How are your feet? Do they ever hurt? Are they pretty? These may seem like odd questions to ask. Most of us probably take our feet for granted. That is until they start giving us pain. But your feet can actually tell you much about your health. Your foot health can affect your overall health.
Just think about it for a moment. Your feet are the foundation of your body. If you know anything about building, you know that the foundation will decide the success or failure of the entire structure. A good solid foundation allows the structure to weather life pretty much unscathed while a poor or weak foundation can cause the structure to crumble under only the slightest stress. If it doesn’t crumble, the structure is at least off balance and not level.
Just apply this same thinking to your body. If my feet are the foundation of our body, yet they are not a strong foundation, what is this doing to the rest of my body? Can they cause the rest of my body to be misaligned? Can they affect other joints causing referred pain? That is the exact questions I had to ask myself this summer.
Was my bad foot health causing me to be unhealthy?
For me, foot problems are not anything new. It kinda runs in our family. My dad has had multiple troubles with his feet and has worn orthotics for as long as I can remember. I can also remember relatives with bunions, hammer toes or other foot maladies. So when I began having severe pain in my heels when I was teaching high school (years ago), it wasn’t too much of a surprise. But with my dad’s history of foot problems this was definitely cause to see a podiatrist.
The appointment was painless enough. After watching me stand, walk and measuring the pressure on different parts of my foot while standing, it was confirmed that I do not use my toes. Those are kinda important and not using them can cause problems and pain.
I was fitted with orthotics, but even more important was a special, flexible toe appliance that would cause me to use my toes. Once my toes muscles were strong enough, the appliance would break and I would only need to wear my orthotics and quality shoes. And so began my journey of sourcing “good shoes” that provided arch support, but that were also fashionable.
Now you know why I can’t seem to complete a fashionable outfit with cute shoes. But other than my fashion and budget challenges-“good shoes” aren’t cheap- life went on pretty normal. I had no more heel pain and only the occasional foot pain after a long day of being on my feet all day. Normal right?
My orthotic fitted feet were now building up my foot health.
Or so I thought. Everything continued “normal” until after I had my three kiddos. My body changed, my hips widened and my feet were starting to ache more. I especially noticed my knees giving me trouble. Back to the podiatrist I went. Another doctor added to the list and a vicious routine had started.
I bought into the logic. My feet needed support. I have high arches so I need special shoes, custom orthotics, and need to see a podiatrist often. After all my feet weren’t giving me trouble anymore.
Then it happened. I got plantar fasciitis this summer. But I was wearing tennis shoes with my orthotics. And I had not changed up any of my exercise. In fact, I had stopped running five days a week and was now doing HIIT workouts instead. This should have put less impact on my feet. And even that change had taken place almost three months previous to my sudden pain.
It did not make sense, but I, like a good patient, called my doctor to see what was going on. He was booked up for a month! I was in too much pain to wait that long, so (as I’m known to do) I began researching to find what I had and what I could do to heal it. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was a blessing in disguise.
I began searching the internet, checking credible sites I already knew about, watching Youtube videos and was finally led to a site called Correct Toes. It had so much information. Y’all for two days I felt like I was studying for podiatry school. But it was pretty fascinating. And it just made sense.
Our feet are amazing! They contain almost one-fourth of all the bones in our entire body. They were created agile enough to propel us forward for walking, running, and jumping yet sturdy enough to sustain constant daily impact from that same motion. Strong enough to balance our entire body on only one of them, they are pretty impressive parts of our body.
The main premise behind Correct Toes is that modern shoes are causing more harm to our feet than they are helping. Years of abuse from shoes leads to a multitude of foot problems, some of which are bunions, hammer toes, and you guessed it, plantar fasciitis.
Let’s break down foot health.
As babies, we are all born (barring some major foot abnormality or birth defect) with feet that have a narrow heel and widens as you approach the tips of the toes. In other words, the toes are the widest part of our feet. This is so important as babies must use their toes as they learn to pull up, balance while standing, and then ultimately walk.
Being barefoot and feeling the ground is an important aspect of learning to balance for standing. So is not having the muscles and ligaments in our feet hindered. Try standing on one foot barefoot. If you watch and feel your foot, you will notice tension and slight movement in your foot while barefoot as your foot balances the weight of your entire body. Now try doing the same with shoes on. Your foot isn’t allowed the same movement with shoes as when barefoot and it is somewhat harder. Most of us are so familiar with life in shoes that we don’t even realize our feet are actually working harder because of the lack of feedback blocked by our shoes.
But it doesn’t stop at just standing or walking. Running in constrictive shoes actually changes the entire movement of our body from the pattern that our feet strike the ground to the impact felt throughout our bodies. When running with shoes on, the heel strikes the ground first followed by a rolling of the foot as the outside middle plants down and then the balls and toes. The full force is taken by the heel and sent up through the ankle, knee and hip.
Landing heel first while running
is essentially the same as hitting your heel with a hammer with two times your body weight. -Dr. Daniel Lieberman
But isn’t this how you’re supposed to run? No it’s not. Our cushy shoes trick us by softening the blow, but not all of it. Without our shoes on, we run in a whole different way. When barefoot running, we actually land on the balls of the foot followed by an inward and backward rolling motion. The heel plants down last, but immediately rebounds up as the foot is ready to push off again. Try it for yourself. All this happens without thinking. You actually have to make a conscious effort land heel first while barefoot.
But it goes beyond that. The impact when landing on the forefront of your foot is much better absorbed by the body. This actually can reduce the force of the strike instead of multiplying it. All that money spent on soft, insulating shoes which isn’t reducing the force of landing as much as proper running form would.
