Since you’ve worked so hard to heal your chronic pain by making longer, stronger, more supple muscles and connective tissue, let’s make sure you never again regress into plantar fasciitis hell! Today I’ll detail how to transition gradually and sensibly toward a more barefoot/minimalist lifestyle—and what types of shoes will interference the least in that process (when you have to wear them).
As you increase your barefoot competency, you’ll reduce the risk of chronic pain and injury to your feet and throughout your lower extremities. You’ll also improve your technique (in running and other sports) as well as your balance, explosiveness, speed, endurance, and kinesthetic awareness when doing all manner of physical activity. Yep, bare feet are functionally superior and more comfortable than shoes in most every way—except when you need the support and protection of shoes for specialized physical endeavors that could easily injure exposed feet.
Why and How To Transition To a Barefoot Lifestyle
While I don’t have concrete proof at my fingertips, I’m going to make the bold proclamation that Grok did not suffer from plantar fasciitis. Our ancestors walked, hiked, sprinted, and even ran long distances over assorted natural terrain for 2.5 million years using bare feet, or rudimentary sandals or moccasins. A shoe-dominant lifestyle came into play only as recently as the Industrial Revolution. The epidemic chronic foot pain and assorted conditions suffered by modern humans are strongly influenced by spending a lifetime in cushiony, constrictive footwear with an elevated heel. Modern footwear weakens your lower extremities, messes up the synchronistic functioning of your entire musculoskeletal system and central nervous system, compromises correct posture, and makes you vastly susceptible to injury, dysfunction, and chronic pain.
You may be aware of some backlash in the minimalist footwear movement in recent years, as naysayers caution about the increased risk of injury with bare feet or “flimsy” shoes. As misguided as these negative claims are, it’s reasonable to gracefully acknowledge the inherent injury risk of being foolish when transitioning to more barefoot experiences and to learn how to do it the right way. Accordingly, here are some tips for making a safe and comfortable transition:
Do the stretches and mobility exercises mentioned in the How To Cure Plantar Fasciitis regularly. Consider adding some barefoot strengthening exercises, such as those listed in my awesome eBook, Amazing Feets. (Check the end of this post for how to get yourself a copy.) If you just start by making aggressive circles with your feet while watching T.V., you are in business here.
Try to spend as much time as possible barefoot around the house (or in stocking feet if you need warmth)
For runners: complete your training sessions in your typical shoes, then jog on grass or other soft surface for a few minutes at the end of each run.
For workers on feet: If you have to wear orthotics to make it through your nursing shift, pair that with some barefoot time around the house after work.
Suggestions For Minimalist Footwear
Acquire a pair of minimalist shoes that you will integrate into daily life here and there. Here are some athletic shoe models, listed in order of progression from most support to most barefoot-like: Nike Free’s (flexible sole, but well-built on top), New Balance Minimus (minimal heel elevation, but well built on top), Merrell Trail Glove (fits your foot like a glove, with little or no heel elevation, but a full toe box and good support for trail running), Luna Sandals (inspired by our ancestors, and invented by the irrepressible Barefoot Ted McDonald), Vibram Five Fingers (the ultimate barefoot experience with the independent toe operation; today there are many similar brands).
Choose the lowest heel elevation option for your dress shoes, leisure shoes, and athletic shoes. For women who are accustomed to wearing heels, any reduction in heel height will make a difference, but ideally you’ll move to flats. Guys, this might mean choosing a different dress shoe that looks the same, but with less heel. Elevated heels promote shorter, weaker, Achilles tendons and calf muscles, unwinding all the hard work you did stretching and mobilizing.
Over time, strive to make progress. Start using minimalist shoes during strength training sessions at the gym. Progress through the footwear options to the least support. Reject the “shoe mileage” ethos and keep your shoes until they are battered and worn down to the bare minimum!
Finally, please employ the tips in the proper context of your personal situation. Your barefoot efforts should feel great and should be free from any sort of pain and suffering. If you experience next day muscle tightness after jogging a mile on the grass, work through it with stretches and drills, and expect improvement and increased resiliency over time. If you’re hobbled and inflamed after spending a full or half shift in your fancy new minimalist shoes, dial it back to a goal of one hour in the minimal gear and the rest in regular.
Even if you follow all the guidelines well, realize that your decades of using cushiony, elevated shoes has generated significant atrophy in your lower extremities. Consequently, you’ll have a moderate to significant risk of injury during your transition. If you have to retreat here and there from an aggressive strategy, don’t be discouraged. As with transitioning from carb dependency to becoming fat- and keto-adapted, everything that happens can be a positive learning experience—even an indulgence followed by a recalibration.
Check out this video for more about minimalist shoe wear and how they support long-term plantar fasciitis recovery (as well as general foot health).
Let’s hear from you? How has your healing process for plantar fasciitis gone? What shoes have you settled on, and how has barefooting made a difference in your recovery? Thanks for reading today. (And if you’re interested in learning more about a barefoot lifestyle, take advantage of the special offer to download the “Amazing Feets Ebook” for free on my website.)
Brad is a New York Times bestselling co-author (with Mark!) of The Keto Reset Diet, hosts the B.rad podcast, is a Guinness World Record holder in Speedgolf, the #1 ranked US masters age 55-59 high jumper in 2020, and a former U.S. national champion and #3 world-ranked professional triathlete. Visit BradKearns.com to connect with Brad.