Free Your Feet

Feet are the foundation of posture.  A strong foot creates the base support structure for a strong healthy body. A weak foot creates an unstable foundation affecting the posture from head to toe. You cannot build a strong stable structure over an unstable foundation. It would be like attempting to build a house on top of sand. Sooner than later the entire structure will collapse.

As a movement therapist, one of the things I specialize in is helping clients heal from chronic pain and injury. In the majority of clients that I treat, I have seen a connection between their chronic pain and the health of their feet, including the shoes they wear.  Painful conditions of the knees, hips, low back, shoulders, and neck can all be traced down to the feet. I believe that foot health is one of, if not the biggest, determining factor of pain, injury, disease, overall health, wellness, and vitality. To have healthy feet, you must free your feet.

Happy Feet - Free your feet.Your feet are your connection to the Earth.

The sole of your foot is one of the most sensory nerve-rich parts of your body, comparable with the palms of your hands, mouth, and genitals. Sensory nerves receive stimuli from the environment, such as texture, temperature, and traction. Let that sink in a bit. Imagine spending 10-12 hours a day with thick padding on your hands. How well would you be able to interact with the environment?

“Sensory information from the foot is used to protect the foot itself from injury, but it’s also used by the brain to make subtle adjustments in your gait to protect bones and joints all the way up your body and to maximize the efficiency of your movements.”Dr. Daniel Howell, the barefoot professor

Imagine that, from the moment you start to crawl and explore the world, thick cushioned gloves were placed on your hands for eight to 16 hours each day. How would the world look and feel now? You would lose finger dexterity and the ability to grip.  Without grip strength, your body would look much different. The muscles of your chest, back, shoulders, and arms would be dysfunctional, weak and atrophied, affecting functional movement of your entire body.  Your life also would look considerably different. More than likely you would feel a physical, emotional, and spiritual disconnect from friends, family, and environment. This is what has already happened with your feet. Instead of saying “free your feet”, I’d be promoting “free your hands.”

Feet in high heels. These are not happy feet. Free your feet.
They may look happy
X-Ray of foot in high heels. Free your feet.
But they really are not happy
Hokka Running shoes make not happy feet. Free your feet.
Great marketing, but definitely not happy feet

Free Your Feet!

For most of us, shoes are on our feet from the time we take our first baby steps — shoes with hard, thick rubber soles. These shoes lift your foot an inch or more off the ground and block the sensory nerves from receiving external stimuli. This weakens the intrinsic muscles that make up the arch of the foot, changing the way you walk and run and undermining the development of the core muscles that make up your posture. After decades of wearing shoes, many peoples’ arches have partially or fully collapsed, creating muscular and postural dysfunction, wreaking havoc, and causing considerable pain throughout the body.

So where does foot health begin? It begins with your next step and the shoes you choose to wear.I am an advocate of minimalist shoes. The least amount of shoe on your foot that you can manage pain-free, the stronger your body will be.Here is the best definition of minimalism and minimalist shoes I have found. It is borrowed from Dr. Mark Cucuzzelas.Barefoot in grass. Free your feet.

What is minimalism?
• free your feet to develop naturally
• looks for the least amount of shoe you can safely wear now
• works toward reducing the amount of shoe necessary through strengthening the foot and improving your stride
• practices running as a natural movement of the body, rather than an unnatural act requiring artificial support to perform safely
• embraces the notion that the beefier the shoe, the more a runner’s natural stride is inhibitedWhat is a minimalist shoe?
• complements natural foot function
• has very low heel-to-toe drop
• is constructed with thin material under the foot, allowing maximum ground feel
• has a soft and flexible upper
• is light and flexible

Nike Shox. They look cool and all, but they are not happy feet. Free your feet.
Not minimalist shoes and very unhappy feet

The most common question I hear about minimalist shoes and my response

Don’t I need arch support?
You have the most advanced arch support design system in the history of bipedal locomotion, and it is already built into your foot. There is nothing that man can create that will be superior to God.

The structure of an arch is a phenomenal piece of engineering. The Romans perfected the use of arches in their architecture. Why? The arch is the strongest shape in natural architecture and becomes more structurally stable with more weight pushing down.  Your arches actually get stronger with weight on them. If you were to apply upward pressure from underneath, you would collapse the arch, which is exactly what arch supports in your shoes do, whether they are built into the shoe or insertable orthotics.

