Minimalist Shoes

What defines a minimalist shoe and does it facilitate a more ‘natural’ way of running?

As with any other category of footwear, there is no strict criteria to define a minimalist shoe. Generally, they have less of everything — less weight, less cushioning and less structure than conventional running shoes. To answer if they are more functional, it is important to distinguish the marketing from the science. Like other marketing campaigns the impression was made that these shoes are new and revolutionary.

On the contrary, it has long been known that humans move differently while shod versus barefoot. A history of minimalist commercial failures in the 1990’s also diminish the revolutionary claim. Manufacturers will often conflate research on barefoot running to make the case for their minimalist shoes, when the two are obviously not the same. Runners wearing conventional foot wear — including minimalist shoes — will usually strike the ground with their heel, while barefoot runners usually do not. Given this, it questions the benefit of wearing a shoe with less cushion and less support.

Still, they may create favourable gait changes for some while increasing the risk for new injuries in others. The impact forces of running do not disappear but are redistributed based on the foot wear you choose.

Buying Supportive Shoes

How do I know if my shoes are supportive?

Foot wear can be a significant factor associated with painful feet. The problems commonly seen in our office include shoes that are much too flexible and lack midfoot support. If you can bend your shoe so that the heel and toe touch together, your shoe lacks support. Other signs of supportive shoes are ones that have some torsional rigidity — if you can wring it out like a wash cloth, it may be time for an upgrade.

The heel of the shoe should be rigid enough that you can’t easily push it down. Flats are often comfortable but sometimes not supportive enough. A low profile orthotic device can be made to offset this. Lastly, shoes should be alternated daily to allow one pair to properly dry. If you can’t afford a new pair of shoes annually, spraying the inside with Lysol to clean them is a good idea.

How Orthotics Help Your Knees, Hips, and Back

Can functional foot orthotics reduce the pain in my knees, hips, and lower back?

It all depends on the make up of your lower extremity. Outer or inner knee pain may be caused by increased pressure in that area of the knee joint and functional foot orthotics can help realign you to alleviate that pressure.

The same applies to the hips and lower back. Flat feet and abnormal knee mechanics can cause poor posture when walking and place strain on your lower back. Functional foot orthotics must be made with a rigid or semi-rigid plastic polymer or graphite material to have any impact on your feet and knee mechanics. In other words, even if your feet were casted or molded, if the orthotic you receive can be easily folded or twisted  — that is, not rigid — it will not improve your alignment or mechanics.

Orthotics that are soft and malleable are known as accommodative orthotics and are essentially a soft landing for sufferers of neuropathy from diabetes or those who shuffle from Parkinson’s disease. Seeing your podiatrist will help you solve what is best for you.