By Karen G. Krueger
In the first two posts of this series, (Part 1; Part 2) I presented the features of conventional shoes that prevent feet from functioning naturally. These can cause many common foot ailments such as bunions, neuromas, hammertoes, plantar fasciitis (or, as I have learned to call it, plantar faciiosis), and other painful and debilitating conditions.
The next obvious question is, what do we do about it? Most of us couldn’t go without shoes all the time, even if we wanted to. Weather, the surfaces we walk on, and the expectations of employers and society in general, among other reasons, mean that we’re going to wear shoes much of the time.
Fortunately, it has become possible over the past decade or so to find a wide variety of shoes with foot-healthy characteristics. There’s a wealth of information and shopping opportunities on the internet. I have found my way to a whole new shoe collection through these websites:
(I should note that I have no affiliation with either of these websites, except as a satisfied customer.)
I got started down this pathway out of frustration with two problems: my lifelong inability to find shoes that fit my very wide feet without hurting my toes; and a decade-long recurring pain in the ball of my left foot. The latter was diagnosed by a podiatrist as a neuroma, but his only advice was to wait until it got bad enough for surgery.
This wasn’t good enough for me, so I kept researching. I knew that having my weight disproportionately on the ball of my feet, with my toes squeezed and held up off the ground by shoes made the pain worse, so I found shoes with no heel elevation (otherwise known as “zero drop”), wide toeboxes, and no toe spring. This made a definite improvement, but I still had pain sometimes.
Eventually, last April, I found my first pair of truly minimalist shoes — that is, shoes with very thin, flexible soles — that actually fit me. (Click here for these, in case you are interested: (#1 her ).
This was a leap of faith, as my natural instinct when feeling pain on the bottom of my foot was to want to put cushioning between it and the hard ground. To my astonishment, within a week of beginning to wear minimalist shoes, my foot pain disappeared — and it has not come back since.
It turned out that when my foot was firmly supported by the ground instead of sinking into a cushioned sole, my longitudinal and transverse arches all sprang up, taking pressure off the affected nerve. I was reminded of how taking Alexander Technique lessons made me start to hate cushy chairs.
As I have shared these insights with friends and students, several of them have become interested enough to work on their feet, with similarly striking results for problems such as bunions and bursitis of the heel. I also discovered some unexpected additional benefits: better balance, a more sure-footed feeling on uneven ground, a springier step, less impact into my knees and hip joints, and —most surprisingly — an instantaneous increase in my stamina for walking uphill.
I also discovered the very great pleasure of being able to sense the texture of the ground underneath me. Even the subway grills and manhole covers of my daily pathways through Manhattan feel interesting — and good! — under my feet now.
This is not a miracle cure nor, for most people, an overnight process: it takes time and persistence to make gradual changes — as we do in the Alexander Technique. I was able to switch my own shoes quickly because I already was spending many hours a day barefoot (albeit indoors). But people who are accustomed to wear conventional shoes for most of their waking hours need to transition slowly and carefully to more minimalist or barefoot options, to allow their tissues to adjust and to strengthen their feet and calf muscles.
However, based on my experience, I would say it is well worth the effort. In the Alexander Technique, learning to free your neck opens up a world of well-being. I believe the same is true of freeing your toes!
This series of three blog posts arose out of my experiences exploring the approach to foot health pioneered by sports podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan. I have only been able to skim the surface. If you are at all interested, I encourage you to explore the wealth of relevant articles and videos available at:
1. Foot Help
2. Natural Foot Gear (Click on the “Learn” tab)
And for a broader perspective on movement that embraces bare-footing and natural foot care, see Katy Bowman’s website nutritiousmovement.com and her books Whole Body Barefoot and Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet.
KAREN G. KRUEGER became a teacher of the Alexander Technique after 25 years of practicing law at two major New York law firms, receiving her teaching certificate from the American Center for the Alexander Technique in December 2010. Her students include lawyers, business executives, IT professionals and others interested in living with greater ease and skill. Find her at her website.