A Guide to Happy Feet (and a note on the barefoot shoes lawsuit)

For the last few weeks I have been brewing a post about preparing your feet for barefoot or minimal shoes. Not only preparing your feet for minimal shoes but also for those who find it too painful NOT to wear shoes as their feet have become so accustomed to shoes.

And then some controversy started around Vibram's 5 Finger shoes. You know, the ones with the funny toes that mimic barefeet. Well,  someone is suing them for false claims after they became injured running in them.

Now I really don't want to go on a rant about this. All I am going to say is that barefoot or minimal shoes are good for your body. But here is the catch- you can't go from point A to Z in one day. If you have always worn shoes with cushioning and something under your heel and then try to run on pavement you are likely going to get hurt. Your feet just weren't ready to support your body effectively after spending a lifetime encased in shoes. And by the way, running in any type of shoe will increase the likelihood of an injury as running is a high impact activity on your joints.  It is really too bad that this lawsuit makes for great headlines as it is putting a lot of misinformation out there. In the pursuit of attracting readers, many of the articles about the lawsuit overlook the fact that the underlying cause of injury with barefoot shoes is that for most people, a transition and preparation toward barefoot is needed. For a simple and great biomechanic perspective on all of this barefoot shoe hullabaloo click here.

How did we get to the point where we have to re-train our feet?!

Imagine a world where from the time you learned to walk, you had been barefoot and the times you did wear shoes, those shoes were flexible and mobile enough to allow your feet and toes full mobility and connection to a variety of surfaces on the ground. The muscles and bones in your feet would be strong, supple and responsive. Good foot mobility = good body mechanics. Would you build a tall structure on a unstable foundation? Your body is the same way, your feet are your foundational structure and the type of foundation you have will determine what is going on above it. Sadly, the reality for most of us is that from the time we first learned to walk, we have been wearing shoes that for the most part, have been cushioned, stiff and heeled. Especially for those of us who live in climates with long, snowy, winters. Wearing those heavy, stiff winter boots every year, takes a toll on our feet. 

The really simple story is that what you put on your feet affects how you use your feet. And how you use your feet affects how you hold your body and this affects what your bones and muscles are doing when you walk, run and move. Many different conditions and issues that people suffer from in our modern society can be related to the health of your feet. When people come to me for back pain or knee pain, one of the first things I ask is what kind of shoes they wear. And if they aren't wearing a minimal soled shoe, then I gently explain to them that their shoe choice is a large part of the issue.

Fun Foot Facts

  • 25% of the bones in your body are in your feet.
  • 25% of the muscles and nerves in your body are in your feet.
  • Each toe has its own set of muscles that allow it to function independently. 
  • Your toes have the ability to move separately from the feet.
  • Your toes have the ability to move separately from each other.

Cool hey? Those foot facts hopefully give you more perspective on the importance of foot health and mobility. And if you don't think you need a more minimal shoe or better foot health, then for fun, try to move each toe individually. Really, go on, try it right now... and if you can move all your toes one at a time without moving any of the other toes, then you can stop reading this article. But for the 99% of the rest of us, here are some simple tips we can do to incorporate more foot health. 

If your goal is to transition to barefoot shoes or simply transition to even being able to stop wearing shoes all the time, including inside your house, here are some things you can to make your feet and therefore the rest of you, more happy.

Wiggle Those Toes

When your feet have been encased in shoes, your toes have paid the price. So get 'em moving again. Sit with your feet in front of you and look at your toes. Try to move just the big toes towards your head and the other four toes away from you. Then try to move the big toes away from you and the other four toes towards your head. Keep doing this even if your toes don't cooperate. If they all move as one unit, that is a sure sign you need to put some love into your toes again.

Separate Your Toes

You can buy toe spacers, special socks that do the spacing for you or you can get your fingers in-between your toes to stretch and get some more blood flowing back into your feet. I wear my toe spacers around my house all the time, especially first thing in the morning. Hurts so good.

Top of the Foot Stretch

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With 25% of the bones and muscles in your body, located in the feet, it is important to get mobility back all around your feet. Including your ankles and tops of your feet.

If this is the first time you have ever stretched the top of your foot, you might find that you will barely be able to get your toes down let alone as far as you see in the picture. Be gentle and do this stretch many times during the day.



Standing on a Ball

The bottoms of your feet need lots of love. If you have a tennis ball kicking around your house, let your foot drape over the ball without rolling it around. You can see in the picture I have a firm, kid's rubber ball that I got at the dollar store, bonus points for the stars on it!

You want to find a good spot on your foot for the ball, then just stand there for at least a minute to really release into the muscle and connective tissues of your foot. Repeat on your other foot and find as many good spots along the bottom of your feet as you can. 

If you start to incorporate these simple exercises for your feet, you will notice a difference right away. If you have barefoot or minimal shoes and have never worn them before, take it easy. Go for walks in them and don't over-do it right away. If you want an informative and fascinating read on foot health, click here to order the book, Every Woman's Guide to Foot Health by my biomechanist teacher and hero, Katy Bowman.