By Olie Marchal, SOM Footwear Shoemaker
Based on the over-fabrication of traditional footwear, you’d think the human foot was poorly designed.
When I look at all the different shoes on the market, and especially sports shoes, I'm amazed by the amount of added structure most of them have. The majority of sports shoes come with thick, cushioned soles, arch support, raised heels, counter, and many other “great” features. The reason, they say, is to minimize injuries that can occur when walking or running.
The more I read about their thoughts on foot health, the more I am astonished, especially when it comes to children's feet:
It is recommended to put shoes on kids' feet at a very young age so they can walk, run and play better and, most importantly, to protect their feet and the rest of their bodies from injury. As we grow up and our feet change, we can safely rely on all the feet-friendly technology to keep our feet safe and healthy.
Here's another “good” one:
Some experts highly discourage people from walking barefoot, even around the house. The reason they give is that walking without support makes our feet pronate for a longer period of time, which adversely affects the bio-mechanics and distribution of weight and pressure across the foot.
A silly design or should we trust technology?
Their conclusion is that the human foot has a very poor design and can't function on its own to allow us to walk and run without triggering negative side effects. In other words, we can't trust our feet! And what a silly design! But, as long as we can count on experts and technology, we are safe!
Or should we question those theories? Should we try things that seem to go against the flow of the latest (marketing) hypotheses, and find out what is best for us on our own without any influence? Maybe we should indeed trust our body and, in this matter, our feet? Maybe putting shoes on young kids messes up their feet for the rest of their lives with weak foot muscles that will develop all kinds of issues such as hammertoes, bunions, arthritis, knee pain, hip pain, and many other issues? Maybe the heel on our shoes affects our body posture and causes back pain? Maybe high arch support weakens our natural arch to a point when it atrophies? Were we born with arch support? So if we were not born with arch support, why do we need arch support now?
We can ask ourselves many questions like that.
Can you trust the human body?
I personally believe in nature, especially when it comes to the human body. It seems like the body has no limits. In sports, for example, the bar rises higher every year. In Olympic power-lifting, weights are heavier at each new competition. Ultra races are getting longer with distances over 250 miles. CrossFit athletes are becoming faster, more agile, and stronger every year. The same applies to any sport. This is living proof of how well the human body is designed and what it can do… as long we don't mess with it!
If a newborn child spends his first year or two without wearing any shoes and then starts wearing shoes that don't affect his feet in any way, his feet will naturally become stronger and healthier as he or she grows. It all goes from the ground up! Healthy feet mean healthy knees, healthy hips, a healthy back, and a healthy mind.
Here are some facts: a shoe with no heel (zero drop) will not mess up body posture; the lack of arch support will not weaken the foot; well-spread toes will not ruin balance or cause bunions. The same cannot be said about narrow toe-box shoes with a two-inch soft heel and arch support. Isn't the natural arch the built-in shock-absorption system of the foot?
It is never too late to make a change but, like anything else, change sometimes takes time, perseverance, and an open mind. If you've worn shoes that have caused damage to your feet and you decide to do something about it, don't expect to feel better overnight. It will take a long transition time to get used to barefoot-feel shoes and to have your feet rebuild their strength. As an example, if you ever broke a bone and had a cast for several weeks, you probably remember how much work it took to recover mobility and strength once the cast was removed.
You've worn overbuilt or dress shoes for most of your life and you decide to get your feet healthy again. It is a great resolution but, again, it is like removing a cast; it will take time, adaptation, and a lot of stretching as your feet and calves will get sore at the beginning. If you go too fast, you may hurt yourself and you can easily imagine what your podiatrist will say: you need support!
Before jumping in at full speed, educate yourself. There is plenty of information, tips, and videos online on how to transition to barefoot-feel shoes smoothly. Here is a great resource to get started:
Transitioning From Conventional to Minimalist Shoes by Dr. Robyn Hughes, ND & Dr. Ray McClanahan, DPM
The most important part is to keep at it and be patient. Yes, it is work, but it is so worth it in the end!
Trust yourself and your feet. They are here for you!