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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 20 2018

Healing Plantar Fasciitis: Best Shoe Choices

By Brad Kearns
28 Comments

Good morning, folks. My friend and frequent co-author, Brad Kearns, is stopping by the blog today with a follow-up post to his recent article here, How to Cure Plantar Fasciitis. You can catch Brad on the Primal Endurance Podcast, his weekly keto show on the Primal Blueprint Podcast, and on his new personal podcast venture called Get Over Yourself. If you haven’t checked it out, I’d recommend it. I stopped by a while back for a two-hour show Brad ended up calling “The Ultimate Mark Sisson Interview.” Thanks to Brad for sharing his experience with plantar fasciitis in today’s post and accompanying video. Enjoy!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Try to spend as much time as possible barefoot around the house (or in stocking feet if you need warmth)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)

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28 thoughts on “Healing Plantar Fasciitis: Best Shoe Choices”

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  1. Thanks for the update Brad.

    Morning Warmth/Lounging: Softstar Roo Moc’s
    Workout/Sprint: Xero Prio’s and Softstar Dash Run Amocs
    Casual: many Vivobarefoot, Softstar and Xero
    Dressy: Softstar Chukkas and Vivobarefoot Handcut Series

    Gave away all my Five Fingers a couple years ago. Pain to put on and take off, especially with five finger socks when sweaty, and oh so very ugly. Always seemed to be between sizes. Too long or too tight. They are OK for water sports.

    1. I second the Vivobarefoot recommendations. They have a wide range of styles for different terrains and dress situations.

      I’ve hiked the Sierra Nevada’s in their Trackers, and I’ve been doing CrossFit in their Motus II shoes for a year now, and absolutely love them.

  2. Thanks Brad! I will make an effort to walk around the house without shoes as much as I can. If I knew then what I know now I would not have allowed podiatrists to talk me into encasing my feet in shoes with orthotics. I remember telling one podiatrist there were studies out there indicating walking in your bare feet was good for your feet, she got a horrified look on her face and admonished me to never do that. I do wear crocs a lot around the house and sometimes outdoors, but I’m sure they aren’t primal certified LOL.

  3. I work outdoors, in terrain that includes a lot of sharps, so I do need some level of protection. It rules out sandals, low-tops and the open fabrics so commonly used in running shoes these days.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    1. Vivobarefoot has a hiker called the Tracker FG that should fit your criteria. It’s leather and comes up higher on the ankle than any other barefoot shoe I’ve seen.

    2. I love my vivo-barefoot trackers but would not recommend for work. They are the flimsiest pair of boots i’ve ever owned, and I say this as a compliment because that’s what I love about them while backpacking, but they are not durable. I’ve had them repaired twice already, and there are probably less than 250 miles on them. I also own the non-leather hiking boot they make, i think it’s called the hiker, and while it doesn’t come up high, the material itself is much tougher. It’s my go-to for gardening. When I’m doing real work, i still have to resort to my steel-toed doc martens.

    3. The barefoot shoe brand Xero Shoes has a “sharp surfaces” insole for their shoes.

  4. There are a couple categories of patients that should not be walking barefoot: diabetics with neuropathy (if you can’t feel your feet you shouldn’t be walking barefoot because you may step on something and not know it), and people with end stage flatfoot (they can roll over so far they will eventually walk on their ankle bones).

  5. I love my Vibram Five Fingers…I now have 5 pair, my newest favourites being the Alitza Loop. I have hiked the Canadian Rockies, cycled 2 months in Europe, sailed the Salish Sea, and never missed a step. Of course, when I am at home and in my garden I am always barefoot, except in the dead of a Canadian Winter when Manitobah Mukluks are my choice for that “barefoot” feel without getting frostbitten toes!

  6. Surprised not to see Xero Shoes listed here. They are very very close to being barefoot, especially if you get the 4mm do it yourself ones, and now they have so many different styles that look like regular shoes but are very minimal soles, no heel drop, super flexible, and always wide toe boxes. They’re really great shoes and way more affordable than other minimalist shoes (DIY ones are <$25). Just wanted to put that out there as another (really great) option. 🙂

    1. I totally agree Tiffany. I second your emotion! I started running in Xero Prios a couple months ago. Now feel like I have freed my feet and soles…I feel a new spring in my step as my feet get stronger.

  7. I had excruciating plantar fasciitis when going through a rigorous course in the military. In the evening I would wear Birkenstock sandals with socks.

    An absolute life saver. Cured the plantar fasciitis in weeks and that was despite not being able to wear them during the day! I have never experienced a recurrence.

    I swear by those ugly things.

  8. I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and heels spurs and the podiatrist convinced me cortisone injections were the answer. He injected my right foot first and the shot was so painful I refused to let him anywhere near my left. I went home and got online and tried a castor oil treatment on the left side. I did it one time and never had pain again.

    I am barefoot on tile floors at home but I work 4 days a week and wear various types of stylish flats. I also wear high heels a couple of times a month. I don’t often wear sneakers but when I do I wear Chuck Taylors for casual wear or super-cushy Nikes for anything sporty. It’s my personal decision not to wear hideous health shoes and I figure the amount of time I spent barefoot at home balances out the few hours I do spend in shoes but really what has made the most difference is castor oil.

