I have been battling with shoes for a loooong time. For probably 20 years, I’ve searched high and low for a shoe type that I could find long term comfort with – both athletically and even normal wear.
I don’t think I’d ever found a shoe type that 100% worked for me.
It all started with a back injury. I am not entirely sure how or when the injury started, but before I knew it, I was losing the ability to perform normal day to day functions. I was in so much pain that even sitting shot pain up my back.
- “Try icy hot!”
- “Try a back brace!”
- “Get a massage!”
- “Go see a doctor!”
The flurry of recommendations started slow, but eventually became overwhelming. The thing is, I did try them all… and nothing seemed to work. With time, it only got worse. I even had to opt out of collegiate tennis because tossing the ball up was causing pain.
- “You need more cushion!”
- “You need to tighten your shoes!”
- “Try this brand or that brand!”
- “Try cross trainers!”
- “Are you tightening your shoe laces right?”
- “Try ankle braces!”
I continued to try recommendations. All of which, admittedly, helped a little bit here and there… BUT… the trade-off in pain in one area was ALWAYS more pain in a different area. For example, if something helped the heel then the pain would be either near the toes or the arch. If you simply made up a relief and pain pair that I’d experienced, you’d probably be right. I was in a never-ending cycle of fixing up one leak only to get doused by a new one behind me.
Then, an unexpected type of advice came my way. “Here me out,” my friend said, “it might sound weird… but if we’ve got nothing to lose, what if we tried barefoot training?”
I half chuckled at the idea. But seeing how dead serious he was convinced me that there might be something to his idea. On top of that, I was in a position to want to try anything and everything. The pain was becoming unbearable.
I went with it.
I was taken to an area with rocks all over the place – I think it was a rock garden of sorts. “Take off your shoes.” I was surprised. I knew we were doing barefoot training… but on rocks? “Isn’t this a bit much?”, I thought. I hesitated, but went on with it anyways.
Because the exercise itself didn’t hurt, I started off with only a few minutes of slowly walking on rocks a day with my friend. I would’ve done more, but five to ten minutes of walking on rocks actually made my feet sore. I took his advice and rested. Eventually, the duration of walking time doubled and tripled. And when I finally decided I was ready to graduate from the little rock garden, I sought out Vibram barefoot shoes per his recommendation and began walking everywhere with them.
In a few months, my back pain had disappeared entirely and I was as happy as could be.
At this point, it would seem like the perfect shoe for me are Vibram Five Fingers. And while I’d love to say that Vibrams are the perfect shoe… over time, I’d accumulated a small list of lingering issues:
- The sizing is tough to trust. 5 years after my first pair, I bought the same sized shoe online and it did not fit.
- There’s something infamously known as the “Five Finger Funk” within the Vibram community. When you wear the Vibrams, even for a short period of time, it will eventually develop a strong and smelly odor. Imagine sweaty feet smell but intensified and permeating everything. I found myself eventually tippie-toeing to the bathroom to wash my feet after EVERY walk.
- It’s terrible in business settings. If everyone in a room is wearing wearing business casual to formal, you will look “off”. The current Vibram styles have no way to match with any of your suits or professional apparel.
- It’s tough to use in high intensity sports. The quick side to side stopping motion is quite terrible in Vibrams.
While I’d love to say that those issues were enough for me to overlook, they weren’t.
At some point, I’d plugged myself back into the restaurant and service industry. There’s a dress-code in the industry and toe-shoes are not on the list. The variety and amount of shoes I began to purchase started to increase. The pain in my feet, knees, and back started to increase. The number of soles I bought to help with the pain started to increase. And to cope with the pain I’d acquired from work, I began to experiment with and buy MORE types of shoes so that I could participate in activities like hiking or walking. And yes, those shoes began to create problems as well.
The never-ending spiral of fixing leaks had found its way back into my life… and I was frustrated.
One day, I was sitting in the passenger seat of the car and I took off my shoes because of some throbbing pain. I stared at my feet with disdain and anger. “Why am I still feeling pain? I don’t even have shoes on!”
I thought back to times where I didn’t have pain. I couldn’t quite pinpoint when, but I know for a fact that there ARE times when I didn’t feel pain in my feet. By this point, I’d spent some weeks casually noting when I had painful sensations and when I didn’t. Essentially, I just looked at them longer and more often – especially when pain was present.
Then, it hit me… “…is it the socks?”
I began plugging in the possibility that socks were a contributing factor to the problem. That, ever so slightly, the binding of the toes together within the shoe was causing an issue. It made some sense and if anything, it was a possibility.
On that hunch, I purchased 4 pairs of toe-socks. It almost felt like a gamble. I put them on and they felt normal – no pain. I first wore them with my vibrams and walked outside. My feet were a bit sore from all the pain I’d been feeling so I couldn’t walk too long or too fast. I did notice though, that having the socks on helped with the smell. This was an exciting improvement on its own. Then, on another hunch, I began to wear them in my other shoes. One week went by. Then another. And another…
The pain had gone away.
The problem was quite possibly never 100% the shoe… it was perhaps, in the socks.
It’s been a month since I started the experiment and every shoe that I haven’t yet thrown away and had an issue with, are now all good to wear. And while my feet are still tender in certain spots, I can feel them strengthening with time.
Toe socks might be one of the biggest answers to feet and back pain… at least, for me. Only time will tell and I’ll be happy to report my findings later on.