There is much talk these days about the use of minimalist shoes. Should we use them? Should we not? The idea behind the minimalist shoe (MS) stems from the thought that barefoot is best for our feet. When a baby is born, their developing foot is given all it needs to develop and grow into a stable, flexible base of support for our body. If this baby foot was allowed to grow and develop barefoot on its own, adapting to the terrain of its environment, learning how to navigate rocks, hills and bumps, ideally it should adapt and grow to be a strong flexible adult barefoot. The muscles and ligaments inside the foot and around the foot grow strong yet flexible. This is the case in many indigenous countries around the world. Perfect to place in a minimalist shoe and be off for a run!

The problem lies in the North American environment the foot grows up in. In our world of ceramic tiling, hardwood floors, paved driveways, asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks, even the bare foot does not learn to develop and walk/run over uneven terrain. We then place a stable and heavy shoe around that foot and do not allow it to develop as it should. We often end up as adults with sore arches, dropped metatarsals, weak ligaments and non-toned muscles. For these people, often I am placing a custom foot orthotic in their shoe to retrain the foot into a “less flat” arch and proper position.

In come minimalist shoes. Where do they fit in? The idea of this type of shoe is to train our foot to walk as though it is barefoot while still protecting our sensitive soles. A great idea. So why are there recent studies showing bone edema (swelling) in the bones of the foot and why am I seeing injuries such as tendinitis, stress fractures and bursitis in my practice after use of minimalist shoes?

The problem is not with the minimalist shoe or the idea of this type of shoe, the problem is with the user. Or more accurately the vulnerability of the average user to the marketing put out by MS shoe companies. If we take an adult foot that has been walking on hard ground in a stable hard supporting shoe for years and put it in an MS without proper guidance or training, we end up with the above problems to name a few. For example, if you are running 5- 10km in a non-minimalist shoe and you have never worn anything different; to switch to a minimalist shoe and go out for your 5-10km run as usual for the next week may be detrimental to your ligaments, muscles and bone. However, by using the MS as a training tool for your feet and by working up to longer and longer uses of the MS, you can start to retrain the foot into regaining the strength and flexibility it has long been missing.

Minimalist shoes can be a great addition to your indoor training program with activities such as jumping, squatting, side to side work, stretching etc. They can also be a great tool for the runner and athlete with a goal of more consistent use as your foot retrains. Mild bone edema and muscle soreness in appropriate amounts can be an indicator of your body responding to the training and building strength. Many can enjoy the great benefits of running/exercising using an MS when used properly. I highly recommend working with a knowledgeable personal trainer when switching to minimalist shoes as you look to retrain your foot, balance and control.

Guidelines for Minimalist Shoes

Use caution if:

  • You are overweight
  • You are new to an exercise program
  • You have been walking on hard surfaces for years
  • You have plantar fasciitis or severe pronation (dropped arches)
  • Always work with a trainer when breaking in a minimalist shoe
  • Use as a training tool not as an everyday shoe at first
  • Discontinue use and rest if you experience any foot pain, ankle pain, knee pain before trying your minimalist shoes again
  • Consult your chiropractor and personal trainer to see if minimalist shoes are right for you

Blog Post by:

Dr. Cheryl van der Mark B.Sc., D.C., F.I.C.P.A

Chiropractor and Clinic Director

Waterdown Village Chiropractic Group