Plantar Fascitis? Knee Issues? Try Changing Your Workout Shoes

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist November 5, 2012

By Fitness Editor Paula Jager, CSCS

“A woman can never be too fit, too happy or have too many pairs of workout shoes” (Paula Jager – and you can quote me on that).

At our local dairy pick up a few weeks ago I noticed Sarah was wearing her pretty multi-colored Merrell’s and I asked her how she liked them.  “Love them” she said.  “Wear them all the time but I just can’t run in them”.  Really, why is that I asked?  “Just kills the back of my leg down by the Achilles”.  Yes, I knew exactly what she was talking about and silently chuckled to myself–from the sheer experience of it.

We are all so very different–biomechanically, in our fitness capacity and just overall structure.  Despite the differences I still believe that everyone should wear a barefoot or minimalist shoe for whatever the activity.  It’s the way nature intended us to be.  We’ve just gone against nature in this department for so long we’ve created issues and a cautious and gradual approach is what many of us need in order to correct the problems and imbalances we’ve created.

Sarah asked me to share my story transitioning to barefoot shoes as well as the experiences of a few of my clients.  I would say that 85% of my clients have converted over to a minimalist shoe.  Some have no trouble at all, some had to do it very gradually.

The main players in ease of transition are age and habits along with efficiency of running and conditioning.  Like anything else with bad habits, the damage is cumulative.  I got my first pair of Vibrams at age 50; I was/am a sprinter but had terrible running form for distance and was what is known as a “heel striker”.

Until that time I wore primarily Nike Shox (the worst) and other similar platform training shoes.  I ran in them, I lifted in them and had 18 pairs in various colors to match what I wore.  Being an all or nothing girl when I first learned of the barefoot idea I spun my typical 180.  First time I wore them I ran 800 m (that was taking it easy for me).  My feet and entire lower legs were so sore I could barely walk.  It took almost a full week to get back to normal.  I kept at it and eventually tore my calf.  After healing that through laying off it I was still determined that the barefoot shoes were the best thing for us.

I wore them all day all the time.  I got used to just walking and standing in them.  I then began to run 200-400 m 2-3 times a week in them being careful not to overdue it.  I allowed time for recovery.  Our box put together a team for Tough Mudder that year and I was determined to wear a minimalist shoe as they were deemed the best for the terrain.  Tough Mudder requires 11.5 miles of running, mind you I’d never run further than 4 miles in my entire life.  My Achilles and calves were so shortened from years of bad running form and the wrong shoes.

But it’s never too late to change–is it?

Using CF Endurance our training consisted of 3 runs a week (long intervals, short intervals and a long run on the weekend).  I wore my barefoot shoes for the short intervals, rowed the long intervals to allow for healing and wore a pair of Nike frees (I call them Tweeners) for the longer run until I built up some ability to handle the distances.  I included at least 20 to 30 minutes of mobility work and foam rolling after every run.  That worked well.  After a few months, I got rid of the Nike Frees and slowly began the longer runs with my barefoot shoes.  Four months later we ran the mudder and they were the best shoes I could have chosen.  I ran the entire 11.5 miles without any issues.

Could Improper Footwear Cause Knee Problems and Plantar Fascitis?

Fast forward to the present moment and I only wear barefoot shoes for everything.  I can run in them–long or short distances, jump in them and basically spend my entire day in them or the real thing–my bare feet.  Improvements?  You bet; my knee doesn’t hurt anymore when running.  I’ve had 2 meniscus surgeries and I am now convinced that improper footwear played a part in both injuries.  I have improved range of motion and overall function in lower legs and hamstrings which we all know the entire body is connected and that carries over to improvements in the entire spine.

My problem:  tight, shortened posterior legs, especially the lower.

Let’s take a look at some others. . .

Shaina/Tiffanie/Jesse:   ages 35/22/23.  All 3 are excellent and efficient runners.  They experienced minor calf soreness the first couple of weeks and after the first longer run.  With some intelligent training they adjusted very quickly and wear them exclusively now.

