To all the shoes I’ve loved before

It’s time. It’s past time. We are moving to a smaller house in an act of intentional minimalist rebellion. I’ve been adding minimalist shoes to my closet over the last year, but have not reduced the total number of shoes residing there. To ease the ache of knowing that most of my pre-FootLove Yoga shoes will have to go, I revisit Katy Bowman’s Four Factor Shoe Evaluation (see chart below) to remind me why I make these tough decisions. When evaluating shoes, consider the four main features of a shoe and how and why they can be severely damaging. A feature that I did not systematically evaluate, but is present on over half of my shoes, is toe spring, that perky little incline at the toe end of a shoe. A toe spring bends the toes upward and over time deforms the foot, leading to foot problems, gait abnormalities, and musculoskeletal compensations.

If you decide to transition to more minimal shoes, a must read is Whole Body Barefoot by renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman. You can find it in Katy’s Healthy Foot Kit.

 

Healthy_Foot_Kit-1

Heel – A positive heel is any degree of elevation above the height of the toe box. A traditional high heel is just one style of positive heel. I can’t say it any better than Katy when she describes positive heels as “bone density decreasing, nerve damaging, and arthritis causing” at any height. Not only do they cause whole-body deformation as they force you to change the geometry of all your joints to keep you balanced and upright, but they also increase the load on the front of your foot, exacerbating foot maladies like bunions, plantar fasciitis, and metatarsalgia, among others. At my last Foot Love workshop, I held up two shoes – a sparkly, silver stiletto and an athletic shoe. I asked which one is worse. All but one person said the stiletto. One gal said the running shoe. Everyone was right. The stiletto, being 4 inches high, would cause considerably more damage when worn, but chances are it is only being worn on special occasions for short periods of time. The athletic shoe, however, is probably being worn all day, every day. It’s a case of acute damage vs. chronic.

Toe Box – Chronic toe squeezing weakens the muscles of the toes and loads the bones while they are positioned incorrectly, increasing the occurrence of joint stress, bone stress, and other soft tissue deformation. What is utterly baffling  is that shoe creators continue to design shoes that taper at the toe, when in fact, the ends of the toes are the widest part of the foot and therefore requires that area to be the widest part of the shoe! Dr. Ray McClanahan details this phenomenon in the context of bunions and the brannock device, that foot measuring tool that shoe fitters use to measure your foot. A whole industry uses this device to measure your foot at the ball rather than at the weight-bearing, toes-spreading, widest area of your foot.

Brannock device

Brannock device

Upper – Flip flops and slides require a gripping action from the toes. This gripping motion is the same muscle pattern that deforms toe joints. As the upper gets smaller, your foot has to constantly grip to keep the shoe on. Its Hammertime Hammertoes!

Soles – The thicker and stiffer the sole, the less the intrinsic foot musculature is able to do, the less communication happens between the brain & feet, the less circulation (nutrition & waste removal) and the more compensatory movement at the ankle and other joints. I elaborate on the importance of intrinsic foot musculature in an earlier post.

fourfactorshoe0001

So, here are all the shoes I’ve loved before…at least all that are still in my closet or sitting in Salvation Army (since yesterday.) I’ve devised a rating system. The lower the number, the better the shoe. The rating system goes from 4 – 16. A shoe with a rating of four has all boxes checked in the Best column – one point per feature. A shoe with a 16 has all four boxes checked in the Severely Damaging column – four points per feature. If a shoe gets over 6 pts, its got to go. Got it?

Shimmery pink converse

Shimmery pink converse

This is not the actual image of my shoe, because the real pair sadly lives at the Salvation Army.

  • heel – 1 pt
  • toe box – 3 pt
  • Upper – 1 pt
  • Sole – 4 pt
  • Total – 9 pt; status – donated
Clarks clog

Clarks clog

Another stand in; not the same model I had, but close.

  • heel – 4 pt
  • toe box – 3 pt
  • upper – 3 pt
  • sole – 4 pt
  • Total – 14 pt; status – donated
Clarks mule

Clarks mule

Another stand in.

  • heel – 3 pt
  • toe box – 2 pt
  • upper – 3 pt
  • sole – 4 pt
  • Total – 12 pt; status – donated
Crocs slippers

Crocs slippers

  • heel – 2.5 pt
  • toe box – 1 pt
  • upper –  1 pt
  • sole – 2 pt
  • total – 6.5 pt; status – retired for several months as I am now barefoot full-time in the house
Crocs mules

Crocs mules

  • heel – 2 pt
  • toe box – 2 pt
  • upper – 1 pt
  • sole – 1 pt
  • Total – 6 pt; Status – keep – these are my garden/dog poop detail shoes
ASICS athletic shoes

ASICS athletic shoes

  • heel – 3
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 1.5
  • Total – 8.5 pts; Status – retired to heavier garden duty like digging/mowing
New Balance athletic shoes

New Balance athletic shoes

  • heel – 2.5
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole 1.5
  • Total – 8 pts; status – keep for now but wear only when walking primarily on asphalt; replace with minimal shoes that can be safely worn on asphalt
Naturalizer

Naturalizer

  • heel – 2
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 2
  • Total – 8 pts; status – keep and wear only on rare, special occasions
Pikolinos sandle

Pikolinos sandal

  • heel – 2.5
  • toe box – 2
  • upper – 2
  • sole – 3
  • Total – 9.5 pts; status – keep, wearing only on rare, special occasions
Vasque hiking boots

