Sunday, March 21, 2010

Healing feet broken by shoes

After my hike in the summer of 2008, I came home with hurt feet. I healed them by walking around town barefoot. Because it was my shoes that injured me, I started doing research into what it was my shoes had done to me so that I could be sure I didn't choose shoes like that again.

I found a lot of stuff out there about how bad shoes are for your feet. One good web site I found was The Society for Barefoot Living. They had a lot of articles in there about some of the design flaws built into shoes, things like toe spring and inflexible soles. I learned there were even some doctors out there who believed that shoes caused a lot of foot injuries.

The shoes that had injured me had felt like they were very rigid and that they forced my toes to be in an unnatural upward-pointing angle. I tried everything while I was on the trail to negate the problem. I had insoles for just my heels and insteps, hoping that that would erase the difference toward the toes. It didn't work. Eventually it felt like the bones at the base of my toes were crunching right into the ground and that the long bones in the middle of my feet were starting to break. It actually felt like they were flexing oddly and there were shooting pains that would double me over in pain as I walked. So I had to go home.

With my new knowledge about the evils of shoes, before I hiked in 2009, I went to the shoe store and asked the guy to find me some flexible shoes. I didn't want motion control or a rigid sole. I wanted cushioning because after 25 miles the ground really hurts and roads feel especially painful, but I still wanted to feel the rocks and things on the trail. I also needed them to be wide enough for my toes. Nothing should interfere with my toes.

The shoes I got turned out to be pretty good. Yet I still ended up with foot injuries. I think this time they were due to the fact that since my feet are pretty wide with toes nearly at an even length, I have to buy shoes several sizes too big in order to get them long enough to put my littlest toes at the widest part of the shoe. That means that where the shoe curves inward, it hits the bone under my big toe. I have a sesamoid injury there now.

I did manage to find some 4E width shoes in Washington with just 250 miles of trail left to go, but I wore them with slippery socks the first day out and managed to twist the sesamoid area really hard. I never recovered after that. I still feel a lot of pain.

The treatment for sesamoiditis is to keep the foot on an even plane. Always flat or have the big toe even pointed downward a bit. In other words, the typical toes-upward shape of shoes, even of shoes not as extreme as the ones that sent me home in 2008, has the power to injure me yet again.

Recently the news has been full of barefoot running articles. Seems that barefoot runners have decided that shoes are hurting them just like I figured out from my hikes. They've been trying all kinds of creative things in order to have functional shoes that don't cause problems. One long-distance runner likes to cut off the heels of his running shoes. I've seen a movie of it but it goes by so fast and they don't show a close-up so I can't see how he did it. He also describes it in his blog, but no pictures. I took a stab at it and found out my shoes were full of some kind of slippery silicone liquid and sticky, blobby green gel.

Being a long-distance backpacker, I'm pretty understanding of making your own gear. Long distance backpackers have had to do that since regular manufacturers can't or won't make things light enough. I made some of my own gear and found that some of my gear ideas were superior to anything found at REI. So make my own shoes? Why not?

Since I returned from hiking and found I had few shoes in my closet, I've been adding new shoes, choosing the flattest ones possible. Now all of a sudden, I can't tolerate shoes with any heel anymore. Maybe a half inch is the most I can stand. I've been wearing cheap aqua socks as I try to do a little jogging to get in shape. I really like them but they are too hot. Recently I cut off the uppers of my aqua socks and turned them into huarache sandals, following the lacing instructions from Barefoot Ted. I think these will work well. Maybe I can even hike in them.

I do hope that the whole barefoot running thing will catch on and that the shoe makers will start making more choices. I really need wide, minimal yet protective hiking shoes if I'm going to be able to keep going. If I can't find them, I'm going to have to figure out how to make my own.


  1. How are your huarache sandals working out for you?

    What did you use for the straps?

  2. They didn't work that well. I used hemp shoelaces for straps. They cut into my feet and made me bleed.

    I have these nice Merrells that are not athletic shoes but casual shoes. They are very minimal and I have done well healing my broken feet with them.

    For instance, I gave some Montrails a try this weekend and could barely walk afterwards. Now I'm wearing the Merrells and my feet feel better. They are too pretty to wear hiking or running, though.