Healthy, capable feet are the foundation for a healthy, capable body. If you’ve had a foot injury, or experience any kind of issue with your feet, then you know how much that foot pain can limit your entire body. The key to helping your feet work well and feel great is to look at the environment in which they operate most often—your shoes. Most modern shoes will act like casts on the many muscles and joints of the feet. If you’ve ever worn a cast, you know that they cause muscles to get weak and joints to stiffen up. That’s fine if you’re just wearing the cast for a few months while you heal a broken bone, but if you wear it every day of your life, you’re going to have problems.
The simple answer to this problem is to take the casts off. By going barefoot, or wearing “minimal” footwear, you allow your feet to work naturally, as they were designed to. Allowing the muscles to grow flexible and strong, and the joints to be hydrated and mobile, you will have feet that can carry and propel your body with ease. However, if you are like most people and you’ve been wearing regular shoes most of your waking hours, switching to minimal footwear is going to be a big step.
There has been a lot of press about the minimal footwear “fad” in recent years. To summarize, some minimal footwear started gaining popularity in the early 2000s, especially among runners. A lot of people started buying these shoes and then running in them with very little transition time. They didn’t realize that what they were doing was like taking off casts they had been wearing for twenty, thirty, or fifty years and then trying to run right away on body parts that were weak, stiff, and incapable of working without the support of their former shoes. Many people ended up with new foot injuries instead of the instantly pain-free feet they imagined they were getting. When we’re in pain, it can be easy to get our hopes up when we find options that seem like miracle cures. Going barefoot is not going to heal your feet like magic. It will heal your feet in a gradual and very real way.
What is real, is our knowledge of foot anatomy and physiology. Each of your feet has 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons. This allows for an almost infinite number of ways for the foot to deform (to change its shape) in response to how you are moving. That is a LOT of movement to be missing out on when you trap your feet in narrow, rigid shoes. In my experience as a bodyworker, one truth I’ve seen with how the body works is that if one part is being restricted in its natural movement, everything that is connected to that stuck piece is negatively impacted. Every part of your body is meant to be able to move in relation with everything else—your muscles and bones, arteries and nerves, major organs and the bags that contain them—all are designed to have a certain amount they can glide, rotate, and squish. Just like a machine, our parts can be rusty and jammed, or well-oiled and smoothly humming along. So while footwear can take different shapes and have fads that come and go, the function of our feet is something that stays the same. And we know that our feet will function better when they aren’t being restricted.
In 2015, I started transitioning toward using minimal footwear and walking barefoot. You can read a bit on what motivated me to make this change in my post “Giving the Body What It Wants.” Beginning this journey didn’t end my foot issues immediately or miraculously, but rather it started me on a slow path toward truly resolving them and building strong, resilient feet. Today, my feet are healthy, happy, and injury-free. Now, I want to help you have feet that feel great, too. In my next post, I'll start sharing some ideas on how you can make that happen.