Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Minimalist shoes

Well, I had planned to start this blog some time from now, when the really big experiment begins, but I found out today that "it is required to have a blog" for my current experiment:

Seriously, these are the people I have been hanging out with online lately. No, I don't eat Paleo, nor do I have stinky toe shoes, nor am I adding Barefoot to my name. (But they really do sound just like this.)  What I have done, is put my sneakers away in the coat closet, and my body feels really good about it. I guess I'm still on the shoe addiction recovery program. I'm weaning myself off slowly rather than going cold turkey. I first moved from sneakers to dress flats to get off arch support, padding, and heels, but my toes were still cramped which hurt my feet.  My latest improvement has been these:

These moccasins were hand stitched by me, based very loosely on an Ojibway pattern.  I really should have followed the pattern more exactly.  It turns out I don't know more about shoes than hundreds of years of native Americans.  The tie comes across where nerves and blood vessels are close to the surface, where the original is tied up around the ankle where your muscles support it well.  I have to keep the tied just tight enough, and am grateful I picked a stretchy material for the ties.  Other than that, the only trouble I've had with them is waterproofing.  I can walk around in snow well, but slush seeps through and makes the leather dye run into my socks.  It's not cold, it's like a wet suit in there when they're wet: still insulated, just damp (and slightly worrisome as the temps will keep dropping for another two months.)  I'm continuing waterproofing treatments on them, they may improve, but I'm not holding my breath until I get real rubber soles.  Overall I think it is successful as a first effort, and I hope to do better with more complex, more fashionable, more winter-worthy homemade shoes in the future.  I may have paid as much as Barefoot Steve for my shoes, but I still have a pile of deer hide here to make as many pairs as it is reasonable for one person to have.

Well, there's a minor hip oddness that runs in the family, which may or may not be related to a genetic hip condition that also runs in the family.  When I was a kid my pediatrician said we'd keep an eye on it, and then it didn't really come up again.  In high school I had an injury in the other leg, throwing my gait further off balance, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and I started to pack on the pounds.  Fibromyalgia patients come to expect pain as a way of life, and ignore chronic pains, but I found at some point in college that when I got a new pair of shoes the pain in my hip went away.  In about six months, the pain would return as the shoe wore out.  I began the patten of buying the same shoes every 6 months to keep my hip pain in check.

10 years later, I had a bit of a crisis.  I was in pain again and limped into the sports store for my new shoes.  I tried them on, I bought them, and I felt great for a week, then the pain returned.  Rotating between shoes seemed to help, but every day I was getting up and checking that I wasn't wearing the shoes I wore the day before.  The previous old pair didn't even show the wear pattern that I thought was the cause of the 6-month problem, so it seemed I had two good pairs of shoes that could not solve my hip pain.

At my sister's wedding, I put aside the supportive shoes for occasion appropriate ballet flats.  At the end of the day, my feet didn't just hurt, they were cramping up, like any other muscle massively overworked.  I was trying to move the car around and my toes were just curling under trying to relieve the pressure on my arches. That experience somehow jelled together the things I'd heard about those odd barefoot running people, and next time my hip hurt, I got those ballet flats back out.  By the end of the day, my feet hurt, but my hip was fine.  An the next day my hip was fine in ballet flats, and the next...  Even a few hours of putting my old sneakers on now bothers my hip.  I'm actually kinda used to it not hurting now and notice when I'm mistreating it.  I've been wearing the moccasins mostly full time this week.  I do throw on conventional shoes occasionally to shovel the driveway, walk across a slushy parking lot, work in the biohazard lab, or to support my arches when walking more than I've conditioned my feet for, but I'm working towards the goal of wearing minimalist shoes full time.

My hypotheses:

  • God made my feet to hold me up, and is a better designer than the guys working for Asics.
  • The only way to strengthen my feet is to stop relying on external support for them.
  • If I strengthen my feet, I will stop feeling the need for arch support.
  • If I learn to walk in a way that protects my feet rather than relying on external protection, I will reduce heel pain.
  • If I have my feet in proper alignment, this good alignment will carry up the body and reduce hip pain.
  • If I feel better I will be able to be more regularly active, which is good for my fibromyalgia and overall health.
  • Being more regularly active will feed back to the beginning of this loop, making my feet stronger and better able to take mild increases in activity.
The Test:
  • In June of 2011, when I'd normally be buying another pair of sneakers:
    • Will I still be wearing these or other minimalist shoes?
    • Will I have hip, knee, arch, or heel pain?
    • Will I be able to increase my activity level without putting on arch supports?
    • Will my other fibromyalgia symptoms decline when I reduce this alignment stress on my body?
    • Will I be able and willing to walk the dog all the way around the block at least once a week instead of just walking him in the yard all the time?