Barefoot? Minimalism? I thought barefoot WAS minimalist?
Barefoot fever has really caught on over the last year or so. It seemed to start with the advent of the Vibram 5 fingers several years ago (which Dr Waerlop was a biomechanics and design consultant for) and seems to have blossomed to include many different types of footwear.
In the strictest sense, barefoot means NO SHOES or UNSHOD. There are hygenic and social reasons we cover (or need to cover) our feet, and thus the advent of the many types and styles of footwear we are seeing crop up in stores everywhere. This shoes have minimal amounts of bells and whistles (read support and rigidity) and thus promote a barefoot STYLE of walking or running. These “shoes” also have a low (or no) ramp angle. The ramp angle is how much higher the heel is in elevation than the forefoot. Most traditional running shoes have a 2:1 ratio…..the heel is twice as high as the forefoot. The average might be a net 10-20mm rise in the heel height over the forefoot rendering a ramp angle of approximately 15degrees. So when we say barefoot and include these minimalistic shoes we are referring to shoes with a ramp angle of less than 2-3 degrees and less than 5 mm heel rise.
According the the last two studies published in Nature, by Dr Daniel Lieberman, barefoot or minimalistic activites appear to have many advantages: less stress on the joints, less impact forces on the body and increased proprioception (awareness of your body parts, in this case feet, in space).
The barefoot model is based on the simple fact that the movement of our anatomy for thousands of years has been always been that the heel and ball of our foot rest on the same plane. This is the ground work for the normal workings and biomechanics of the foot. When we take the heel and raise it onto a level above the forefoot (as most running and dress shoes do) the body will have to make biomechanical changes to that very same anatomy that loves level ground. It is now being proven over and over again that this altered positioning and corrupted biomechanics may be what are driving much of the foot and lower limb problems we see out in the world. Whether it is plantar fascitis, shin splints, achilles problem, toe problems, or just general foot or ankle pain, these altered biomechanics are highly suspicious culprits.
This is not to say that everyone can go barefoot or is ready to immediately go barefoot, despite the picture the shoe vendors and media are painting. Some folks have to gradually work their way down into lower ramp angled shoe affording the time and tissue changes that will come with adapting to different heel heights. It can take some time for the calf muscles and achilles to restore their original length or take time to regain the strength of the foot intrinsic muscles so that the foot can no longer depend on the shoe for stability but rather it can learn to depend on the anatomy of ligaments and muscles to provide the support like our shoeless ancestors of centuries past. This is where minimalsitic shoes come in. They provide a transition from where you are to where you want to be. Other folks have anatomic foot types that just cannot cope well with a pure “barefoot technique” and will probably need to remain in some type of transitional shoe.
There are exercises and drills, along with types of manual therapy and muscle activation techniques that can help speed the transition from your current footwear to being a minimalist. Make sure you consult with providers with plenty of experience that are familiar with and competent with these methods.
We are still 2 foot nerds, out there making a difference…The Gait Guys