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Going barefoot in the clinic… some things to consider

At the start of the year I wrote an article about the pro’s and con’s of running in barefoot, ‘minimalist’ type shoes and how to make the transition from one to another. In this article I want to talk about the benefits of wearing such shoes in everyday life. Having recently made the transition myself I am going to discuss some of the reasons why you should consider it too.

Before I get stuck in, for those of you who haven’t heard of what a ‘minimalist shoe’ is, let me explain. It is a shoe that has little to no heel raise in the sole, therefore is flat or almost flat. This provides less structural support than a standard shoe. Many people believe that the more supportive the shoe, the better it is for you; but it can actually be quite the opposite.

Barefoot Science

The more supportive a shoe is, the more restricted the foot and ankle become in their movement. The gait cycle we go through during walking or running is very complex and is made up of several phases, characterised by many intricate and precise movements. Each foot has 26 bones, 33 separate joints and over 100 ligaments. If you wrap them in a tightly laced, inflexible shoe, it doesn’t need an expert to recognize that things stop working the way they should. When walking it is important that the shoe gives enough width for the toes to spread outwards upon weight bearing. You need adequate space to allow for pronation (yes the arch is actually designed to drop down!) as well as supination (the upwards movement of the arch). Also, the sole should be bendy enough to allow us to extend our big toe upwards as we propel ourselves forwards. These things need to occur in order for us to absorb shock, spread load evenly, and use our body’s mechanics in a way that doesn’t lead to injury.

Before I made the transition from the shoes I used to wear, most long days would finish with having rather stiff and sore feet and a need to kick off my shoes. It was this increasingly uncomfortable feeling which prompted me to think about other options and about the barefoot style shoe. A friend had recommended them to me a few months previously.img_2587

The Shoe

After doing some research into cost, durability and comfort etc. I decided upon the Vivo barefoot ‘Gobi II WH’. This sensible looking shoe with a black leather upper could still look smart at work, but would hopefully provide the function that I needed. The RRP is £115 but with the 15% off for new customers they came in at just over £100 including postage. This isn’t cheap, but if they last a year then that’s only 27p per day!

The Transition

The shoes arrived two days after placing the order and as soon as I got them on I was intrigued. The initial feeling was very strange with such a thin sole, walking in them almost felt clumsy. However that was because I was learning a new way of moving. The changes in my walking pattern were automatic as I knew they would be with a smaller amount of cushioning. The stride length shortens to reduce impact at the heel, the calf and gluteal muscles engage a lot more and the knee softens the impact of each step, especially when walking downhill (all good stuff!). Walking up hill to my car the first evening wearing the new shoes I could feel every part of my foot working- unlike before. It felt like
img_2584I had done a leg work out by the time I got to the top. During my first barefoot week the arch within my
right foot felt extremely tight and sore at times, however this did pass. I should probably have followed my own advice and introduced them more gradually into my routine, allowing the muscles in my foot to get used to the new demands, but excitement got the better of me!

Interestingly after a week of going barefoot I was no longer getting sore or stiff feet or ankles in the evenings. My feet were kept cooler throughout the day and various movements such as squatting, kneeling and lunging immediately felt so much easier
to perform with the added movement made available to me.

Criticisms

My few criticisms are that they do scuff quite easily and can squeak a lot when walking on a hard floors. You can also see from the first image that they are never going to win an award for style but they lack in looks they make up in performance! One potential issue I have read about online is that the soles do wear rather quickly and in some people’s opinions really shouldn’t considering the cost of the shoes. However I haven’t seen evidence of that yet after wearing them all day, every day at work for 6weeks!

Was it a good move?

Even considering the above I would still say this is a great day to day shoe for work and one I have been very pleased with. Although I can recommend this type of shoe to many people, I would be cautious if you have had, or do currently suffer from any foot issues. The increased loading through certain parts of the foot could aggravate an existing achilles problem, plantar fasciitis, as well as pain in the big toe or heel. But, logic tells me that a proper, graded introduction of such footwear (not like myself!) in individuals with healthy feet will help to preserve function and prevent foot issues from occurring in the first place. There are even reported cases in people who have made the transition to barefoot shoes and reported a resolution of various types of hip, knee and ankles problems, previously thought to be permanent issues.