Desperately Seeking Healthy Feet

healthy feet

As I said to my husband the other day, “Because it’s about time for me to find a new bandwagon, right??”

And he rolled his eyes as he said to the kids, “Oh no! Watch out! Mom has a new obsession!”


Poor man. And he’s still here. It amazes me sometimes that he sticks around despite my crazy.

Actually, what I’m learning now goes hand-in-hand with everything I’ve discovered over the past few years about health and our modern ways sometimes doing more harm than good to our bodies.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that modern science has improved our quality of life in many ways, but sometimes I wonder if we have robbed Peter to pay Paul.

Case in point: our feet.

As many of you know, a few years ago I read Born To Run and found religion, so to speak, with the barefoot movement. I started running in Vibram FiveFingers and credited them with changing my running form and reducing my knee complaints significantly.


It wasn’t hard for me to buy into this latest fad. I prefer to be barefoot myself, and I knew that letting children go barefoot when they’re learning to walk is best for their development. When my kids were little they wore those cute little Robeez so their feet could hopefully develop naturally, and I’ve always been one to let my kids go barefoot during the summer months. It’s not unusual to see my kids outside without any shoes on — especially my middle daughter who is a bit of a free spirit.

But of course we live in a modern world, and in this modern world, people wear shoes. So eventually my kids’ feet became contained in those modern contraptions like everyone else’s, and I’ve gotten really lax about the quality of shoes I buy. I used to spend the bucks on Stride Rites and other pricey shoes that offer the flexibility and support I thought my kids needed, but as they’ve gotten older, I just buy whatever is cheap and cute and figure if they lose them or scuff them up, it’s no big deal to replace them. But now I’m realizing that it is still just as important at their current ages (7, 10 and 13) to provide them with shoes that will allow their growing feet to develop as naturally as possible living in the suburban jungle. What shoe that is exactly, I’m still trying to determine, but I plan to remedy this situation shortly.

As far as my feet are concerned, I was always a bit conflicted about the barefoot running shoes, knowing that we had “protected” our feet in such a way for so many years that they didn’t have the chance to develop the strength and flexibility needed to run barefoot so I tried to break in my barefoot running gradually to avoid injury. When people would ask me about them, I acknowledged the conflicting advice from the medical and athletic communities surrounding the barefoot running movement, but for me, they seemed to be working nicely.

But then I developed plantar fasciitis last summer, and when I sought advice from running friends and experts, I was told by most that I should start wearing supportive sneakers (i.e. traditional running shoes) and that I wouldn’t be able to safely increase my miles and speed with the Vibrams.

I hesitantly went to the running store one day and bought the Nike Free — a minimalist style running shoe that would hopefully cushion my feet without compromising my form, which seemed to be working well for the rest of my body. Since then I’ve tried a few different brands and styles of running shoes but I still run in minimalist styles, assuming that they are more conducive to a natural running pattern and should be better for my body than the running shoes that are all jacked up in the heel.

But my heel problems persist.


Here we are today, and I’m trying to figure out how to heal my feet in the most natural and healthy way possible without giving up running. Yes, I realize that may be counterintuitive but I think I can have my cake and eat it too! At least, I’m going to try.

There is SO much conflicting advice about foot health in general and plantar fasciitis in particular. Some say that shoes are a must, some say that shoes are bad, some say that surgery works, others say it doesn’t, some say to take a break from running, others say to keep going as long as I am stretching properly and not overdoing it. It’s enough to make my head explode!

I’m seeing a chiropractor, opting for massage and manipulation and stretching therapies over steroid injections or surgery, although I haven’t ruled out those options if it gets to that point. And I was advised to check out Katy Bowman’s site, Aligned and Well. The first thing I noticed is that she is wearing Vibrams in the photos. When I started reading, I was intrigued.

Her philosophy, as a biomechanist, is that a lot of our modern health problems are due to mechanical issues — as opposed to hormonal or genetic — and she has created a restorative exercise program that is supposed to help fix our bodies’ alignment issues and give relief to many of our modern health woes. This quote from her site sums it up pretty much:

You’ve got long-lost health living in your body, all you have to do is uncover it! Educating the public on how movement is medicine, Katy offers easy-to-digest articles on natural movement, optimal human development, anatomical science and all things biomechanics!

I started poking around her website, and she has a lot of interesting theories about why we have some of the health problems that we do, and a lot of it focuses on the feet. I ended up buying her book, Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet, and I have read it cover to cover in the last few days.

Every Woman's Guide to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet

In a nutshell, she shares a set of exercises that are designed to strengthen our feet and legs and help us stand in such a way that our bodies are properly aligned, and she is death on high heeled shoes. In fact, she goes so far as to liken them to today’s version of cigarettes. I know, that sounds dramatic, but when she breaks it down and explains why modern shoes in general and heeled shoes in particular are harming our bodies, you have to wonder if she’s onto something.

