A recent article "Barefoot running: bad or beneficial" has prompted me to write about a nonfood topic that I feel I have enough personal experience to comment on. When it comes to feet there are two sides of the fence; those that believe the over abundance of cushioning and support in modern day shoes and sneakers are crucial for maintaining healthy feet, and those that feel all of the cushioning and so called support in today's footwear simply restricts natural movement, obstructs muscle activation, and prevents natural gate corrections by driving 2+ inches of rubber between your foot and the ever changing environment beneath it.
I stand walk and run on this more nontraditional side of the fence, and I have the best kind of data and facts to back it up... my own recovery from painful foot injuries that was only made possible from the motivation and desperation that came to me as I limped out of the podiatrist's office disgusted disappointed and fed up for the last time.
It was about 4 years ago when I was diagnosed with severe tendonitis in me feet, which started in one and eventually affected both, and would plague me for 2 years. In that time, especially in the beginning I followed the more traditional path of primary care doctor, pain meds, specialist (Podiatrist), more pain meds, a few noninvasive procedures some costly and not covered by insurance, lots of rehab, and molded orthotics which in turn lead to many more disappointing visits to the podiatrist's office. That's when I stepped out of traditional shoes and into a radical belief that today's modern day foot problems are caused by the very shoes and sneakers that were supposed to protect them.
The foot and ankle consist of more than 26 bones 33 joints and over 100 muscles tendons and ligaments and together they make up this very complex anatomical structure that allows us to stand walk and run upright. Unfortunately when we walk and run shod in today's over restrictive and overpriced footwear we prevent their natural movement and severely limit muscle activation that leads to muscle atrophy and will eventually lead to injury affecting either the feet, the ankle, the knee, and or the back. Our bodies were designed to walk on softer uneven surfaces causing the muscles in our feet to constantly flex and contract with our toes working almost as fingers slightly cupping the ground beneath them; none of this is possible in a pair of traditional running or walking shoes, heck you can't even feel the ground let alone any subtle changes in the landscape. It has also been observed that when running (unlike walking) we should strike the ground with the padded forefoot first and then come down with the heel as apposed to the heel first approach used by shod runners. And the former makes more sense, it is the most padded part of your foot and your weight is already forward by nature.
To get back to my story though, I went from the useless crutch the medical community calls an "orthotic" to bare feet when I walk (or run) on natural surfaces and MBT's when I walk on manmade surfaces. If you've never seen or heard of these shoes they are sort of half moon shaped on the bottom forcing your foot to travel a further more complete distance while activating the muscles that are traditionally not used with classic shoes or sneakers. I prefer these over barefoot on manmade surfaces because they do give some padding and shock absorption when walking over surfaces that are hard and flat (unnatural).
I have since been able to do something the podiatrist told me I never would... walk without orthotics!