The Minimalist Shoe Fad

Have you ever owned a pair of minimalist shoes such as the Nike Free, Vibram toe shoes or another shoe brand offering a minimalist shoe? Chances are you have if you're into fitness. I've owned many versions of the minimalist shoe and like many people I am drawn to them because they are stylish with fun colors and they are light weight with the "fits like a glove on your foot" feel. 

Mainstream marketing has done an extraordinary job convincing the health and fitness population that style is more important than the less stylish shoe that fits properly to your individualized foot. There has been much debate over the minimalist shoe especially after Vibram's five finger toe shoes were sued for 3.75 million dollars over false claims of being a better shoe biomechanically, for everyone. The truth is, is that the minimalist shoe may be great for one person but detrimental to another foot. 

What is a minimalist shoe?

The theory behind the minimalist shoe is compelling.  The theory is that our ancestors ran for many years without shoes and therefore the anatomy of our foot is designed for the barefoot style running and not the contrary; to put our foot in a bulky shoe that can artificially alter our running mechanics.  A minimalist shoe promotes barefoot style running and in theory can help reduce the risk of injury and facilitate efficient, faster running. The reality is that most of us grew up wearing supportive, cushioned shoes and have not developed the power, flexibility and endurance in the muscles of the foot and ankle to suddenly change into a no support shoe. 

It's important to wear the right footwear whether your walking, running or going to work.  You may discover that you need different shoes for different types of physical activity. The smart thing to do is go get a gait analysis done at your local shoe store prior to your purchase. Although they may not look as in depth as a physical therapist or personal trainer, they will look into the following:

Foot Analysis

Used to determine foot length, foot width and arch height to get a general idea of the size, width, and style of shoe that may work best for you.
Shoe Analysis- If you currently are a runner/walker/exerciser, they will want to see your shoes to analyze internal and external wear patterns, which indicate how your foot fits and strikes in your current shoe.

Electronic Foot Scan

This is a static foot scan used to determine how weight is distributed along your feet. This provides a comprehensive analysis of whether you would benefit from the use of orthotics in your shoes.

Treadmill Analysis

With cameras focused on the back of the foot and leg, they can analyze your unique gait cycle by viewing a slow motion video of your gait. This will show whether your foot is pronated, neutral or supinated and what your ankle stability and flexibility is. 

From your gait analysis, you'll know what type of shoe works best for you. Whether it be a minimalist shoe with no arch support, a shoe with higher arch support or somewhere in between like a minimalist style shoe with a bigger sole for a cushioned, less impact feel. 

If you a have knee or hip injury or any discomfort, getting a physical therapist's opinion is important as they will look at the biomechanics of the entire leg up to the hip, not just the foot and ankle.

Don't wait to get this done, every time you wear your shoes you could be doing more damage than good to the musculature of your foot, ankle, knees and/or hips. Wearing a shoe that fits properly can help prevent an injury from happening down the road.