  9. I used to work in restaurants, carrying weight all day on hard flooring. I successfully transitioned to a full-fat barefoot setup (wide toe box, no heel drop, less than 5mm sole thickness, presentable in a dressy setting). I also run, but only on trails. My solution is a shock absorbent crocs insole. They are thin, soft, don’t smell, almost completely flat, and don’t have any weird plastic in them (at least according to the label). I cut them to size using the original insole as a template. unfortunately, these are becoming harder to find. I stocked up on the similar “backjoy” branded insoles; they are probably still available somewhere online. This definitely cuts down on proprioception, but there’s still plenty there, and heel pain is an honest-to-gosh zero. i used to get heel pain in conventional sneakers, so that’s really saying something. I use mostly vivo-barefoot brand shoes. I will be the first to say that these shoes are over-priced, the customer service is not great, and the uppers don’t last very long, but with all that said, they really do perform well.. and border on normal-looking. I’ve also tried soft-star, I have a pair of chronology dress shoes (love these), and I’ve worn a couple other brands that I ended up not loving for one reason or another. I used birkenstock restaurant-clogs for a while, and these worked great for a bit, until they didn’t, and I began to have the all-time worst heel pain of my life. Birkenstocks are a trojan horse. They support your foot perfectly, but that also means your foot is doing none of the work. They have their place in the world, but are a step in the opposite direction from long-term foot health. One more note about vivo: sometimes the upper’s on vivos don’t break in right, and the material will fold weird and start jabbing in to the top of your big toe. Don’t hesitate to return these. This is an artifact of the flatness of the toe-box design, and it’s unfortunate that someone is losing money here, but it need not be you. This will eventually become a shoe that’s impossible to wear.

  10. I find every winter I start to get foot pain ever since a couple years ago when I had a proper bout of plantar fasciitis, largely from having to wear winter boots and shoes. I’ve realized that any footwear with arch support seems to make it worse. However, I live in Montreal, with very snowy winters and temperatures going down to -20 to -40 degrees Celsius, so I really need good winter boots. If anyone has any suggestions of low to no support winter boots, especially in a budget, that would be great!

    1. Rose, you are welcome to take a look at my list (a few comments up. No sales of any kind on the blog, it is just my personal interest).
      Depends on the width of your feet what will be best for you. With barefoot/minimalist shoes it is important that they are wide enough for the toes to spread.
      I live in Denmark (Northern temperate climate), I have wide feet and use Sole Runner and Tikki.

    2. People seem to recommend Manitobah or Steger mukluks for those really cold winters. Lot of minimalist shoe discussion in the minimalist shoe group on FB!

      1. I can recommend the “Barefoot Shoes Open Discussion UK” Facebook group too.
        And for search for the words for barefoot and shoes in your language, to see if there is a barefoot shoes FB group in your language.

  11. I stopped wearing high heels many years ago. As physiologist Pete Egoscue mentioned in his book, “Pain Free”, they are a good looking bad idea. Ultra-high stilettos with very pointed toes are the worst. Beautiful to look at but very hard on the entire human structure.

    I once got plantar fasciitis from a pair of Doc Martens sandals. Loved the shoes but the soles were very stiff. It’s way better for the feet to have something that flexes easily when you walk.

    I only go barefoot in the summer. My feet get too cold the rest of the time, even with socks on. I usually wear some type of sock-like slippers that are fairly close to being barefoot but do provide some warmth.

  12. I’d go barefoot more often but I don’t think that would fly in my office! Instead, I wear Altra zerodrop footshaped shoes all day, every day. They Cyad is my hands down out-of-the-box-wear-all-day favorite! They have a bunch of everyday options for men, not as many for women. They obviously have all the options for running/hiking for both men and women. Highly recommended.

  13. Thank you again, for continuing to publish all the useful material that you do and staying up-to-date with current research and even bringing additional folks into the fold who add to the wealth here!

    My question concerns flat feet…and wide feet…because mine are both. I’ve only recently begun to experience symptoms that I think may be sings of plantar fasciitis. I let myself slip back into a sedentary lifestyle and am working my way back out.

    When I used vibrams in the past, I did so over a few-month period and I ended up with discomfort across the top of my foot. I couldn’t keep using them (still have them, though). Does it make any difference whether one is flat-footed (or wide-footed) in terms of 1) how the effects of PF play out; 2) the remedies for reversing PF (from the recent post); and 3) using minimalist footwear gradually over time?

  14. Actually, I just looked and realized that my symptoms may be more like Achilles tendonitis, assuming I’m not overdiagnosing here. So, similar questions: how flat-footedness (and potentially Achilles tendonitis) may influence whether one does or doesn’t attempt to move toward minimalist footwear.

    My understanding is all these conditions should be treatable with proper stretching and healing techniques and that following them, a move to minimalist footwear should be beneficial long-term, assuming one does not overdo it. Would you say this is accurate?

  15. My chiropractor has said I risk arthritis in my hip (maybe hip flexor tightness) if I don’t use orthotics or Birkenstock’s. Thoughts?

  16. Lems and Vivo footwear have great minimalist shoes. Used them both. Xero footwear, bedrock sandals also make sandals for running/walking thatvive used as week. sockwa I’ve used great shoes for everything. Lems and Vivo are the most attractive! All great brands and it depends on what your looking for.

  17. Some strengthening exercises would possibly be helpful as well. When I was dealing with plantar fasciitis, before finding this site and finding that going barefoot helped a lot too, I found some exercises. The one I found most helpful was putting a marble on the floor and picking it up with your toes. I’d use that every time I’d start to feel pain in my plantar fasciitis and found it worked quite well. I haven’t had to use it since going minimalist, but may have to this year. I’m having trouble finding shoes for a reasonable price, that keep my feet warm and dry, and lack heals. As a result, I’m having some minor issues again.