As an osteopath I’m constantly warning women of the strain high heeled shoes put on your body. The bony architecture of the ankle is at it’s least stable when your ankle is plantar flexed in a high heel and then you have to support your body weight with an altered centre of gravity on this compromised base of support. Your centre of gravity also drops slightly forwards in high heels, which can force compensatory compression into your low back as the lumbar lordosis, or low back curve increases to maintain balance. This is also commonly referred to as an anterior pelvis. The end result of all of these postural compensations is usually low back pain. As our working lives increasingly involve sitting down the resulting muscle imbalances also contribute to an anterior pelvis. Joseph Pilates railed against our increasingly sedentary lifestyles in his 1945 book, Return to Life. I’d love to hear his opinion of the state of us now!
It wasn’t until I first tried on a pair of barefoot shoes that I realised that men wear high heeled shoes too. Now I’m not talking Nicolas Sarkozy Cuban heels here, just common garden shoes. Trying on my first pair of barefoots was an interesting experience. Where in shoes your body expects to be tipped slightly forwards I stood up and felt as if I were going to fall backwards. Good old adaptable body soon gets used to this and you can then get used to wearing the shoes. I love the fact that as I stand and walk around I don’t have to consciously correct my anterior pelvis, it’s pretty much in an optimum position and I have felt a huge improvement in how tight my lower back can feel. This is a great example of if the majority of the time the factors that are maintaining your postural imbalances for the majority of your waking hours are not addressed then all the Pilates or corrective exercise you do is swimming against the current.
I have been wearing barefoot shoes in the Pilates studio for some time now and it being summer have pretty much been in flat sandals the rest of the time. I have also not been much of a gym bunny of late and decided it was time to grit my teeth and get back in there. After a summer of bare foots and sandals I put on a pair of trainers and…. it just felt so wrong!
My centre of gravity was tipped forward.
My contact with the ground felt spongy as I have got used to the increased proprioception of much thinner soles. Bear in mind these were a leading brand’s unstructured trainers that are designed to give you more feel so if I had gone for a more rigid pair then it would have felt worse.
My knees and ankles felt wobbly and unstable.
I could not wait to get back into my barefoots. The only drawback to them is in wet weather they do not have a great grip so you can slide around a bit. I have seen a trekking version so might give them a go if they have better grip.
I’m not going to weigh in on the barefoot running debate, whether there are huge benefits to injury prevention in barefoot shoes. I don’t run and I’m not going to get involved in a subject I know nothing about. However, I know a lot about standing, I’m an expert on that! For standing and walking I love my barefoot shoes.