Arch supports are designed to immobilize or limit the motion of your arches. While immobilizing may be appropriate to aid the healing process of a broken bone or a torn ligament, permanently immobilizing any part of the body will lead to loss of function.

Barefoot skiing. Free your feet.
Yeah happy feet!

The foot is not only the foundation of your postural body, it is your connection to the planet. Every step you make in life begins with the foot. If you utilize the natural engineering and design of your foot, you will build a solid support structure that will be more capable to carry you pain and injury free throughout life. The more contact between the earth and your foot, the better you will feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is time to Free Your Feet!

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24 Replies to “Free Your Feet”

  1. Fantastic article. I have been running barefoot for 5 years, running over 40 miles a week. I have proven this article, as I ran 3 marathons in May, all barefoot. I could not have even think of doing that in a year previously with shoes. I have NO knee or back pain. I almost stopped running because of knee pain and back pain, with wearing shoes. I do not wear any shoes, totally barefoot works for me.

    thanks for the information.

  2. Hi Jessie,
    You have made some great statements about the feet, “Everything changes when the foot hits the ground” is a great course whose title exemplifies your idea. The minimalist shoe is good, but not for everyone. I find the exception may be the rule for most injured people. The foot’s arch locks in not only in weight bearing but when the tibia hinges forward at the ankle it locks the the tarsal bones and turns the flexible foot into a solid rod to push off of. I have found most people have limited “hinge” at the ankle, due to any number of reasons, thus never locking in the tarsal bones and thus the ankle falls. As I have had Aston-kinetics work done over the last 15 years, my flat fallen feet have actually developed arches! I have a blog post titled “Posture from the bottom up” that talks about the ankle hinge and “ABC ankle stretch that strengthens the foot specifically. I hope you enjoy my blog, as I have enjoyed yours.

      1. Hi Jessie,
        as a Clinical Reflexologist, I specialize in pain management and work alot with plantar fascitis and foot issues, educating clients on posture and the importance of the feet as foundation. Thanks for the great info. I will be writing on posture/gait analysis and will definitely include your link for education.Would love to see your article on gait analysis. Keep up the good work!

  3. In my work I have found a correspondence for every part of the body in the foot. Any posture distortion of the body causes repetitive stress on the supporting structure in the foot. Correcting the posture distortion allows the foot to return to normal action and repair. There is one podiatrist that refers patients to me when he recognises this problem in an uninjured foot.

    Working from the opposite end having the little toe cramped in a tight shoe so that it can not balance the movement of the arm can lead to frozen shoulder.

    1. Hans,
      you are so right! As a clinical reflexologist, this is the nature of our therapy. People do not realize the significance of the foot-to-body connection in the big picture of health and welllnes. I so appreciate others who work with the feet specifically & ‘get it’ that how we treat those puppies affect headaches to hemorrhoids…”As Above, So Below”. Thanks for the posting.

  4. Hi Jesse – I found your article very interesting, with lots of useful info for me. I am wondering what your opinion is for footwear for running in competitive canine agility. This is a sport that requires short spurts of intense running, with frequent acceleration and deceleration, changes in direction, lateral movement and even sometimes backward running – not unlike what you might see in soccer or field hockey. Competitors frequently wear hockey cleats or trail running shoes for grip and flexibility. There has been a recent trend of wearing barefoot shoes like Vibram ffs – so I am wondering whether you would advise minimalist shoes for a sport like this, and if so, what kinds of precautions should be taken – to prevent a broken ankle – ouch…

    1. Hi Juliet,

      Thanks for the comment. I don’t have an easy answer for your question. When it comes to competition, you will want to employ the tools that provide the best results while at the same time minimizing risk of injury. There are so many factors that go into what you would or would not wear for the sport you participate in. My suggestion is to do the majority of your training as close to barefoot as possible to strengthen your entire body through the feet. When it comes to competition, it is more about personal preference. If you feel you get the traction and support to move at the speeds you desire without shoes, or with minimalist shoes then great. If you get better traction and support with trainers or cleats, then great. Shoes are a tool and it comes down to picking the right tool for the job.

