Thursday, August 25, 2011

Injuries While Barefoot: The Elephant in the Room

Okay, everybody. Bring it back in for a minute. We need to talk candidly about something.

"Don't worry. Going barefoot is
VERY safe. I'm not going to
get hurt. Really."
For as much as many others and I promote the barefoot lifestyle and talk about how low-risk it is, a very real possibility is that we will actually get hurt because we're not wearing protective shoes. We can even get hurt wearing minimalist footwear when something might have protected us better. The general public believes that catastrophic injuries to bare feet are waiting in every aisle of every store and under every table of every restaurant. We know that's not true, but injury risks still exist. It sucks.

My intent is not to turn anyone off to the barefoot lifestyle. I think it's so beneficial and that most people can live better through it. But just as "stuff" happens to our heads in car crashes, our hands when working with power tools or any other countless scenarios, "stuff" can happen while we're barefoot that, unfortunately, is really, um, "stuffy."

Why am I bringing this up? "You shouldn't be talking about this!," you may say. And that's exactly the reason I am.

We can't be ashamed, as barefooters, that we might get hurt doing the very thing we promote to others. Just as with ANY injury to ANY part of our bodies, we must do the best we can to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and move on after a foot injury. We must also support those who've gone through such a thing by encouraging them to not shy away from what's best, overall, for their feet.

I had an extensive conversation on Twitter the other day with a woman by the handle of @QuotidianLight. We'll call her Q for the remainder of this post since I don't know her real name. Q shared with me about how she hurt her foot two years ago after falling off her chair at work and slamming her foot into her metal desk. It was just a freak accident, but she ended up with a neuroma that's been tough to get healed and still gives her pain today - so much, in fact, that she can't go barefoot. She was wearing Vibram Fivefingers at the time, but told me, "If I'd been wearing shoes at work that morning... I'd have ran THIS morning."

The main point she wanted to impress on me was that she felt isolated and alone because she believes barefooters never talk about injuries and just hold in guilt when we get injured.

She's right. It makes sense to keep that information to ourselves so that we don't have shoe promoters feeling validated in their assertion that going barefoot is dangerous. But it also doesn't help when barefooters never address the proverbial elephant in the room.

"It annoys me that people think NO ONE get's hurt barefooting and if you do it's your fault so people don't speak up," Q said. She continued later, "I just wish more people would be open about their injuries. *shrugs*"

I pledged to her that I'd write this post.

Getting a stress fracture while
running in Vibram Fivefingers
turned my barefoot world upside down
in January 2010.
She thanked me and concluded with, "I hate when people get hurt and give up barefoot entirely cause they feel out of options/support."

I've heard it numerous times. Someone loves going barefoot until they get hurt - whether it's a broken toe, bee sting, cut or something else. After that, they get nervous it'll happen again and they hardly go barefoot for the rest of their lives. I know of at least two people in my immediate family who feel this way. It's very real, and these folks need encouragement to go barefoot again.

So there's three points I'd like to make here:

First, we shouldn't ignore the fact that we can - and probably will - get hurt from going barefoot, but we also shouldn't feel ashamed if we do. Understand that your feet ARE more vulnerable when going without shoes or even just minimalist footwear. Resign yourself to the fact that freak things happen sometimes. No matter how an injury to your foot occurs, don't beat yourself up and don't feel guilty or embarrassed about what happened. Just as importantly, let the criticism of shod people roll off your back when they pitch I-told-you-sos in your direction.

Second, don't give up going barefoot because you do get hurt. Obviously, take care of yourself and do what you have to do to get better. Get medical attention to treat and resolve the problem. That may mean a hiatus from going barefoot, but most injuries can and will heal completely. After that's taken care of, remember that you can still confidently go without shoes again. Though risks still exist, the benefits from living barefoot outweigh the risks. Move on a little wiser for the experience. Seek out the support and advice those of us who also go barefoot so that we can encourage you.

Third and finally, support other barefooters who get hurt. Friends, if we find out that one of us has been injured from going barefoot, let's kill them with kindness and not criticism. We need to be wary of pointing fingers and assigning blame when none needs to be assigned or doing so wouldn't help anyway. We want barefooters to stay barefooters, and the only way to do that is to be friendly and understanding with one another.

In closing, both of my brothers used to ride motorcycles on a regular basis. They always had a mantra about the likelihood of having an accident. They'd tell me, "It's not a matter of if you're going to wreck, it's matter of WHEN you're going to wreck." Yet even when they did wreck, they'd fix the bike, heal their bodies and get right back on. Injuries, minor or major, are all but inevitable when going barefoot. It's the mindset we have that determines what we take away from it. In anything we do, we only fail if we give up. Will we let foot injuries isolate us and make us quit, or make us stronger and wiser when we keep going?

Thanks, Q, for your story and inspiring me to write this.

So, community, let's talk about injuries. Do you share Q's opinions? Should the barefoot community be more open and honest about injuries or keep them in the closet? How do we respond to the I-told-you-so remarks from our naysayers? Please leave your comments in the section below.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bring on the Toe Shoes!

First there was Vibram Fivefingers. Then there was Fila Skeletoes. Now, the second-largest athletic shoe company in the world has announced that they are releasing their own version of toe shoes: The Adidas Adipure Trainers.
The Adidas Adipure Trainer (men's)
In response, the folks at asked via Twitter, "So what does everyone think of the just announced Adidas 'copycat' version of FiveFingers?" They posted a page on their site about the Adipure Trainers saying, "Another FiveFingers (sic) knockoff. Oh great."

Actually, yeah. It IS great!

The Vibram Fivefingers Jaya
Listen folks, just because Vibram was the first to develop shoes with separate toe pockets doesn't mean they are or will be the end-all, be-all toe shoe manufacturer. Heck, my response to all this is is, "What took everybody so long?!"

How long have we had gloves with individual finger pockets for our hands? Did the second company that made gloves with finger pockets get called a "copycat" or "knockoff?" I don't know, but you don't hear The North Face or any other glove manufacturer getting called those names today.

It makes sense for shoes to have individual toe pockets. It's how our feet are built, after all. That way of making shoes really should be the rule more than the exception.

I think it's great that more shoe manufacturers are coming out with toe shoes because it drives innovation, competition, and public acceptance. That's only good news for people who like to wear minimalist shoes AND it's only good news for the barefoot movement.

The Fila Skeletoes
I'd like to see someone make a better toe shoe than Vibram, because then that would push Vibram to make Fivefingers even better than they already are. I hope the Adipure Trainers are better than Skeletoes, because then maybe Fila will improve their abysmal product.

The competition between manufacturers will naturally force DOWN the prices of these shoes and make them more accessible for the general public.

If a bunch of shoe companies release their own brand of toe shoes, more and more of the public will see minimalist toe shoes and, I believe, see them as a good and acceptable thing. "Heck," they'll think, "if all these companies are making toe shoes then they must know something I don't know." Minimalist, foot-conforming footwear could become -- gasp! -- commonplace?

Maybe, just maybe, people will then take the next step and realize that they can just take off their toe shoes and bare their actual toes by living barefoot. It could happen - and ultimately, I hope it does.

Like I said in the subject line: Bring on the toe shoes! The more, the merrier!

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