Or How Our Shoes Are Damaging Our Bodies and What the Solution Is
In addition to distorting the structure of the foot, the classic shoes worn by many people can harm the entire body. Fortunately, in our ever-evolving world, there is a solution. I first came into personal contact with this subject in the summer of 2021 when I was writing the Massage handbook. Initially, my research focused on finding the ideal workwear for a massage therapist. However, as I delved deeper into this topic, I realized that it is far more complex than one might initially think. Eventually, I discovered what footwear would be the healthiest choice for the human body. My previous understanding of the ideal shoe design was challenged. After months of research, I finally realized that I had been making poor choices not only in my work but throughout my life when it came to my feet.
Consequently, I have spent the last six months donating all of my old shoes and helping my clients (I work as a massage therapist – Sziklai Massage) stay healthy by guiding them in changing and selecting the right shoes. If you’re interested in understanding the problems associated with the shoes you have likely worn and discovering what is healthiest for your feet, then continue reading. Let’s get started!
The problem with most of today’s shoes, including street, running, and casual shoes, lies in their design and features. Here are the identified problems:
- Narrow toe area: Many shoes have a narrower toe area than what is necessary for the foot’s ideal position. This lack of space prevents the foot from positioning itself naturally and can lead to various deformities, such as fused toes, bunions, and overlapping toes.
- Raised heel: Shoes with a raised heel alter the body’s center of gravity and disrupt the natural posture of the entire body. This affects the alignment of the knees, pelvis, and spine. Additionally, a raised heel shortens the calf muscles and makes them more susceptible to stiffness and potential injuries, especially in case of missteps.
- Strong, stable support: While shoes with strong, stable support may seem beneficial, they can actually hinder the activity of foot muscles while walking. Over time, this can cause the foot muscles to become weak and saggy, leading to conditions like flat feet where the arch cannot be properly supported.
- Cushioned sole and rigid, thick sole: The combination of a cushioned sole, often shaped to the foot, and a rigid, thick sole can have negative consequences. These features limit the ability to feel the ground, reducing sensory feedback from the soles of our feet. This can impair balance and contribute to a loss of proprioception, which becomes more significant in older age.
- Heavyweight: Heavier shoes can disrupt our natural gait and movement patterns, affecting the overall efficiency and comfort of walking.
It’s worth noting that different types of shoes may exhibit varying degrees of these problems. For instance, heels and running shoes may have different levels of toe squeezing and raised heels, but they share some common issues. Sneakers, while having eliminated the raised heel, often have stiffer soles and a narrow toe box, compromising their alignment with the natural shape of the foot.
In conclusion, the closer our shoes align with the ideal conditions for foot health, the better chance we have to prevent or alleviate problems. By wearing shoes that allow for natural foot positioning, provide adequate toe space, support foot muscles, maintain balance and proprioception, and are lightweight, we can potentially mitigate further deterioration and promote healing for the body.
The solution to the problems associated with traditional footwear lies in the adoption of „barefoot shoes” or footwear that closely mimics the natural shape and function of the foot. Here are the key features of barefoot shoes:
- Wide toebox: Barefoot shoes provide ample space for the toes to spread naturally, allowing for proper alignment and preventing issues caused by a narrow forefoot.
- Horizontal sole, „zero-drop”: These shoes have a level sole without any raised heel, promoting a more natural posture and body alignment.
- Flexible design: Barefoot shoes are designed to be flexible, allowing the foot to move naturally without hindrance. They provide freedom of movement while protecting the foot from environmental influences.
- Flat sole: The soles of barefoot shoes are flat, allowing the foot muscles to engage and maintain their natural strength and arch support.
- Flexible, thin sole: Barefoot shoes feature thin and flexible soles, which provide sensory feedback from the ground, allowing the foot’s natural proprioception to remain active.
- Lightweight: Barefoot shoes are typically lightweight, reducing the strain on the feet and enhancing overall comfort during movement.
It’s important to note that there may be variations and specialized features in barefoot shoes based on specific activities or preferences. For example, shoes designed for off-road running or hiking may have a thicker sole with small studs for improved traction. Similarly, massage therapists may benefit from shoes with good grip to ensure stability during massages. Dancers, on the other hand, may prefer slippery soles for their specific needs. Understanding one’s requirements and choosing shoes accordingly is essential.
The demand for barefoot shoes has grown significantly, leading to a wide variety of brands and price ranges available in the market today. With over a hundred brands worldwide, individuals can find barefoot shoes that suit their preferences, style, and budget.
It’s worth noting that while barefoot shoes offer a solution, there are limits to their adaptability. For example, winter high-top hiking shoes may have thicker soles and be heavier, but they are still distinct from traditional footwear in terms of their overall design and functionality.
In conclusion, transitioning to barefoot shoes or footwear that closely resembles the natural shape and function of the foot can be a practical solution to mitigate foot problems and promote foot health. By choosing shoes with a wide toebox, horizontal and flexible soles, flat and thin soles, and lightweight construction, individuals can support their feet’s natural movement and maintain optimal foot function. However, it’s important to consider specific needs and activities to ensure the right choice of barefoot shoes for individual requirements.
The shift to wearing barefoot shoes or transitioning to a footwear style that promotes foot health should be approached consciously and gradually. It is important to understand that changing footwear habits and addressing foot problems requires time and patience, similar to adopting a new diet.