Sandy aka Spunky:  Age 59.  Long history of running and a good runner.  Said “heck no” to the Vibrams and went for the Nike Frees.  Overall smooth adjustment with some lower leg soreness initially.  Has run in them exclusively now for over 2 years and will not go back to the clunkers nor will she try anything less.  In her words “if it ain’t broke I’m not fixing it”.  And you wonder why we call her “Spunky”.

Ken:  Age 35 presented with plantar fascitis.  Good runner and fairly efficient.  We switched him to a very minimalist shoes and lots of rolling on the foot with a lacrosse ball.  Pain free now and running form improved even more.

Lucinda:  Age 37 “flat feet”. (Developed)  She first wore a shoe similar to the frees.  After adjusting to that we switched to a more minimalist shoe.   Her “flat feet” were a result of mistreating the feet by wearing improper shoes such as heels and wearing shoes with too much arch support like orthotics.  That led to weakened and atrophied muscles.  We had to strengthen her feet.  We encouraged her to spend as much time as possible barefoot.  She needed to learn to use her feet again.  We gave her exercises for toeing, pulling and grasping.  We also had her walking in the sand, pointing her toes and walking on the sides–all strengthening exercises.  She’s doing great no and guess what?  Her feet are no longer “flat”.

Greg and Denise:  Age 53 and 49.  They were overweight and sedentary.  They needed a very slow, gradual transition.  We started them with a minimalist shoe with a little bit of support and got them used to walking in them.  We encouraged going barefoot whenever they could. We implemented a consistent stretching and mobility protocol for them before and after every activity to correct imbalances.  After getting used to walking and losing some weight we started them on jog/walk routine.  They have become dedicated and disciplined people that really wanted to make health changes and were willing to do the work.  Not everyone is.

To sum it up; evaluate the reality of your situation–past and current fitness experience, any orthopedic concerns or limitations along with your goals and proceed with caution and gradual increases in volume.  There are many brands, degrees of minimalism and varieties out there.  Shop around, try them on, walk or run in them (many footwear stores have a treadmill you can use to see how they feel) and decide what is right for you at this time.  And remember the best way is usually the way nature intended.

. . .and what woman needs an excuse to go shopping?

 

Paula Jager CSCS and Level 1 CrossFit and CF Nutrition Certified is the owner of CrossFit Jaguar.

Her exercise and nutrition programs yield life changing results

www.crossfitjaguar.com

paula@jaguarfit.com

 

Comments (56)

  1. 2 Questions for all of you!

    1. Noisy Knees.
    I have always been barefoot at home and wear supportive running shoes to run. (Only 10-15 miles per week). A couple years ago I jumped on the barefoot bandwagon and started running in the equivalent of moccasins when I ran the steps at the stadium. Then my knees started making crunching noises when I go up stairs. No pain involved, but worrisome none the less. Six or more months ago my routine changed and I have been running on pavement with traditional running shoes. Knees are just as noisy. ???

    2. Broken Feet
    My “flat footed” daughters and son wear orthotics in their shoes. If they don’t they all have an ugly roll in and knee pain. My middle daughter has broken toe bones in the same region three times in the past 8 years. First time due to a fall onto a hard object. The second two “stress fractures” just from walking around, with her prescription orthotics during most times. She is normally barefoot at home. The third “fracture”, mystery pain, started while she was very active (ice skating, plus ballet and gym class at school). Too much stress on poorly aligned foot?

    A year later (4 doctors, physical therapy, xray, MRI, wearing a Cam boot 4 weeks, and lots of frustration) she is STILL experiencing random and regular pain in the same area as the first break. We are back to square one: a recommendation to get new orthotics and continue physical therapy.

    Does anyone have a similar story or ideas to contribute?