      Jesse James Retherford
      http://www.tao-fit.com

  5. Hi Jesse,

    Great article! I’m personally a huge fan of Vibram five-finger shoes because of how free my feet feel in them and now can hardly wear anything else! My feet are just not happy in regular shoes! I was wondering though: what are your thoughts on flip-flops? Are they as bad as regular shoes or somewhere in between barefoot-type shoes and regular shoes?

    Thanks!
    Stephanie

    1. Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for the feedback. I have loved my VFF’s for close to four years. Although I have a new favorite shoe, Merrells Trail Gloves. They have the same VFF sole, but with fused toes.

      Flip-flops are no good in my book. Everything is great about them from a minimalist perspective except for the lack of a heel strap. With no heel strap, the only way to keep the shoe on your foot is to clench your toes while your foot is in the air. This is not a normal bio-mechanical gait pattern and causes problems. I see it quite a bit in Austin. Our weather is mild, so as soon as the Spring time hits, everyone is wearing flip-flops. If they had a heel strap, I would be o.k. with them.

      Jesse James Retherford
      http://www.tao-fit.com

      1. Hi Jesse,

        Thanks for the response! That’s so true about flip-flops, I hadn’t thought of that.

        I checked out te Merrell shoes; they look nice, and I bet they attract less funny looks than the VFFs! haha. The only problem I have with my VFFs (which may or may not be resolved with a new pair I’m getting for xmas that have a slightly thicker sole – the bikilas, if you’re interested) is that the sole is so thin that in the winter (I live in Montreal) the cold seeps through in no time. Do you have anything to recommend in terms of minimalist cold weather footwear?

        Thanks!
        Stephanie

        1. Hi Stephanie,

          I live in Texas where it doesn’t get super cold. So I don’t know about anything for the extreme cold. The coldest I run I’ve done was around 30 F degrees in VFF’s and Injinji socks. My feet were pretty numb afterwards.

          I do love Softstarshoes.com? They have some nice boot and moccasin style shoes which are sheep skin lined with a thin Vibram sole. They have a ton of foot room, leaving room for thick wool socks. They even make a running shoe, but I haven’t tried those.

          Jesse James Retherford
          http://www.tao-fit.com

    1. Hi Terry,

      Thanks for the comments. First off, I am not a fan of a lot of running. I think most people run way to much at the expense of other important functional movement patterns. Running mechanics mimic the same linear movement patterns as sitting. To much repetition of any movement pattern will eventually lead to postural dysfunction.

      As for cement or asphalt, I actually think running on cement or asphalt can be a good training tool. I like running on cement because I get immediate pain feedback. Running on soft surfaces such as grass or sand has a very slow feedback response and acts similarly to the cushion of a shoe. Basically, my belief is that when in comes to training, everything is good and to much of anything is bad.

      Jesse James Retherford
      http://www.tao-fit.com

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      I am not a fan of Crocks for everyday wear. They have to much cushion. I prefer that the foot is in direct contact with the earth. Which means as thin of a cushion as possible. You have the same amount of sensory nerves on the bottom of your feet as on the palms of your hands and the inside of your mouth. They are there so that you can feel your immediate environment. If you walk with a poor gait pattern, you will get immediate feedback through your nervous system and your foot will hurt. If you are barefoot, you have an opportunity to immediately adjust the way you walk so that it doesn’t hurt. This mechanism helps you maintain a healthy gait. If you have cushions on your feet, you won’t feel it at your feet. If you wear cushioned shoes all the time, you won’t feel the pain at your foot. Allowing you to continue the poor gait pattern and the pain that should manifest at your foot will instead show up in your knees, hips, back, shoulders or neck. But at this point you are disconnected from where the problem is coming from.

      Jesse James Retherford
      http://www.tao-fit.com

  6. Nearing age 60 I think I’ve started developing arthritis in my feet. Certainly I can sometimes feel some stiffness and
    pain in my toe joints, especially at the end of the day when I take off my shoes! I tried walking barefoot around the
    house and that felt good. I’ve since discovered Luna sandals and I really like them. It did take a few weeks before
    I could wear the sandals all day long, the strap between my toes took some getting used to (I’ve never liked flip-flops
    and have rarely NOT worn shoes while awake). Now the sandals are the only footwear I use over the weekends and
    when not at work. Less socks in the laundry!

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