Our feet are our foundation. As OSI Coach Tristan Phillips says, “most people ignore their feet until they hurt.” Then, they’re all we can think about. Case in point, Tiger Woods dropped out of the Masters because of a plantar fasciitis injury. If foot pain can sideline a professional athlete with access to some of the best trainers and medical staff in the world, then it can happen to any of us.
This is the first in a series of posts where I’ll share some great advice and simple ways you can start taking care of your feet.
My Own Two Feet
A few years ago, I saw an orthopedist because of knee and hip pain. He was a knee specialist, and when he couldn’t find a specific problem with my knee, he referred me to his colleague, who specialized in foot issues. After meeting with the foot specialist, I was told that I’d need custom orthotics and would have to wear them for the rest of my life. He also recommended that I try my best to never walk barefoot again (!). At the time, I trusted him, so I went with it. Fortunately, I had people in my life who disagreed and insisted that there must be something else I can do.
Once I got to the point where I agreed with them, the first thing I did was change my footwear. My top priority became finding zero drop shoes that are wide enough for my entire foot and that give my toes plenty of wiggle room.
Zero Drop Shoes
Zero drop shoes keep your toes level with your heel, allowing your foot to maintain its natural position. Traditional athletic shoes tend to have thick cushioning, especially in the heel area. This is designed to absorb shock, but it ends up creating a steep incline toward the toe of the shoe. Wearing shoes with elevated heels force our feet into a forward-leaning position. Over time, this can lead to a variety of issues such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and shortened calf muscles. As Tristan points out, our feet are naturally strong and flexible; babies and young children typically have great mobility in their toes and feet. However, we eventually start putting our feet in shoes that don’t fit properly and end up acting more like casts. Our mobility becomes limited, which means that the muscles, tendons, and joints in our feet get tighter and more immobile. Zero drop shoes give our feet the chance to get back in their natural position and regain some of the strength and mobility that we’ve lost.
Benefits of Zero Drop Shoes
Natural Foot Alignment
Zero drop shoes promote a more natural alignment of the foot, which can help reduce the risk of injury. Wearing shoes with an elevated heel can lead to a shortened Achilles tendon and tight calf muscles, which can cause pain and discomfort.
Build Strength in Foot Muscles
Wearing zero drop shoes can help strengthen the muscles in your feet and calves. The flat sole forces you to use more of your foot muscles to stabilize yourself while walking or running.
Better Balance and Stability
Zero drop shoes offer a wider base of support, which can improve your balance and stability, especially when performing exercises that require a stable base.
(I used to stumble so much that I just thought I was naturally accident-prone. That ended once I switched to zero-drop shoes. So if you think you’re clumsy, it might just be your shoes.)
This one will be on the test 😉
Proprioception is your body’s ability to sense its position in space. Spatial awareness. Wearing zero drop shoes can improve your proprioception, as the flat sole allows for more sensory feedback from the ground.
This one simple change had a huge impact on my foot health. While the pain wasn’t eliminated for me, it was greatly diminished. It became more of a nuisance as opposed to what it was before, which was pain so great that I often cried and couldn’t stand for anything to touch the side of my foot.
Making the Switch to Zero Drop Shoes
Depending on what you’ve been wearing, you may need to transition into zero drop shoes. It’s important to transition slowly to avoid overuse injuries. Some people have started by wearing them one day on and one day off. You may want to start by wearing them for just an hour and then switching to your previous shoes. There’s no standard way, and it can take weeks to fully transition, so don’t rush it.
Finding Your Fit
OSI strongly believes in the benefits of zero drop shoes, so much so that they’ve partnered with Xero. Xero has you covered, no matter what you’re doing. They offer running shoes, boots, sandals, dress shoes. If you’re interested in checking them out, you can do that here.
There are other options as well. I, myself, mostly wear Lems. They have a variety of options, as does Vivobarefoot. If you’re looking for fully cushioned zero drop shoes, check out Altra.
While there are a lot of options, zero drop shoes aren’t for everyone, and they, alone, won’t resolve all foot issues. There are plenty of other things you can do to improve your foot health, and we’ll cover some of them over the course of this blog series, so stay tuned.