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Is Minimalist Enough?

By Biagio Mazza, DPT, Elite Sports Medicine & Physical Therapy –

Over the past 7 years, several companies have released their ver-sions of the “minimalist” shoe.

This concept is, essentially, a glove for the foot – a lightweight, non-cushion shoe that is supposed to allow the foot to work naturally. The idea began from looking at 3rd world countries that do not wear shoes or foot protection, yet have a vastly lower incidence of foot pain and problems. The argument became that “we,” meaning countries that can afford footwear, are creating our own foot problems by wearing shoes.

Are They Right For Me?

I am frequently asked by patients and colleagues my opinion on this trend. Often that question is phrased as, “Are they right for me?” The short answer is….It depends. Let’s look at why.

The Functional Task of Walking

The foot is comprised of 27 separate bones that must work together to do one of the most important functional tasks in our lives – walk. If these bones move poorly or inefficiently, it affects the rest of the body in a compromising way. In other words, if the foot can’t move the way it was designed to move, our knees, hips, and spine are in trouble. Walking is a series of repeated reciprocal events where one leg bears weight, then transitions to propel the leg forward to do it again. So, we could say that the foot “loads,” then “explodes” over and over again. From the time most of us were young, we were asked to wear shoes – for protection and for cultural norms. As we have been used to wearing this protection on our feet, our musculature, gait, and form has adapted and conformed.

A Minimalist Approach Has the Potential to Create More Injuries

Because many of us have adapted to these changes over years of practice, I personally do not believe that the minimalist approach is the right direction. We have been programmed over years and years to walk and run with a cushioned shoe. The transition to a minimalist approach has the potential to create more injuries than it will help. However… I have 2 boys – ages 6 and 2. While my feet cannot take being barefoot in the house, I make every attempt to have them barefoot 50% of the time they are running around. I have not tried putting them in the minimalist shoe yet, but I most likely will.

Who Can Benefit from the Minimalist Approach?

I do believe that there is a small percentage of the population that could benefit from the minimalist approach. Most of us (>90%) tend to “overpronate” with gait. This means that the foot is too flat. A much smaller percentage of us have too rigid of a foot type to tolerate the minimalist approach. It is those of use with an ideal amount of flexibility and stability that could benefit from these shoes.

How Do I Know for Sure?

Talk to a skilled Physical Therapist trained to evaluate foot types and mechanics. At Elite Physical Therapy, all of our therapists are able to give a thorough evaluation of your foot type and help you make an informed decision about shoe choice.

Enhancing Wellness and Performance Throughout Life

To learn if a minimalist shoe is right for you, call us at 913-888-0014 (in Kansas) or 816-941-2550 (in Missouri), or visit us online at www.eliteptkc.com. At Elite, we provide compassionate and expert care, helping individuals in a hands-on, one-on-one setting to enhance wellness and performance throughout life.

Elite Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy

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