Footprints can tell quite a tale. They can show asymmetries, weaknesses, future injuries, form challenges and things about our body we didn’t know. We try to get down for a sunset walk along the beach every evening, but for months I was only registering Michael's odd footprint on a subconscious level. Something finally clicked last week.
On the left are Michael’s footprints on the beach. Do you see the dragging of the second toe on the left foot? Naturally I just figured he was just being lazy, not lifting his feet enough as he walked. Only thing is his right footprint looked "normal". And then it dawned on me, with all of the extra hardware and "carpentry" (aka surgeries), Michael's left leg is nearly an inch longer than the other. Turns out Michael was walking a bit asymmetrically lifting his left leg slightly less than the right, and therefore slightly dragging his second toe on the ground.
Michael explains: It’s caused by my leg length discrepancy, a condition which shows itself when I'm working too much and walking and running too little (which makes sense with tour preparations).
To fix this, Michael needs to walk more aware of his footsteps, focusing on engaging his core (to keep his hips level) and making sure he lifts his longer leg off the ground as much as his shorter leg.
An interesting aside: Note the sand mark with his second toe. Michael’s dragging the second toe, which is slightly longer than the rest. This is typically called a Morton’s Toe* named by Dr. Dudley Morton
About ten percent of the population have this condition, considered a “deformity” though it’s very natural for the foot.
Out of a shoe this toe has no problems, but in a typically shoe, it can be a big challenge and lead to Morton’s Neuroma, a nerve condition caused by squashing of the second toe in a shoe. It has also been associated with a slew of other health conditions, which are really caused by ill-fitting footwear, not a “deformed” toe. Often treated with orthotics at best, and surgery at worst, Morton’s Toe is a shoe related condition. Without shoes, or in shoes with a naturally shaped toe-box (one that doesn’t come to a point in the middle) the “problem” or challenges of a longer second toe don’t exist. But in traditional running, casual or dress shoes with a tapered or pointy-toed front, it can lead to crippling pain. The answer, get out of the offending shoes.
Fun Factoid: Morton’s Toe is also known as a “Classic Greek Foot” and is featured by the proud bare feet on the Statue of Liberty.
Jessica and I (Michael) have gone pretty much raw/vegan. I've been a vegan for the majority of my adult life, and Jessica's been mainly vegetarian since we met. Lately we've been sprouting the world, with fantastic sprouts from alfalfa, radish, broccoli, sunflower seeds, and even groats. They taste great, are incredibly healthy, and we can grow them right in our own kitchen. Today's experiment, we're going to try sprouting quinoa!
The health benefits of sprouts are amazing. Take groats, or sprouted buckwheat. It tastes like a grain (Jessica makes an amazing raw oatmeal with it! And we're dying to try raw granola with it as well) but is gluten and wheat free and not a grain at all. It contains all 8 essential amino acids and is one of the most complete sources of protein on earth. It's great for people (like myself) with hypoglycemia (no more since I went raw!) or diabetes because it helps stabilize blood sugar levels and has also been known to help lower blood pressure (are you listening Dad?). Sprouted buckwheat also helps keep the body alkaline (helping boost the immune system, which helps prevent you from getting infections or sick, and can even help reduce the risk of cancer) and is said to help cleanse the colon as well.
If you check out your raw food bars, chances are you'll already eating this amazing food!
Sprouts are great stuff, and you can make them right in your home!
Last night we met with Auntie Pua Mahoe, a great Hawaiian Kapuna or elder. We were talking about our upcoming tour, how much it’s expanded and what we’ll need to do (raising funds) in order to make the journey a success.
It’s truly a voyage into the unknown. We planned on a very humble tour this time around, but after all the requests came in, it’s turned into over 50 cities in at least 25 states (and potentially growing) over an incredible 5 months. She kept repeating these words to us, as she gave us the courage to ask for help and step into the unknown “Be about your walk”.
And by that she means, do the work, reach others, ask for any assistance we need, believe it will come, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
This week we’ve been working hard at Kickstarter, working on a very special video, and we’re doing all that we can to make this journey a success and share a beautiful message with the world.
Be about your walk…do what your heart calls you to do, and put one foot in front of the other. Very special words indeed.
Auntie Pua is a true ambassador of Aloha. She travels Hawaii and the world helping teach others how to raise a new generation in respect and balance with the Earth. For those of you who have the DVD, you might remember her from the bonus section.
Ever taken time off from walking or running and found yourself MORE , rather than fresh and well rested? Or felt an injury coming on when you weren’t doing that much at all? Then you too, may be struggling with an underuse injury in the making.
I coined the term "underuse injury" to refer to the fact that we’re supposed to be active and stay active. Our bodies work by the use it or lose it principle. If we use something, such as our calves for walking or running, they get stronger, work better, and life is good. If we don’t use them, they can weaken, tighten, and even shorten, working poorly and putting us at risk of injury (particularly when we return to even moderate active, such as that first day back from a hiatus).
Particularly if we’ve had previous injuries, start to get up there in years, or had a pretty regular exercise routine, we’re in danger of an underuse injury. For the older crowd and those with previous injuries, our bodies may not recover quite as quickly, and tighten up even faster. So it’s especially important we become MORE active, rather than less as we age, and to stay active—no matter what. And for the regularly active crowd, the body grows healthily addicted to exercise. When we stop, the body doesn’t know what to do. And so, it often gets confused, tightening up and creating injuries where there were none.
There are really two types of underuse injuries, the first, when we’re recovering from a serious injury and have taken off too much time. In these cases, the body picks up many bad habits and can even develop a chronic condition. For myself, after getting hit by a car while racing in the French Alps, I had a back injury turn chronic from too much rest. It seemed the more doctors wanted me to rest and the more time off I took, the more I stiffened up and my back hurt, with pain spreading to other parts of the body. The same thing occurred after my near-death accident in 2006. The more I rested, the more my body twisted and tightened on me leading to one injury, followed by the next. The answer in both cases was the same, get out and slowly get moving again, particularly in natural settings which stimulate more of the body and help prevent repetitive use injuries (trails require you to use many more muscle groups than roads or treadmills, helping retrain the muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and nervous system). I later learned going barefoot in nature had other substantial benefits to the healing process, such as a reduced inflammation response, but that’s a topic for another entry. (Photo Right - Here I was crutching down the hospital ward in 2006.)
The second type of underuse injury is the one that occurs when you take time off from your regular exercise routine and suddenly find yourself MORE sore, rather than less. That’s because your body is quickly trying to revert back to old habits…and with strong muscles in place, it often does some very strange (and uncomfortable) things. For myself, again, with a very regular running and walking routine, when I recently started spending extra time at the computer to get ready for our book tour, I started getting more sore, with extreme tightness in my right hamstring and calf setting in quickly, the top of my right foot becoming acutely sore, a twisting sensation developing on my right shin, and a tightness and twisting discomfort occurring in my back.
Was it an injury coming on that’d finally had too much? Was the rest giving a chance for an injury to rear its ugly head? No, quite the contrary. In essence, it was my body getting stupid. With a significant leg length discrepancy and titanium hip, once I got it active again, it knew how to stay healthy and happy. But when I stopped, it didn’t know what to do. And so, without positive messages or reinforcement (exercise) to keep it happy, it quickly reverted back to an old state of unhappiness. If I stay active, my body stays happy, if not, it starts twisting and pulling until it DOES find a weak link, and then WITHOUT even working out, OR the first time back, POP, a true injury does appear.
So what’s the answer? Motion. Or as they said in physics, bodies in motion, like to remain in motion (See diagram on left - friction and other factors withstanding of course... but you get the idea). Stay active, even, or especially during the busy periods of your life. Be especially gentle on your body at these times (no need to push it), but realize the best answer to stress (whether mental or physical—sitting is a huge physical stress too, look for an upcoming blog post on this) is movement. It’s what we evolved to do, to walk, hunt, gather, and take care of a tribe, rather than plunk ourselves down and stay there 8 or more hours a day, week after week, year after year. It’s incredibly unnatural, and the body gets really, really confused. So stay physically active, and in your routine, relatively speaking, no matter what. (Note, this isn’t an excuse to be neurotic, be gentle to yourself in all you do, and don’t fret the occasional missed workout…in the greater scheme of things, these short breaks can be very helpful, and the stress you put on yourself worrying about a missed workout is typically far worse for your body than the stress you’re putting on your body by NOT working out). And if you’re recovering from injury or have been sidelined too long, be gentle, heed the medical advice, but get out in nature and start getting out to “play”; gradually doing more, rather than less. Your body will thank you for it!
And now, it’s time for me, to get up and out of this chair, and get moving again. Fortunately, I have a rebounder right in my office…a great tool, particularly for winter days, and a topic for yet another upcoming blog!
So what are you waiting for? Now that you’ve read this, get up and get moving. Take a walk down the hall, or up and down the stairs, or better still, head outside for five or ten minutes (better still, get your bare feet on the earth), your body will thank you for it.
Dr. Nick wrote a beautiful letter yesterday for Podiatry Today, confirming what we’ve been sharing in our book Barefoot Running, and in our newmovie. In short, his conclusion is that the old method of treatment, supporting the foot through orthotics and heavily supportive shoes, doesn’t work very well, or people wouldn’t be coming into his office.
Instead, he recommends strengthening the foot, through foot exercises, a gradual introduction to going barefoot (including barefoot running) and a change to a mid or forefoot strike.
He cites Dr. Irene Grogan, who has done significant studies on this, and even goes on to suggest how surgery may not be the answer. In short, if you don’t address the mechanism of the problem (typically tendonitis, also known as plantar fasciitis) then you haven’t solved the problem. The mechanism, a weak foot. The answer? A strong foot. He recommends getting out of a shoe that doesn’t allow the toes to grab at the ground, and allowing the foot to be a foot again.
Here is a bit of his plan. The full-article can befound here:
How do I treat these patients with acute plantar fasciitis? I instruct them to rest the foot until the pain becomes tolerable. Then they can begin exercises for strengthening the muscle and realigning the muscle fibers. They can accomplish this by decreasing activity, wearing a cushioned running shoe temporarily and possibly an over-the-counter orthotic if necessary. The key is stressing the word temporary. Obviously, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), icing and stretching play a vital role in healing. However, the key is educating patients on what caused the condition and getting them to strengthen their feet.
If the situation is chronic in nature (greater than six months) and patients have failed other treatment with orthotics and motion control shoes, my approach differs. I will make the suggestion to begin going barefoot 20 minutes a day and gradually progressing each week. Of course, patients respond by saying all of the other physicians have advised not going barefoot. My response is to question if wearing shoes and orthotics worked for them. A more regimented program of physical therapy also helps.
Strengthening the feet and incorporating barefoot time is the answer. This needs to be done gradually, but have faith, your foot was designed to give you all the support you need, and if you start in slowly, will wake up, grow strong, and help you walk and run again, pain free.
It’s springtime in North America! A time to head outside, be more active, start getting back into shape - and it might be the time you decide to try barefoot running.
Whatever your activity or fitness preference, as you start doing more and gaining speed, your muscles will begin to get tight. When it’s barefoot running or running in your FiveFingers, that means tight calves and Achilles. One of the greatest secrets to a fast, safe recovery is stretching. Stretching relaxes muscles. This allows proper blood flow for muscles to receive the nutrients and oxygen they need to recover. Proper, regular stretching repairs muscle damage and helps muscles grow back stronger both in between workouts and as you sleep. The trick is doing your stretching properly, or your well-intentioned stretches may cause an injury. Studies show that traditional stretching (such as standing against a wall, planting your foot on the ground and horking into your calf) done when your muscles are cold, such as a before a workout, not only aren’t very effective, but may cause injuries too. Why? Because stretches only reach the attachment points of the muscles (where the stretches themselves cause a lot of stress and strain) and don’t get through to the belly of the muscle. The best way to reach the belly of your muscle is to use a foam roll or tennis ball, two training tools I never leave home without. If you think of the human body as a series of strings, like a marionette, you’ll see that each body part pulls on the next. This is why you can get a massage on your neck, and suddenly feel it pulling on a foot. Everything is attached, and each part is connected to the next. As a result, we need to go hunting for the tightest spots in the body to relax the body as a whole in order to prevent strain on your weakest link (be it a foot, a knee, or glute). Your problem area may feel tight, but it likely isn’t the problem - that one muscle pulling on the next, then pulling on the next is causing the problem. I recommend beginning with a foam roll after every workout, or in the evenings after a five minute warmup (stretching before bedtime is a great way to promote recovery). Gently ease your bodyweight into the foam roll, then move or roll along slowly, looking for any tight spots. When you feel one, stay there for a minute (letting the tightness melt away) before moving on to the next spot. Begin with your calves and Achilles, working up over the quads, taking lengthy care of your IT Bands (the rope like connective tissue that runs from your knees to your hips, and can pull both into your back and your feet), and ending with your hamstrings. As a runner or barefoot runner, I’d pay particular attention to rolling out over the calves, Achilles, and the IT band. You’ll quickly get the hang of it and feel where needs to be stretched. Listen to your body and take your time.
I’d additionally get a tennis ball (dog and man’s best friend?) and use this as well. Almost all of the muscles of our legs attach beneath our glutes (and pull up into our back). By simply sitting on a tennis ball and looking for tight spots, you’ll begin to reduce tension in your back, legs, and even your feet. My favorite for this is just beneath my pelvis where my hamstring attaches. When I use a tennis ball on this area I feel tension leaving my plantar fascia and my feet. Try it and you’ll see! Use a tennis ball and foam roll at least once a day when your muscles are warm and you’ll find yourself looser, running faster, less prone to injury, and feeling better in the morning. They help promote recovery, help you grow faster stronger, and keep you healthier for all of your activities. Have fun with this, and I guarantee you’ll see the difference!
Let me first begin by assuaging a few common female concerns. I often get asked by women, “So, what do your feet really look like?” with the implication that barefoot running causes one to develop ugly, fungal growing, heavily callused Fred Flinstone feet. Here’s the truth:
1. Fear not! You will NOT develop ugly feet. In fact, they may actually improve in appearance.
2. Chances of growing fungus actually diminish when you’re barefoot! Think about it. In a closed toe shoe, you have no light, no air (aka an anaerobic environment) it’s hot and it’s humid – a PERFECT breeding ground for bacterial growth. Out of a shoe, your feet bask in open, well oxygenated air. Spend some time barefoot walking on lush green grass and soft rose petals and your feet will never smell as naturally clean and fresh. Who needs artificial perfumes?
3. You can still get your pedicures, apply that red nail polish, just don’t buff off that tough skin! Also, be wary of over moisturizing.
I decided to go with ivory polish to match my wedding dress last Fall.
So, rather than merely describe the pads of my feet, I happily oblige and turn my feet over to the curious onlookers. After some poking and prodding, women are generally amazed. Assuming I’m recently showered, you might mistake the pads of my feet with that of a gargantuan baby – they’re bright pink and softly padded with a good amount of fat beneath my thickened skin. Ever notice how babies manage to curl and wiggle their little toes just as they do with their fingers? My toes now perform the same oddities. (Unlike a baby however, I’m nowboth proud and embarrassed to say I can pick up a baseball with my toes) Aside from rejuvenating your feet, here are some other benefits you may not be aware of:
1. There’s a reason why supermodels spend so much time barefoot running on the beach – it doesn’t have to do so much with running in a bikini, it’s the simple fact that running barefoot helps them develop those sexy calves both in a high heel or out. Not that I particularly mind how strong my feet appear, but if I were single I’d rather have sexy calves than delicate feet. They’re a bit more eye-catching and they even stand out when you’re wearing flats. Meooow!
2. Flat feet? No problem! You CAN grow back a beautiful strong arch in no time. Some may mistake you for a former ballet dancer minus the bunions.
Correct Toes help realign your toes and diminish the appearance of bunions.
3. Speaking of bunions, watch as they recess and diminish in size before your eyes. After spending some time barefoot, your toes naturally spread - which is what nature intended. If you take a look at photos of those who grew up barefoot in developing countries, you will see that their feet are triangular in shape, with a wider forefoot. Yoga practitioners can relate. The toe spread and wider forefoot allow for greater stability for yoga positions and barefoot running. Check out a product called Correct Toes (TM). Developed by Dr. Ray McClanahan, a podiatrist out of Portland OR, Correct Toes help you regain your natural toe spread. Your newfound stabilizing feet will help you stay upright on those technical trail runs.
4. Improve your posture and alignment. If you’ve been spending years in high heels, you’ve likely ended up unnaturally tilting your pelvis forward. This causes you to stick out your derrière, placing undue pressure on your lower back and spinal cord. By going barefoot and maintaining posture vigilance, you can correct your alignment and build a strong (and toned) core. Forget boring beauty school marching with a book on your head. This is a lot more fun!
It wouldn’t be fair of me to exclude some seemingly sad news. After a few months of barefoot practice, you may find either a.) you no longer fit well in your pretty high heels or dress shoes or b.) you plain just don’t like how it feels to be a in shoe anymore. Here are some remedies.
1. Donate those pretty shoes to friends who adamantly refuse to try going barefoot. When you find yourself lusting after some red pumps, remember the pain that inevitably sets in 15-30 minutes later. Sparing yourself the pain allows you to focus on the fun around you!
2. Trade in your high heels for some cute flats. I’ve seen lots of unique styles from beautiful satin flats with sequins to polka dotted canvas flats. It’s a great justification for going shoe shopping yet again. Just make sure there's enough room in the toe box for wiggle room.
3. As for those occasions when you feel like running in minimalist shoes, opt for men’s sizing to allow for more toe spread. If you still fit into women’s sizing comfortably, consider going up a ½ size larger.
4. Feel liberated! It’s not quite the same as burning your bra, but who says you need to wear stilettos to feel beautiful? Nature equipped you with a pretty package that just needs to be reawakened and unleashed.
So give it a go! Move your feet freely to re-grow cushy pads, beautiful strong arches, and sexy calves. Some of you may remember how it felt to spend summers running barefoot as a kid over rocks, gravel, anything and everything. Good news is the majority of you can build those feet back and be that kid again! Go have fun and feel empowered to trek around the world barefoot or nearly barefoot. Or go get hitched barefoot!