So how exactly do our shoes affect our foot health?
Let’s look for a moment at any given pair of shoes and compare those to our feet. First think about that cushy heel I mentioned above. Almost all shoes have heels that are raised to some degree. Even those flats or tennis shoes in your closet are made to lift your heel higher than your toes. When you compare the thickness of the soul at the toe box to the thickness of the heel, you will almost always find the heel is elevated.
This elevation causes an unnatural shift in the center of gravity of your body which must be compensated for. Muscles work overtime, joints are stressed, ligaments are stretched and yet other muscles aren’t properly worked and grow weak. A domino effect is caused throughout the entire body. And the problem isn’t just because we wear high heels. Remember this is our tennis shoes! The shoes that we wear for comfort and even those flats. I honestly don’t know if I owned a pair of shoes that did not have an elevated heel. :/
Though the heel construction is cause for alarm, it’s not the only faulty element in our shoes. The toebox is just as alarming. First off, many shoes, especially tennis shoes, are made with a slight upward arch in the front. This design constantly pulls upward on the toes causing an unnatural movement when walking, running and even standing. According to Correct Toes.
This design can weaken the feet by dorsiflexing the toes (extending the toes upward) and the plantar fascia. This foot position can lead to shin splints, capsulitis, sesamoiditis, neuromas and plantar fascia pain.
There is a second problem with the toe box of modern shoes. It is in the shape. Looking from the top down onto most shoes the widest part is typically around the front midsection or ball area of the foot then a tapering throughout the toes. But remember what I said above about the feet we’re born with. The widest part is actually the toes. They were meant to move, spread and help grip the ground. But modern shoes will not allow them these functions.
This narrow toe design, even in athletic shoes, pulls the toes in together leading to plantar fasciitis, bunions, hammer toes and other foot deformities and maladies. When researching this, I was reminded of the ancient Chinese custom of foot binding for women. And while this may not seem that extreme the same principle applies. If our feet are bound or bent, even ever so slightly, they will begin to grow into this abnormal shape over time.
Am I doomed by bad foot health?
That’s what I had begun to ask, and you may be asking too. No! Just as I’ve found out for myself, you can begin to undo the damage. But I must remind you. The older you are and the more often you have worn unhealthy shoes, the longer it will take to begin reversing the damage. Just as your foot problems weren’t caused overnight, the healing will not be an overnight success either. It is a process. And it begins with a slow transition.
The first step is to start doing your research. Like I did, you need to find out the root cause of your specific problem and work to alleviate that. In my case, I had plantar fasciitis or so I thought. But after researching, what most people call planter “fasciitis” meaning inflammation of the plantar fascia, some doctors say it should be more accurately called plantar “fasciosis” or an actual decaying or dying of the plantar fascia. This small discovery leads to two very different treatment options.
Deciding on my treatment options, I ordered a pair of Correct Toes to begin wearing daily to straighten my toes back into proper alignment and began doing some stretches, simple exercises and going barefoot as much as possible. You may be thinking, “Isn’t this just another form of orthotic device?” Yes and no. Yes, it is an orthotic device in that it is designed to correct the improper toe alignment caused from years of shoe wear. But no because it is not a hard splint or device that prevents movement. These are soft, flexible devices designed to be worn WHILE moving. You can read all about them Correct Toes here.
And as I’ve said, I began going barefoot. I literally bought a pair of $2.00 Old Navy flip flops that were black and would match almost everything and have worn them to everything from running errands to Sunday church. You’d be surprised at how much you can do with $2 black flip flops. I think I have only had to wear tennis shoes one day in the past two and a half months.
But I have began to think about fall and winter. I mean, I do live in the South, but I can’t wear flip flops all year. I will have to wear some form of shoes that actually keep my feet warm and dry soon. And let’s face it, you can’t really go barefoot everywhere.
Enter the ebook Amazing Feets by Mark Sisson. Not only does this book help to explain the reasoning behind the barefoot or minimalist lifestyle, but it also contains a tiered barefoot transition schedule to help you achieve success. The author has been through the process himself and gives several stretching exercises to help ease the transition and even lists a shopping guide to help find shoes that will work with your feet, not against them. (I do have one caveat about this book. The author references evolution as to how our feet were formed several times in the book. I believe our feet were instead designed by our Creator, perfectly fitted for us as human to walk, run, jump and move as we do. So while we disagree on how our feet were formed, I do agree that our feet were perfectly made to suit our needs without extreme modern interventions.)
To me it just fits with the holistic, natural health approach. Our feet, like most of our body, need only minimal support to achieve strong, vibrant health, not major, conventional interventions that interfere with our natural design. Click To Tweet
With that thought in mind, I’ve been searching the internet for minimal shoes that are also cute-cause a girl’s got to look good while being healthy, right? There are actually a decent amount of things to choose from out there. And as I try them and find ones I can’t live without, I’ll do some reviews. Who doesn’t need some new shoes? Especially if they build up your health!
There you have my latest health journey and hopefully some new resources to begin healing your own foot problems. And it’s interesting to note that since I’ve began this approach, I’ve had so many people ask me about my Correct Toes because they’ve experienced their own foot discomforts. If that’s the case with you, I would highly recommend researching and reading about this approach. It might just help you as much as it has me.
What about you? Do you have foot problems? Have you tried the minimalist shoe approach to foot health? What were your results? Which shoes would you recommend? Are you going barefoot as much as possible now? How did you make the transition? I’d love to hear from those of you further on this part of the journey than me.
*The links to Correct Toes and Mark Sisson’s website are not affiliate links and I was not paid to endorse or promote these products. These are my real, honest results and research findings from dealing with foot pain.