Thursday, December 30, 2010

Barefooting/Vibram Five Fingers for Rheumatoid Arthritis Feet

A while back a chiropractor I was seeing suggested I go barefoot as often as possible to help the pain in my feet caused by rheumatoid arthritis. (Even with my improved health I have only one pair of shoes I can wear regularly that don't kill the balls of my feet.) His belief was that as the pain in our feet worsens with RA, we tend to rely more on shoes with a lot of support and the muscles in our feet become weak.

I grew up with a caring father that didn't appreciate barefooting. I can only really remember a few times of being barefoot as we were always reminded to put our shoes on before leaving the house to make sure we didn't step on something and hurt our feet. I have to admit that I have tried to enforce similar rules on my own children. Sophia, however, has never bought it. She has always loved being barefoot. She has a special way of showing her true feelings through her facial expressions and I have observed over the years a true love for having her feet touch the earth. There is almost something magical to being outdoors and having her feet experience the different sensations. So, between my chiropractor's advice and my observations of Sophia, I decided to do some research and found lots of exciting information out there about a growing movement towards barefooting. This article and many others like it shared the benefits that can come from barefooting:
• The introduction of the elevated heel and the pointed toe marked the beginning of modern foot disabilities. Children left to go barefoot more often had less toe deformity, greater ability to spread toes (this sounds glorious) and denser muscles on the bottoms of their feet.
• Keeps feet from getting lazy.
• Fights varicose veins.
• It is more relaxing.
• Greater amount of Chi can be absorbed.

While I have been researching barefooting benefits, I have also been moving away from wearing slippers in the house this fall/winter and working out barefoot as a way to slowly prepare my feet for this spring and summer when I plan to dive into minimalist shoe wearing/barefooting on walks with Izzy and when we hike. As always when I research something, everyone in my family has to hear all the details of my excitement. What a nice surprise for me on Christmas morning to unwrap a pair of brown Vibram Five Fingers without even asking for them. Someone is obviously listening to me.

There are a ton of reviews out there on Vibram Five Fingers, a minimalist shoe that fits your feet like a glove, but I couldn't find anything about how they work with RA feet. Here is what I have to say so far:
Pros:
• Once my feet are in the shoes, I have absolutely no pain in the balls of my feet. (I can’t wear regular tennis shoes at all. They kill my feet from the moment I put them on and continually get worse as I wear them.)
• These shoes are super lightweight.
• I have worked out in them twice. My feet experienced some swelling, but these shoes allowed for the changes and there was no pain at the end of my workout.
• I wore these shoes all day at home where I am getting a good feel for them. At the end of the day, no shooting pain when I took them off. This is huge!
• The KSOTrek pair can be worn with toe socks for extra warmth.
• Although these shoes look a little wacky and I plan to only wear them for walks/hikes, I can see how they will be so comfortable that I won’t want to wear other shoes.

Cons:
• They are initially a challenge to get on the feet. I especially had a difficult time working my baby toe into the toe slot and wonder how other folks with more deformities in their feet would do with these shoes.
• During a flare in my hands or shoulders, there is no way I would have the energy to put these shoes on.
• The Trek version of Vibram Five Fingers that I have can be worn with socks (Steve bought me Injinji socks) as I mentioned in the "pros". However, with poor circulation that causes my feet to become extremely cold even with a regular pair of socks under wool socks and insulated boots, there is no way I will be able to wear these outside until it warms up.

As I continue wearing the Vibram Five Fingers and transitioning into more barefoot walking, I will do some updates to let you know how it is going. In the meantime, here is a great video to watch on barefooting put out by Harvard Professor Daniel Lierberman, who is known for his research on barefoot running.