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I'm on my feet a lot. Between my walking goal of 100 miles a month and my obsessive love of hiking, my feet are, literally, put through their paces. Since I use my feet so much, I've been conscious about taking good care of them. This is even more true due to the fact that I have flat feet.
See, having flat feet has meant that I have a host of issues that stem from it, such as overpronation, Morton's Neuroma, lower back pain, and sciatic nerve issues. These last three, in particular, create problems when I hike or walk past a certain distance.
I was told by a few people that I would need "surgery" or "orthopedic footwear" and I thought, "Those are my only options?" I always strive to fix issues naturally whenever possible, and this time was no different. I started doing some research and came across minimalist footwear. The more I read about it, the more I learned. Minimalist footwear allows your feet to walk as if you're barefoot and allow your toes to spread out. The shoes I have been wearing for years to walk and hike in, in particular, have cushioned, raised soles, higher heels, and arch support that completely cradle my feet. While this sounds pretty great on the surface, what it really means is that I'm not standing flat-footed, ever, so my center of gravity was always off. On top of that, my feet were so flat that I had ZERO arches - hence the arch support in my shoes (and my socks!) and my supportive shoes didn't really allow my arch muscles to do anything. Well, the research showed me that if I wore minimalist shoes, that over time my arch would come back? Say what?! Yes, if you think about it, it makes sense. Think of it like this: if you work out your arm muscles, they get big and strong, and if you quit working out your arm muscles, they go back to being weaker. So, if I wore shoes with no support and allowed my arch muscles to actually do the job they were intended for, then they should come back. Right?
In July of last year, I decided to give the minimalist shoes a try. I started off with this pair of sandals. Flat as hell with no support and a paper-thin sole. Every tiny pebble I walked on hurt my feet. It was a hard, sometimes painful, adjustment but I was determined to fix my feet.
I wish I had taken a close-up of my feet, but this picture shows me the first time in these shoes. You can tell that my feet are flat. They are squished to the ground like a pancake and my toes are all pointing inward from years of tapered shoes. It didn't take long for me to get a pair of minimalist tennis shoes and hiking boots as well.
These are my feet six months later. You can see how big of a difference there is between the two photos. My feet are defined and muscular, and you can see how I have some arches again! My toes are also more spread out, as they were when I was born. My son even commented, "Mom, your feet have arches!" I can definitely feel it now when I go hiking as I can do several miles and not have the usual issues pop up. Of course, I have yet to do a hike longer than 5 miles since this last photo was taken. I've also noticed that when I stop on rocks and things, it doesn't bother my feet as much, so my soles have gotten tougher.
I now own several kinds of minimalist shoes for every occasion. I'll take pictures of my feet a year in so you can see how much of a difference there may be and I'll keep you posted on how well I can do major hikes. I still support the idea of wearing proper shoes...it's just that now the kind of shoe is different.
If you're interested in trying out minimalist, zero-drop shoes for yourself, I highly recommend Xero Shoes. Start gradually and work your way up, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.