    Reply
  2. I am in my first weeks of pregnancy, what do you think about these for pregnant women? I was actually planning to get five fingers, because I have knee problems and hip alignment problems. I’ve worn new balance shoe 1225 for the last 6 years.
    thanks

    Reply
  3. I was curious if you ever thought of changing the layout of your blog?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way
    of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?
    playstation for free\’s last post: playstation for free

    Reply
  4. I have been wanting to “get into” running for a while. I have always had painful experiences with running, side stitches, shin splints, ext simply from being out of shape and overweight. I lost about 75 lbs through diet and exercise and since I was now under 200 I thought I could give running a shot again. I loved the idea of the freedom of running, no gym, just you, some music, and a road/trail. I bought some expensive running shoes and got HORRIBLE shin splints. I am talking about if you touched them for 2 days after a 45 minute run/walk I would literally cry. Since they were so bad a friend suggested I may even have a stress fracture so I visited my Dr. who said that the shin splints were from running on surfaces other than a treadmill. There went my dreams of the open road…. Then I started researching and thought I could give barefoot running a try. Shin splints gone THE VERY FIRST RUN. I will admit that I didn’t ease myself into them too slowly…I essentially started the Couch to 5K program over again in my new Vibrams. I now feel that running is totally in my grasp and love zipping around my gym in my weird “toe shoes” and getting funny looks from co-workers as I make my way out to my lunch time run.

    Reply
  5. My husband transitioned very successfully to the NB minimus (4mm drop) two years ago. Within weeks of wearing five fingers (0mm drop), he developed plantar fascitis. What gives?

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Plantar Fascitis? Knee Issues? Try Changing Your Workout Shoes | Weight Loss BlogWeight Loss Blog

  7. But I go barefoot all the time and I have Plantar Fascitis!!! I have had 4 babies, 3 of them very close together. I was on my feet practically all day every day for the last couple of pregnancies. I experienced foot swelling, very sore back, and foot pain. After I had my 4th, I started having heel pain in my left foot that has escalated over the past 4 months. It’s getting very painful. I exercise barefoot 6x/week (started exercising after the pain started). I’m not sure what will help at this point. I’ve been told to start wearing shoes indoors with insoles in them…

    Reply
  8. the nike free is about what i got for preo shoes but they were at walmart by that exerise comp that they sell stuff for, for $10. I love those and choose them over my standard sneaks often. and i love flip flops. so wonder if i would have much trouble adjusting to bear?

    Reply
  9. I found these type at Target for babes just starting to walk and up. When my now 5 m old reaches age to walk and is doing so outside, I will go get the ones that fit her and start her out right.

    Reply
  10. I know someone who does tradefairs – she changes her shoes everyday.

    My husband’s a runner and throws out his shoes about every thousand miles.

    Reply
  11. Pingback: Plantar Fascitis? Knee Issues? – The Healthy Home Economist « ykomupaceg

  12. ( : David'sKate : ) November 6, 2012 at 1:44 am

    I was curious to hear how flip-flops play into the whole minimalist shoe ideology.
    My husband was born and raised on a tropical island and wears flip-flops 99.9% of the time. He teases that his feet are “claustrophobic”. He is miserable if he’s in closed shoes for more than a couple of hours. Are flip-flops healthy for your feet? Should we look for totally flat ones or would some with a little arch “support” be good?

    Reply
    • I wear flip flops a lot in the summer. Personally I prefer the totally flat ones–unless I just want to be “cute” for an hour or two when going out:)

      Reply
  13. Hi Paula

    thanks for the great article

    I am wondering , I have an 8 year old who a few years ago after reading about barefoot benefits switched his shoes to nike frees. He plays and runs alot and lately been complaining of sore ankles. I took him to a podiatrist who said he is VERY flat footed and needs a shoe to support him or I will damage him permanently. My eldest daughter is also quite flatfooted. My question is if you are naturally flat footed are you better with a supporting shoe as I went with the nikes frees however they did not seem to work for him however his new supporting shoes seem to help him.

