Copyright XKCD, by Randall Munroe.

Seeing With Your Feet

Do barefoot shoes reduce injuries or create them? The data is mixed. Here are 5 principles in support of a minimal footwear.

Barefoot shoes have been mocked as a paleo fad, with detractors turned off by toe-shoe-wearing non-conformists. But the basic idea behind a minimalist shoe is sound: you can have all the benefits of going barefoot — walking the way we evolved to walk — while protecting your feet from dirty streets and broken glass.

The Five Principles of Minimalist Shoes

1. It’s not all about the shoes.

The world’s oldest known leather shoe. Photo courtesy of Gregory Areshian.

Thick soles and cushioning go against the natural method of walking, honed by millions of years of evolution… The main principle behind barefoot shoes is simple: the foot is a marvel of evolution, containing 200,000 nerves and 26 bones.

3. Your foot nerves help you “see” the ground, like a dolphin “sees” with sonar.

What are some good minimalist shoes?

The worst thing you can do is try to insulate your feet from any discomfort.

For the non-conformists, there’s TOD’s tan leather Moccasins, and Xero sandals. Freet are affordable, and like all barefoot shoes they offer “freedom for your feet.” Vibram’s FiveFingers and Sockwas (slogan: “Free Your Sole”) are the most odd-looking, but provide the most feedback short of going barefoot.

Vivo Barefoot makes normal looking shoes; while they’re not cheap, they will outlast most regular shoes.

A Note on the Transition: Go Gradually, and Let the Ground Teach You to Walk and Run Properly

These principles illustrate how minimalist shoes prevent injuries from developing and promote better walking form over time. However, The New York Times highlighted some credible studies back in 2011 suggesting that people with significant injuries, weak arches, or poor walking form might make their injuries worse by switching over whole hog. These studies usually look at people who did not transition gradually. Giving up the cushion means less protection as your foot muscles and ankle joints are gaining strength, but if you don’t have injuries in the first place, then the protection will only be more likely to lead to injuries over time.

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