I typically categorize individuals into three groups based on their previous footwear habits and any existing foot complaints:
Category 1: Individuals who have been wearing completely flat, unpadded shoes (e.g., traditional sneakers) and have no foot complaints can safely make an immediate switch to barefoot shoes. Their feet will appreciate the change, and they will experience the benefits right away.
Category 2: Individuals who have been wearing regular, high-heeled shoes but do not have foot complaints are recommended to make a slow and gradual transition. Starting with just 10 minutes of walking per day in barefoot shoes or even barefoot itself, they can gradually increase the time spent in barefoot shoes over a period of at least 10 weeks. Incorporating stretching exercises, particularly focusing on the calves, along with regular exercise, is also important during this transition.
Category 3: Individuals who already have foot problems like bunions or flat feet, are severely overweight, or are accustomed to wearing high heels should seek professional guidance to make the transition safely. The shift may involve several steps, such as gradually reducing heel height, using silicone toe-spacing devices or Vibram FiveFingers shoes (with separate toes), strengthening foot muscles, correcting posture, and so on. Consulting with a competent professional can help tailor the transition process to individual needs and circumstances.
Regardless of the category, it is beneficial to engage in exercises that strengthen the small muscles of the legs. Paying conscious attention to your steps is also important. When walking, focus on landing on the heel as before but take shorter, softer steps, avoiding excessive impact on the heels. Slowing down the pace can also be mentally helpful. When running, aim to land on the ball of your foot in front of your little toes, with a shorter stride. This technique reduces stress on the joints and places more emphasis on the calves. Stretching the calves becomes crucial in this case. Initially, it may feel unusual as most people are accustomed to heel striking while running. However, running barefoot for a few meters can help you discover the natural way your body wants to move, and you’ll realize that landing on the front of your foot is more comfortable and natural.
For individuals with flat feet, specific exercises for flatfoot can be beneficial. Further information on these exercises can be found at the provided link.
In summary, transitioning to barefoot shoes or a footwear style that promotes foot health requires a conscious and gradual approach. It is important to consider individual circumstances and seek professional guidance when needed. By incorporating proper exercises, mindful walking and running techniques, and a gradual shift in footwear, individuals can experience the benefits of healthier feet and improved overall well-being.
When it comes to specific shoe recommendations, it’s important to consider individual preferences and needs. However, based on your article, here are some recommended barefoot shoe brands that you can explore:
- Freet offers a wide range of barefoot shoe models, including the Bootee, Flex, and Citee. They are known for their extra comfort, wide fit compared to other brands, and fair pricing.
- Anatomic is an affordable barefoot shoe brand that ships from the Czech Republic. While their soles could be more flexible, they offer a variety of designs and are a great option for beginners.
- Vivo is one of the most popular barefoot shoe companies globally, known for their high-quality products. They also have a website called Revivo, where they sell returned shoes at a reduced price, making quality more accessible and promoting sustainability. Please note that their prices may be considered high by Hungarian standards.
- Vibram is well-known for their FiveFinger shoes, which provide the most freedom of movement and are the healthiest option for toes. While some people may find them uncomfortable, many consider them to be the most comfortable shoes in the world. They are available in major Hungarian stores like Spartoo and Ecipo, often with a free return option.
- Feelgrounds, Wildlings, Ahinsa, Xero, Be lenka, Perko, Saltic, Zaqq, Leguano, Groundies, and more: There are numerous other excellent barefoot shoe brands available in the market. It’s worth exploring and researching different brands to find the one that suits your needs and preferences.
When selecting shoes, it’s recommended to measure your feet precisely from heel to toe using an A4 paper under your feet. Add 12 mm to this measurement and use it as a guide for choosing the inner size of the shoes. Always refer to the size selection guide provided by each brand, as they may use different methods to indicate the insole sizes assigned to their shoes.
Remember that everyone’s feet are unique, so it’s important to try different brands and models to find the best fit and comfort for you. Additionally, reading customer reviews and seeking recommendations from other barefoot shoe enthusiasts can also be helpful in making an informed decision.
In conclusion, the brands mentioned above, including Freet, Anatomic, Vivo, Vibram, and others, are reputable barefoot shoe brands worth exploring. Each brand has its own unique features, so take the time to research, compare, and try on different shoes to find the ones that suit you best.
Extra tip: It’s common for regular socks to compress the toes as they don’t conform to their natural shape. Therefore, for those who prioritize foot health, I recommend replacing traditional socks with five-toe or loose, baggy socks that are specifically designed to accommodate the shape of your feet. By doing so, you allow your toes to move freely and maintain their natural alignment.
You can find five-toe socks, also known as toe socks, at barefootfamily.com. They offer a range of options tailored for barefoot enthusiasts. Exploring other brands that specialize in toe socks or loose-fitting socks can provide you with additional choices to find socks that are a perfect fit for your needs.
Remember, combining barefoot shoes with socks designed for toe movement can enhance the benefits of wearing barefoot footwear, promoting maximum comfort, flexibility, and foot health.
Lastly, it’s essential to consider individual needs and consult with healthcare professionals or footwear specialists for personalized advice on selecting the most suitable shoes for optimal foot health. They can provide valuable insights and guidance based on your specific foot characteristics, lifestyle, and activities. By making informed choices and prioritizing foot health, you can take proactive steps towards improving overall well-being and enjoying the benefits of wearing healthy footwear.
If you’d read more about this topic, I recommend you Anya’s website where you can find lots of information and reviews about barefoot shoes, you can find almost all of the brands and even coupons for them.