designed cushioning. The pads can cushion any spot on the ball of your foot that experiences pain in minimal shoes. Many of the pad manufacturers also claim that the pad will help position one’s toes correctly.  


Toe spreaders like Correct Toes and Happy Feet socks are easily available online.  Toe spreaders help your foot move out of its crunched and compressed form from years of wearing narrow shoes with positive soles.


Take Your Time


I’d like to encourage you to make the switch to minimalist footwear over time, as it will be kinder to your body, and use any of the accessories you might need to make the switch work for you! 


Have you tried any barefoot or transitional shoes? What was your transition like? Are there any brands or types of shoes that you’re excited to try? Let us know!