    Thanks again

    Reply
  14. Pingback: Plantar Fascitis? Knee Issues? Try Changing Your Workout Shoes | CookingPlanet

  15. I spent my late elementary/jr high living in keds. About the time I started growing, my feet began to hurt. If I stood still very long my feet would be uncomfortable and my knees felt stiff. I cheered in for 6 years and I had issues standing on the hardwood floors. It seemed like during the second game my knees would ache. I didn’t have this problem during football season, only basketball. I was wearing cowboy boots otherwise.
    I continued to wear boots through college and quite cheering, I blamed my foot problems on walking on concrete sidewalks. I’d always lived on a farm, so most of my time was spent on turf up until then. I describe the feeling as being heavy on my feet, although I’m a small person.
    Now I’m 34 and farm and work for a public utility. I wear Doc Martin work boots or Muck Boots and I avoid standing if I’m not actively moving around. I wear socks in the house, but if I’m going to be on my feet (cooking or canning) I wear tennis shoes. Any suggestions? I need a rugged shoe that will stand up to manure, briars, water, and look conventional. I don’t think the guys would let the 5 finger toe shoes go without giving me a hard time! Thanks.

    Reply
  16. Amen sister! It is wonderful to hear you explain this so well! Not surprising though since you hit everything pretty dead on. I am an anatomist and Pilates teacher trainer and this is exactly what I teach. The mainstream teaching of needing more arch support simply sells more shoes and makes the feet worse! There are actually exercises and apparatus in the Pilates repertoire that lift and restore the arches so that this transition to bare feet is easier for those with problems. We treat tons of plantar fascitis, IT syndrome (which causes the bad knees), low back pain and much more with great success by working the muscles in the feet.

    Reply
  17. What about shoes for work? I can get away with fairly casual clogs/loafers/flats, but not Vibrams. Hate heels and have never worn them. I’ve been trying on shoes for close to a month and can’t find any that are truly comfortable. Anyone have any suggestions?

    Reply
  18. I have two pairs of the Merrell pacegloves and one pair of vibrams. I love them! I have pretty much always had foot and spinal problems. I’ve never thought of myself as a runner but last Saturday I did my first 5k in the vibrams and it was awesome! I love how well my feet could grip the ground and I could run more quickly with less effort than those banging away on thick rubber soles. My feet have adjusted well and are much stronger too. They no longer hurt when I am barefoot!

    Reply
  19. I’m not a runner or anything, first of all. But I totally think we’re onto something when we try to transition OUT of “shoes” and into more natural “footwear” or going barefoot.

    I joined the barefoot movement this past March 2012. After doing lots of research and comparisons, I decided Five Fingers weren’t the best choice for me, and I latched onto Invisible Shoes (which I believe are getting a name change soon). You can find them now at invisibleshoe . com (no “s” at the end). [I don't work for them or know anyone who does...]

    The transition has been LONG and slow. The exercises suggested on Vibram’s site are definitely helpful. I did experience some pain, but I probably pushed too hard. Once I began wearing my invisible shoes, I just couldn’t bring myself to wear ANY of my other shoes… ever again. Now it’s November and cold in Ohio. Still wearing them, but now with wool socks. Not sure what I’m going to do once it snows. But there’s no way I can wear “shoes” again. The feet change, and wearing “shoes” is now oh so awkward. :D

    Reply
  20. Thank you for the useful information. I used to run before autoimmune conditions made me bedridden. As I heal, I’ve started exercising again, although I haven’t progressed to running. After a period of not even being able to sit up for more than a few minutes a day, I’m pretty excited to have mastered the brisk walk. I had a dozen pairs of running shoes (Nike’s etc.), but now I’m interested in trying something better. I did have plantar fasciitis and knee pain, but thyroid hormones eliminated those like magic.

    There’s a Crossfit studio nearby. What is Crossfit?

    Reply
    • My husband has terrible plantar fasciitis. I never considered thyroid hormones but his hands and feet are always cold and thyroid trouble runs in his family. Of course, when the dr checks his thyroid function they say it normal. How in the world would we proceed with getting hormones for this to see if it helps his foot pain. Also has tendonitisis in elbow .

