After wearing medically-prescribed orthotics and expensive stability shoes for over 35 years, I have healed my feet and now prefer to live barefoot or in minimalist shoes. I never imagined that I would be able to write such a statement. I assumed my “flat feet” and pain were permanent. I was told they were by numerous doctors and convinced by DECADES of agony and dysfunction. But…
They were wrong. I was wrong.
This fascinating and wonderful revelation comes as yet another perk from my overall healing of a lifetime of chronic pain and illness. That is a long story and can be found partially HERE and also in my upcoming book. The short version is this:
I spent decades with underlying Lyme disease and a cascade of autoimmune conditions which developed as a result. Without a correct diagnosis and with no assistance from medical doctors, I reached a point of desperation and embraced radical lifestyle changes.
I eliminated all inflammatory foods, body products, and household cleaners and watched the seemingly miraculous unfold in my life. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have severe pain in my feet and lower body. But I was still dependent on my stability footwear. I didn’t realize that my restrictive shoes and orthotics had prevented my feet and ankles from developing strength and balance. Decades of misuse and lack of use had stunted that development and I had no memory of things being different. So I continued to view my lower appendages as an unfortunate but permanent liability.
CHANGING MY LIFESTYLE TO CHANGE MY FEET
A few years later, after seeking further help from functional medicine doctors and finally receiving correct diagnosis’, I made even more changes to my lifestyle and and nutrition. I read more about good posture, healthy movement, and gait. And for the first time, I wondered if it was possible to set aside my expensive orthotics.
It was just a minor thought but I started to go barefoot more around the house and do little exercises for my feet here and there. I thought I was really getting wild and crazy when I went barefoot to exercise in my living for the first time. Prior to that, I would not even do vigorous stretching without my footwear.
It was a slow and incremental process. I felt weak and sore when I went without my shoes. And insecure and uncomfortable with shoes but without inserts. Such a silly thing…but the memory of so many years of pain and injury dies hard and the process is slow. It was not weeks but many months which slipped into a solid year.
A few years ago, my podiatrist told me that my running days were over and he sent me home with a walking boot to help ease my pain. Yesterday, I went for an 8-mile hike in the woods with my husband… in minimalist shoes. My feet were tired and sore but only in a normal way. And when I awakened in the morning and wondered if my feet would be on fire… well… they weren’t.
Is it possible that I could run again? Is it possible that my old shoes were actually damaging my body? I read more and found evidence that it was certainly possible. I also found evidence that suggested that my shoes were actually a contributing factor to the neuropathy in my feet. For the thousandth time in this incredible journey of healing, I felt hope rise.
Once a week, my family leaves me to myself in the house and I get some things done in the silence and I do a wonderful and free workout without anyone watching (difficult to do normally with my house full of people!). During that time is when I have tentatively expanded my barefoot strength. A little dancing. A little jumping. A little lateral work. And then… a little more.
Quite frankly, the transformation has been almost unbelievable.
FROM FLAT FEET TO BALLERINA FEET
It rained this morning and I stepped outside to catch a few drops. My feet went through the puddles and then back onto the dry stone porch. I looked down briefly at a dragonfly and saw a footprint. Mine. Pictured at the top of this article. With an arch that I’ve never had in my life.
Instead of a flat pancake of a print…I had an arch. And nothing I could do would flatten it to the stone. I sat down and examined my foot and wondered what ballerina had switched feet with me in my sleep. I’m sure no one else would compare my feet to a dancer’s but I was quite taken with my beautiful firm arch.
Miraculous…but not. Because our greatest healing often comes when we align our actions to the biological design of our bodies. Once my pain was managed, I started to feel my feet again. Once I felt my feet again, I was able to properly care for them. I’m sure a gait specialist could look at my footprint and tell me how much dysfunction still remains. But I’m on my way.
NEW SHOES…NEW LIFE
My favorite pair of shoes is now a minimalist sandal from Xero Shoes and I’m gradually transitioning all of my foot gear to friendlier fashions. (That’s a very happily shared affiliate link, by the way. So if you purchase your own, I do benefit.) I will be buying my first pair of barefoot boots with them this coming month since I live in the Northeast and I’m excited to experience my first “barefoot” winter.
I used to feel such relief when I would put on a pair of stable shoes after walking barefoot. My feet were weak and had been trained to need that support. Now, I feel relief when I take my shoes off or use a minimalist shoe. The difference is amazing and I thank God for this shift in understanding which has led to healing.
I realize this article is a much simplified version of my overall story, but the path to healing is quite simple. Not easy, but simple. The difficulty is found in the daily decisions which ultimately lead to a recovering and strong body. To heal my feet, I did three things:
Managed my pain and swelling through an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle
Strengthened my feet and ankles and slowly weaned off of my restrictive support
Introduced footwear (or went barefoot) to maintain a healthy gait
Those steps are simple. It is the small decisions not to drink the daily can of soda or to eat non-nutritious, inflammatory foods which derail us. It is the choice to buy the cute work shoes over the less-preferred style. And the hours at a desk without movement. But the effort to interfere with our dysfunction is worth it. It’s all worth it. Even if you aren't willing or able to make the major changes that I’ve made, I know that every little bit helps.
If you want to restore the health of your feet, start by taking off the narrow restrictive shoes and stretching them. Imagine that it’s possible. Then maybe eat a healthy meal…and start walking.