As a fitness coach and deep tissue massage therapist, I specialize in chronic pain and injury management. In the majority of clients that I treat, I have seen a connection between their chronic pain and the health of their feet, including the shoes they wear. Painful conditions of the knees, hips, low back, shoulders, and neck can all be traced through the fascial tissue down to the feet. I believe that foot health is one of, if not the biggest, determining factor of pain, injury, disease, overall health, wellness, and vitality.
The sole of your foot is one of the most sensory nerve-rich parts of your body, comparable with the palms of your hands, mouth, and genitals. Sensory nerves receive stimuli from the environment, such as texture, temperature, and traction.
“Sensory information from the foot is used to protect the foot itself from injury, but it’s also used by the brain to make subtle adjustments in your gait to protect bones and joints all the way up your body and to maximize the efficiency of your movements.”— Dr. Daniel Howell, the barefoot professor
Imagine that, from the moment you start to crawl and explore the world, thick cushioned gloves were placed on your hands for eight to 16 hours each day. How would the world look and feel now? You would lose finger dexterity and the ability to grip. Without grip strength, your body would look much different. The muscles of your chest, back, shoulders, and arms would be dysfunctional, weak and atrophied, affecting functional movement of your entire body. Your life also would look considerably different. More than likely you would feel a physical, emotional, and spiritual disconnect from friends, family, and environment. This is what has already happened with your feet.
For most of us, shoes are on our feet from the time we take our first baby steps — shoes with hard, thick rubber soles. These shoes lift your foot an inch or more off the ground and block the sensory nerves from receiving external stimuli. This weakens the intrinsic muscles that make up the arch of the foot, changing the way you walk and run and undermining the development of the core muscles that make up your posture. After decades of wearing shoes, many peoples’ arches have partially or fully collapsed, creating muscular and postural dysfunction, wreaking havoc, and causing considerable pain throughout the body.
I am an advocate of minimalist shoes. The least amount of shoe on your foot that you can manage pain-free, the stronger your body will be.
Here is the best definition of minimalism and minimalist shoes I have found. It is borrowed from Dr. Mark Cucuzzelas.
What is minimalism?
• frees the foot to develop naturally
• looks for the least amount of shoe you can safely wear now
• works toward reducing the amount of shoe necessary through strengthening the foot and improving your stride
• practices running as a natural movement of the body, rather than an unnatural act requiring artificial support to perform safely
• embraces the notion that the beefier the shoe, the more a runner’s natural stride is inhibited
What is a minimalist shoe?
• complements natural foot function
• has very low heel-to-toe drop
• is constructed with thin material under the foot, allowing maximum ground feel
• has a soft and flexible upper
• is light and flexible
The most common question I hear about minimalist shoes and my response
Don’t I need arch support?
You have the most advanced arch support design system in the history of bipedal locomotion, and it is already built into your foot. There is nothing that man can create that will be superior to God.
The structure of an arch is a phenomenal piece of engineering. The Romans perfected the use of arches in their architecture. Why? The arch is the strongest shape in natural architecture and becomes more structurally stable with more weight pushing down. Your arches actually get stronger with weight on them. If you were to apply upward pressure from underneath, you would collapse the arch, which is exactly what arch supports in your shoes do, whether they are built into the shoe or insertable orthotics.
Arch supports are designed to immobilize or limit the motion of your arches. While immobilizing may be appropriate to aid the healing process of a broken bone or a torn ligament, permanently immobilizing any part of the body will lead to loss of function.
The foot is not only the foundation of your postural body, it is your connection to the planet. Every step you make in life begins with the foot. If you utilize the natural engineering and design of your foot, you will build a solid support structure that will be more capable to carry you pain and injury free throughout life. The more contact between the earth and your foot, the better you will feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually.