Originally published by the Cochrane Eagle July 29, 2009 by Rachel Maclean. Click here for the original article. Minor edits by Tina Dubois.
Cochrane runner Tina Dubois has seen it all when it comes to athletic injuries: plantar fasciitis, toe joint pain, ankle pain, shin splints, knee pain, IT band pain, hip pain and back pain.
It was becoming so bad that Dubois had a constant pain in her back.
One day she read about a shoe called Vibram FiveFingers that only has three millimetres of material separating the foot from the earth, which essentially allows the feeling of going barefoot with protection.
“It was how conventional shoes causes a lot of injuries and how going barefoot can improve strength and agility,” said Dubois.
She had to try it.
After finding out that Mountain Equipment Co-Op in Calgary was selling the shoe she decided to try them out.
The very second she put them on the pain in her back was gone.
She didn’t even take them off to pay for them. That was last year and she has been wearing them ever since. Now she has six pairs and runs, walks and goes out everywhere in them.
“They are the only shoes I can walk in without getting a stabbing pain in my back,” she said.
She also has started to walk around Cochrane pathways in bare feet, something she said takes a little getting used to.
By going barefoot, or in the Vibram FiveFingers, Dubois has become part of a movement sweeping across North America.
Dubois said the reason to go barefoot, or in minimalist footwear, is to allow the foot to move more naturally and builds better muscle and reaction. Her husband, Andrew, is even training for ultramarathons in the FiveFingers.
Some runners say because it changes the way you run you can go faster.
Dubois met up with Al Gauthier from Vancouver, who has been part of the barefoot movement for the last five years.
“I have enjoyed being barefoot all my life,” said Gauthier from Dubois’ home July 24.
Together they have started an online website called Living Barefoot, and also launched a podcast on July 15.
“The idea of the site, and the show, is there are a lot of people that have discovered minimalist footwear, or running barefoot, has many benefits over shoes,” said Gauthier.
“The site is dedicated to that, for everyone from extreme barefooters to runners who want more information. It’s quite a mix.”
The goal is to inform people about how to go barefoot, but it also brings all the different barefoot philosophies into one website.
“The site came out of a lack of community,” said Gauthier. “There were sites for Vibrams, for just barefooters, just runners, but this includes them all.”
Gauthier said they have had very positive feedback from their website.
“I think we filled a niche that wasn’t there before,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean everyone is on their side.
Gauthier believes it is a a societal taboo to go barefoot right now, but would like to see that changed.
He said it is a misconception for most people that going barefoot is unsanitary. For example, feet get just as dirty from wearing flip-flops, but people actually care and at look more what they step in when barefoot.
“You are aware of what you are walking on when you watch the sidewalk,” he said.
Gauthier said some hard-core barefooters in big cities like Vancouver or Toronto go everywhere barefoot, but usually bring along flip-flops to not start conflicts in businesses.
He said once the bottom of the sole toughens up it is hard even for glass to penetrate.
Gauthier said there are actually no health code violations for eating in a restaurant barefoot, but wearing shoes has just been a part of society for such a long period of time, people assume it.
“If you’re the one in the kitchen then yeah, but you can’t wear flip-flops back there either,” he said.
It is also not illegal to drive barefoot.
“Everyone has been told for so long that you need shoes,” said Gauthier.
Dubois thinks conventional shoes are actually causing injuries for some.
She said by walking barefoot the actual stride hits the ground differently. For example, runners will notice they use the balls of their feet compared to the heels and by feeling the ruts, rocks and dips in the ground, the foot responds by shifting the weight to certain areas of the foot.
While Dubois said more research is being conducted, there have been respected podiatrists posting information on the benefits of minimalist footwear. “What’s missing right now is peer-reviewed scientific evidence,” said Dubois.
Dubois said shoes have been made for so long for fashion and profit, but with all the fancy technology they actually don’t make the foot stronger.
She is also happy that the minimalist footwear is becoming more fashionable.
But Gauthier and Dubois want to warn people starting out with barefeet or minimalist footwear to take it easy at the beginning because the foot has to build muscle and toughness. It is a slow process.
“It is not recommended to walk in them all day,” said Gauthier. “When you start running go five minutes and then switch to normal shoes.”
“Our fear is that people go out and buy them and run for an hour,” said Dubois. “You have to do it the right way.”
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