Vasque hiking boots

  • heel – 3
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 4
  • Total – 12 pts; status – cry. actively seek minimalist hiking boots. cry some more
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UGG boots

  • heel – 2
  • toe box – 1
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 4
  • Total – 8 pts; status – keep and wear whenever I damn well please; these are my one pair of fashion over foot-health shoes
White Mountain sandals

White Mountain sandals

  • heel – 1.5
  • toe box – 1
  • upper – 4
  • sole – 1.5
  • Total – 8 pts; status – donate
Sorel snow boots

Sorel snow boots

  • heel – 3
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 4
  • Total – 11 pts; status – uh, it didn’t snow this year…actively seek a minimal pair of snow boots in case it snows next year
Joesef Seibel metrosexuals

Joesef Seibel metrosexuals

  • heel – 1
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 1
  • sole – 1
  • Total – 5 pts; status – keep and wear occasionally
Crocs sandals

Crocs sandals

  • heel – 2
  • toe box – 3
  • upper – 3
  • sole – 2
  • Total – 10 pts; status – donate

And the winners, coming in at a mere four points each, are:

Vibram Five Finger and Merrel Vapor Glove

Vibram Five Finger and Merrell Vapor Glove and Jolie.

How does your closet add up?

Namaste, Michele

Barefoot is Better – Part 1

For millions of years, humans went barefoot. In the words of Daniel Lieberman, in The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, wearing shoes is a rather recent fad. His book is all about the theory of mismatch diseases. Cardiovascular disease is one such mismatch. We evolved to move – a lot, mostly walking, many miles per month. But, in reality we are mostly sedentary. Thus, we have heart attacks – a mismatched outcome because we are not doing what we evolved to do, which is move. Having flat feet  (ped planus) is another mismatch. We evolved to be barefoot, but we wear shoes and this leads to diseased conditions in our feet because shoes act counter to what we evolved to be, which is barefoot.

Early shoes were basically no more than animal skins that provided surface protection. Today’s shoes, designed for varying degrees of style, comfort, and support, are radically different. For all the shoes you’ve loved, at the end of the day, they have interfered significantly with your foot’s natural functioning. Here’s how.

A typical athletic shoe has:

Feature: positive heel (heel is higher than toe)
Problematic because: a positive heel changes the geometry of your body, pushing more of your weight forward onto the weaker muscles, ligaments, and plantar fascia, whose job is to assist in gait and arch support and not bear the bulk of your weight. Additionally, your major joints have to make degenerative compensations to keep you vertical. Even the smallest degree of heel rise will have negative effects.

Feature: cushioned heel
Problematic because: a cushioned heel is comfortable. Thus you tend to land harder with our your strike when walking and even harder when running. You feel little sensation in your heels because of the cushioning. But each time your heel hits the ground, it sends a force 1-3 times your body weight, depending on whether you are walking or running, back up through your body. These forceful impacts can be damaging to your joints and lead to repetitive stress injuries in your feet, legs, hips & spine.

Feature: arch support
Problematic because: it relieves your foot’s ligaments and muscles from their critical job of holding up your arch. These muscles become weak and poorly innervated and eventually could cease holding up your arch at all.

Many work shoes have:

Feature: thick, rigid soles
Problematic because: they limit sensory perception so that your brain does not receive a clear or accurate representation of the ground and thus you react with gross, lumbering movements in your major joints instead of small, subtle shifts that keep you upright when the ground beneath you changes suddenly. Thick and rigid soles interfere with heel rise and toe off events during gait and thus do not allow articulation of the 33 joints of your foot. Movement is mainly limited to the ankle. Thus the intrinsic muscles of your feet are weak and poorly innervated and you experience this as a feeling of stiffness.

Many dress shoes have:

Feature: tight toe boxes
Problematic because: they can lead to bunions, bones spurs, hammertoes, and metatarsalgia. They result in weak, poorly innervated muscles between your toes. Since your toes are one of your main balance proprioceptors and house more sensory receptor than most other areas of your body, when you can’t move or even feel your toes, you are at greater risk of falling.

Many shoes have:

Feature: an upward curving sole
Problematic because: it relieves or muffles the toe off event during gait, which is integral to your foot’s multiple joint articulations and, coincidentally,  healthy hip extension.

Part II or this story will address barefootedness and how to get there slowly, oh so slowly, and safely. You’ve been shod for all these years, take your time unshodding yourself.

Namaste, Michele

Party Games with Your Feet – January 7, 2015

How Big is Your Foot? How Big is Your Shoe?

To play this simple, but exciting game you will need:

  • a foot
  • a shoe – use the one you wear the most
  • paper
  • pen or marker

1. Trace an outline of your foot onto the paper. Be especially neat and precise around the toe box, tracing each individual toe.

2. Trace an outline of the toe box of the shoe over that of the outline of your foot. You have to be careful here to get the actual toe box size because many shoes, especially athletic shoes, have a flared edges on their soles that make the footprint seem bigger than it is. Try turning the shoe over and tracing only the outline of the actual toebox that contains your foot. Alternatively, you could lay your shoe on top of your drawing if your shoe does not have a flared edge.

You lose if your toe box is the same size or smaller than your foot outline, which means that your toes are cramped, the muscles between your toes are tight and weak, and you probably have a bunion in the making. Oh, and your feet smell too.

You win if your toe box is bigger than your foot outline, which means it allows your toes to spread inside your shoes.

Here’s how I made out.

Barefoot tracing

Barefoot tracing

Loser

Loser

Loser

Loser

Winning!

Winning!

Namaste, Michele