Friday, November 26, 2010

La Buffa, this one's for you . . .

paul said...

I am desperately interested in "weaning myself off orthotics". In my case the damage has already been done --arch pain, heel pain (PF) and Morton's neuroma, all caused, by (in order) years of carrying big packs up big moutains, shoe salesmen, insole salesmen and podiatrists. Please comment further on your approach/success in bare-footing your way off the orthotic merry-go-round, especially, your observations on Vibram 5-fingers.
La Buffa

La Buffa/Paul,

Better late than never!

How have things been going weaning off orthotics?

Well. I haven't used them in a very long time so I count what I have been doing a success. My shoes are lighter and, baring minor things, I have not been really injured since getting rid of them. This does not mean that all my pronation issues have gone, a fact that every shoe fitter remarks upon when finding shoes for me to try. The smartest one I know looked at me and said "Well, it is obviously working for you so . . ."

Five Fingers?

I bought a pair this summer and spent quite a bit of time walking around in them (couldn't quite bring myself to wear them everywhere, everywhere like the ballet or the opera as I have seen others doing). They are amazingly comfortable and joy to wear, great way to strengthen your feet and ankles as well as slowly rebuilding your arches AND working on form. TheVFF's are a bit chilly though and I need to get a slightly bigger pair so I can wear toe socks in them.

I have not yet used the Five Fingers for significant running for three reasons:

First, there is a potential toe-hooking problem. Catching my feet on random rocks and roots and peeling a toe away at speed, gives me the willies. My solution has been to use more minimalist running shoes (Inov8 295's). This summer I caught a left foot on a piece of rebar stealthily sticking up out of the trail and ripped my trail shoe wide open. Judging what happened to the shoe, this would have been much worse without its protection.

Second, my running mechanics are hampered by my size. I am a larger runner and, though strong, my weight does mean that I am less agile. Proponents of barefooting would argue that running barefoot would be the way to solve this problem and that size ultimately would not matter. I tend to agree with this but am in the middle of the transition process, a process that has its fits and starts.

Third, as you can guess from the narrative on this blog, I take things like this very slowly so as to minimize injury possibility. There was an article in Northwest Runner a few months ago had sports doc writing about increased incidences of barefooting injuries. In her 11/18/10 comment, Sarah makes the same point and that she is mixing shoes, taking it slowly, and "babying" her feet. She is right, there is no sense in trading one set of injuries for another.

What I have had to do is unlearn bad form habits AND strengthen my whole body instead of focusing on fixing the local problem (pronation). This, I guess, is my most important discovery. Yoga and massage has helped me keep things loose.

I have some questions for you:

Have you experimented at all with yoga and massage as a way of releasing some of the tensions in your feet, etc.? Having a conversation with yoga instructors and massage therapists about what can be done would be a good starting place. Finding someone who can carefully work with you on these issues and customize their approach is particularly important. I have found that yoga helped with balance, core strength, and flexibility, all things necessary for good form. It seems to me that nothing you do will matter much without this.

What have you done to work on your form? In Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity (2009), Edward Tenner explores the ways that shoe technologies alter the human body. Orthotics, not to mention our shoes, force a fix. Why not change your form in such a way that a "forced fit" is no longer necessary? There are many ways of doing this besides yoga. Feldenkrais helps you become hyper-aware of what you are doing and uses the slightest of adjustments to render change. Chi Running is an interesting approach designed to help you with alignment and that "light and easy" style Sarah mentions. It does so by increasing body awareness and working to change what feels normal. Danny Dryer, founder of Chi Running, makes the point that shoes do not matter if one adopts a "barefoot" style. It strikes me that what Dreyer advocates is very much like what happens in cultures that rely on minimalist footwear. I have found Jim Hansen's post on these techniques and others quite useful.

The bottom line is to find what works for you and to stick with it over time. Align and relax your body and then your feet will eventually follow.

Five Fingers and other minimalist shoes become an afterthought once you've done that.

I hope this helps.

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