      Reply
    • CrossFit is functional exercise, randomly varied and performed at high intensities. The “intensity” can be scaled appropriately relative to the individual’s fitness level. I would check it out–make sure you let the owner/coach know of your existing health challenges. If you are new to it I would suggest private sessions to learn the movements and progress at a level that would support healing for your particular situations.

      Paramount to your success will be strict adherence to an autoimmune protocol diet.
      Paula\’s last post: November 5, 2012

      Reply
      • Paula- you recommend strict adherence to an autoimmune protocol diet. I also have autoimmune disease, been paleo for over 3 years – would you recommend the paleo autoimmune protocol ( paleo minus eggs, nuts and nightshades) or is there another that one should look into? Thx

        Reply
        • That’s it MaryCay! Some people have been able to add back in some of the “good” foods such as eggs, nuts, nightshades and raw dairy (which is not Paleo but Primal) after being off for awhile and then adding back in one at a time over at least a 3 day period and observe symptoms/reactions. Depends on individual intolerances, health of the gut and many other factors.

          Reply
  21. I’m confused about brands, options, which are minimalist, “barefoot” which to use for what. Is there an online resource? I tried to order a few from zappos and got poor fit.

    (REALLY important to stress gradual transition. I know a podiatrist who says his whole business could consist of people who just up & went running in the 5-fingers and broke a foot bone.)

    Reply
    • I too am confused about what I should get and hate to buy and make a mistake.
      I have a bad lower back started from a skating fall in my late 20′s, but then agravated over many years from all kinds of sports. I still love sports and exercise but must be very careful about the back and go to my Chiro regularly. Any recommendations to get started?

      Reply
    • I don’t have a recommendation for a particular brand. But zappos.com has a 1 year return policy, and free shipping/returns. They also have a broader selection than you’ll find at most stores.

      Reply
    • As usual when something “new” and effective hits the market every manufacturer jumps on the bandwagon. Unless you have successfully used the brand I would not order online but visit a store that carries various brands of athletic minimalist shoes. You can talk with the salesperson as well as try on several brands. Some stores even have a treadmill which will allow you to get a feel for them.

      “Minimalist” is a more general term referring to the graduated degrees of support to those that are similar to being barefoot.
      Paula\’s last post: November 5, 2012

      Reply
  22. About 14 yrs ago I developed plantars fasciatis to the point my podiatrist said my only solution was surgery, unless I took a year to heal them, which I did. Yet I could still barely walk, let alone run, for years, and forget standing at a party or in a long line. And even with orthotics I had a lot of trouble with pain. Then another health situation arose in my life and I started going to an acupunturist for that and lo and behold my plantars fasciatis disappeared! When I asked her why she said that in Chinese medicine plantars fasciatis is actually an indication of weak kidneys and when you strengthen the 5 major internal organs according to Chinese medicine ways that many things go away. I no longer go to the acupunturist, and for several years now I have been able to walk barefoot again, to wear any shoe without trying to cram my orthotics into them, to stand for hours if need be, without any pain or discomfort of any kind. In fact I no longer need my orthotics! So while getting a new pair of running shoes can be really helpful, why not also try to find ways to strengthen your kidney meridians as well.

    Reply
  23. I learned that lesson years ago when I walked a 12 mile mail route daily for my job. I also ran in the evenings and worked out so I learned really fast the benefit to having the proper shoes for each of my various activities. That is also when I tossed out the high heeled shoes I used to wear. LOL!

    Reply
  24. I used to have constant knee pain. Then I started wearing Merrill’s barefoot minimalist shoes – the pace trainer for walking and the maryjane for everyday (I believe it’s also considered a trainer, but it’s a really cute shoe). I no longer have knee pain and can wear other shoes for every day stuff. I still change to the barefoot if I’m going to be on my feet a lot or going on long walks.

    Reply
    • Tanya Caporaletti November 2, 2013 at 6:47 am

      The exact same thing happened to me. After cheering for 12 years, my knees were shot. I started running two years ago and decided to try the Merrill Pace Glove. They are all I wear now, and I have no knee pain whatsoever!. :)

      Reply

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