I’m still conflicted about whether or not to wear shoes. Katy advocates going barefoot as much as possible around the house, but my chiropractor insists that I wear shoes every waking hour. While I admit that wearing shoes does seem to help my heel pain, it seems counterintuitive to the goal of strengthening my feet.

I’m still siphoning through the information on her site and other sources, trying to figure out where to go from here. Sometimes a new theory sounds great and then you realize that it’s not sustainable or practical for your lifestyle, or it’s just maybe a piece to the puzzle rather than the entire map key. I’m still not sure where this one falls.

I hate to leave you hanging, but since this post is so long already, I’ll write another post later in the week about what I’m learning and how I’m attempting to incorporate this new advice into my overall foot health and healing protocol!

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15 Responses

  1. Very interesting. I’m curious to see what conclusions you come to.

    I just hope your foot begins heeling, so you can safely and comfortable live the life you want.

    Oh, and I’ve always been curious about those toe sneakers. One of these days, I may go try a pair on.

  2. Maybe we all need to embrace the barefoot trend? Trading out my high heels for flats was one of the hardest things for me to do as a new Mom, but I do find I’m happy when my feet are bare!

  3. I am so glad you are taking this on!! Keep sharing what you learn! Weight loss was the key for me but I dont think you share that problem 😉

  4. I’ve had plantar faciitis on an off for the last 20 years. I’ve tried everything orthotics, pt, steroids(numerous), strapping nothing worked except night splints. After a round of pt which kinda helped I bought a night splint. It worked. I find I can’t wear any shoe that is completely flat. I need a little heel. For me, ballet flats and rubber flip flops are the worse. As we get older, the padding on our heels get thinner(the only thing that does). If I get a twinge I know it’s the shoes I’m wearing. The night splint stretches out that tendon in your foot that is causes pain. I recently went to pt for the neck problem and the therapist has heel problems–he told me pt doesn’t help and orthotics are a waste of money. Good luck. Every person who has this problem has their own treatment. Good luck in finding what works.

  5. Hi Jo-Lynne,
    I had Plantar Fasciitis several years ago. My ortho doc recommended “the boot”– to be worn at night. So much for sleep! Who can sleep with that molded, hard plastic, uncomfortable thing on their foot? So, I tried massage (self massage and when hubby felt bad for me, I got a free massage from him) and almost continual stretching (stretching when I sat, stretching while I stood). That helped quite a bit. But, then I was told about some essential oils that were good for healing as well as pain relief. So, I purchased a couple and found amazing relief and healing. I have had no problem since using the essential oils! I don’t know if you’d want me to “advertise” on your blog, so I will respect that. I’d love to read in your blog: Well on my way to healthier feet”! Let me know if you want more info.

  6. I’ll be reading all your posts on this issue with great interest. I have so much foot pain, I can’t walk/shop/be on feet for more than about 2 hours with having to SIT DOWN. I have tender feet, and one foot broken badly a dozen years ago. If you find the answers, I’ll be glad to know them! I gave up all heels above about 1″, years ago, and am glad I did. When I see ladies in these high platforms, it makes me shudder!

  7. Interesting that you chose to write about foot health. I’ve recently started with foot problems. I have bunions on both feet so it makes finding comfortable shoes difficult. Flats are really hard to find since the shoe cuts right across on those bunions. My foot doctor had me get orthotics, but they don’t fit in all of my shoes. I also have arch pain if on my feet for too long. I don’t see how people can walk around in flip flops or those crazy high heels! I have always gone barefoot around the house in the summer, but I’ve been trying to wear my tennis shoes with the orthotics more often. I’ll have to check out the book.

  8. I think it’s interesting that your chiropractor wants you to wear shoes all the time. My chiropractor, who is also an alternative wellness person (practitioner?), says that going barefoot is best. I wonder how much of it is because of his chiropractic training and how much of it is from other research he’s done or classes he’s taken.

    1. I should question him more. I am guessing that he would say barefoot is ideal but b/c we have protected our feet so much with shoes, and b/c of the running I want to continue to do, the shoes are necessary to manage my pain? Perhaps if I get over the PF symptoms, I could return to barefoot as long as I wear good shoes other times. Ya know?

      I think if I quit running, I could be barefoot with no problem. Maybe? Maybe if I quit running AND quit wearing flimsy shoes and high heels… there are a lot of factors. I will be writing more about this in my followup post! 🙂

  9. I switched to swimming and I love it. Great aerobic exercise and no damage to knees and feet. It may not be for everyone but it works for me. Good luck with you running.

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