Healthy Boots – that look great!

I got rid of 95% of my old shoes once I made the switch to minimal, wide-toed, unheeled footwear. Wearing my old collection just felt awful after my toes were liberated. Like children, once they are educated, there’s no going back. :) So I was left with my new shoes… and NO healthy boots. With our cold, damp winters, and as much time as I like to spend outside, that was no good at all. So I went on a mission. I visited Shoe Mill (their selection was disappointingly high-heeled and rigid-soled) and Footwise (just didn’t see anything that appealed to me). I would have liked to hit Cobbler Bill’s and the rest of my list, but I’m a busy girl!

I checked out both Imelda’s and Clogs & More on Hawthorne about a month back – all I found was the rain boots mentioned in the shoe shopping post. They may have some new stock now. After Nordstrom’s and Macy’s at the mall, I went online. Zappos was uncharacteristically empty of options, but the Nordstrom’s website was terrific.

Here’s what my quest brought me. I didn’t buy all of these, but I did “borrow” a few on my credit card, since they all have free shipping & returns, and I can wear them inside for a while to see how they really feel before I pick which one(s) to keep. Much better than a 30-second try in a store, right?

The Finds:

Keen Delancy

The Keen “Delancy” is close, but I couldn’t get it zipped. This is a common problem for me, since I am 4’10” and my calf muscles start lower. If you have longer / slimmer legs, try them out. I have been distressed by Keen’s new line, which is both stiff and narrow. These are a rare, and welcome, throwback.

 

phoenixside

 

Soft Star makes this boot, the “Phoenix,” but it doesn’t meet my aesthetic standards so I haven’t tested it. I’m not fond of the “Ugg” shape and I don’t do brown. If you do, give them a go!

Born Lecia

 

 

Børn “Lecia” – These made me very, very sad. Born is a great company, and I was SO excited about having red lace-up boots! Sadly, the tops were too long for me, and pushed up under my knees. They were fine for standing, but when I moved and bent my legs they were no good. If you are a normal-sized human this will not be an issue. Note – these would be fine for even bigger calves than mine: The tongue has a big overlap. Worse than the height is the heel. It has a pointed bottom, and a soft sole, so the net effect felt like a point poking up into my heel. Immediately very uncomfortable, and it got worse over 20 minutes.

 

Merrel Haven (Nordies)

Merrell “Haven” is no oasis.

My first impression: The Havens are the least comfortable Merrell’s I’ve ever worn. They are far too narrow. By the time I sized up to a decent width, they were crazy long… Like, clown shoe long. Try again, Merrell. Plus, the look isn’t really my style. Note: The Captiva (not shown) is wider and better looking, but I couldn’t zip it. Besides, it has a small heel lift.

 

 

Born Kaila (Macys) healthy boots

THE WINNER! I was Born to wear these healthy boots! :)

Børn “Kaila,”  at Macy’s 

Love these! They do have about a half inch net heel – the most heel I’ve worn in months – but it’s not bothering me. Initially the top of the calf was snug on me, but it quickly stretched sufficiently that I don’t feel it anymore. Bonus: There is an adjustable buckle at the top. Mine are matte black. This glossy pic is the “mahogany.”

Verdict: YES! There was even room for my Correct Toes inside these gorgeous things!

Romika Fiona

Romika,  please make a quieter, taller version!

 

 

 

Romika “Fiona” at Nordie’s. 

Also in black. These look narrow, but feel huge inside! I swear they are made of Tardis! Unfortunately the zippers jingle when I walk (I’d have to swap the tab out), and the height of the calf is awkward and unflattering. They would be good under pants or jeans, but I pretty much only wear skirts.

 

 

NF JaneyNorth Face “Janey II Luxe” (Ordered from Nordstrom’s website)

I very much liked the short zipper at the inner ankle, which allowed for easy on-off. However, the toebox was narrow and stiffly structured. That’s a no.

 

 

 

Sorel Yaquina

 

Sorel “Yaquina”  (Ordered from Nordstrom’s website)

So close! The toebox is just a little too snug. I could feel it pressing against my big toe. If you have narrow feet, these will work beautifully for you. But not for me.

 

 

Final verdict:

The only pair that really worked for me 100% was the Born Kaila. I’m wearing the black ones right now, and I’m ordering a second pair of “mahogany.” The Keen “Delancy” and Sorel’s “Yaquina” were close… try them if you are, respectively, slim-calved and narrow-footed.

Hopefully this little review has helped you find some healthy boots, and more importantly, reminded you of what to look for when shopping. Please let me know if you find any other good candidates!

NOTE: For rainboots, I love my Bogs! They have a nice wide toebox and are zero drop, unlike most wellies.

Foot Pain, Foot Function, & Shoes

My personal health issues, combined with frustration with lack of results using the current common answers, continually take me to new and interesting places. In the past year most of what I know about metabolism, nutrition, and now feet (and foot pain) has shifted drastically. It all comes back to evolution.

I’ve had intermittent stabbing pain for about 7 years, focused at the 1st MP joint (where the big toe joins the foot). I walk a lot, and the more I walked, the more it hurt. It had been diagnosed as a stress fracture years ago, and and for years I would wear Danskos* (hard soles, so my feet didn’t flex) when the pain got bad. Basically the Danskos acted as a walking boot. I am heavy (180lbs, due to muscle and bone from my bodybuilding days, plus all the extra padding I’m currently carrying) and have small feet and a stompy gait… It just refused to heal.

The foot pain had been interfering with my workouts, but it was getting worse and now messing with my weekend fun, too … that’s no good! So I started investigating and it turns out the solution was simple. I didn’t have a stress fracture at all.

diabetes_foot_problems_s13_hammertoesWearing tight shoes, especially heels, can cause bunions (angled big toe), neuromas, and hammertoes (bent toes), too. Fortunately my problem was easier to fix than the poor feet in this stock photo!

I had to change my shoes.

That wasn’t all of it, of course – I also needed some fascial adhesions stripped out. Acupuncture reduced the pain and swelling, and the minimal shoes I transitioned into have had the cool side-effect of forcing me to soften my gait. I wear CorrectToes spacers when I remember. Still, changing the shoes was key . Shopping guide here.

Rolfer Karin Edwards-Wagner does a lot of work with feet, and she pointed me towards the brilliant Dr. Ray McClanahan. He’s got a bunch of videos and articles on his site, so rather than reinventing the wheel I’ll just let you look at his stuff.

Here’s the deal: See those bones on the top of your foot? Your toes should extend in a straight line from them. For centuries we have crammed our feet into shoes that gathered the toes together, creating a sleeker pointed look instead of the spread “duck-foot” that nature intended.

Available here in the office, Correct Toes spacers help separate and flatten your toes into a natural spread for better stability. Use them along with changing your shoes, and getting some acupuncture and medical massage to break up fascial adhesions and relax the muscles of your feet. Your knees, hips, and even lower back will be happier once your gait is correct!

ct-before-during-after__smCorrectToesLogo_small

 

Under your big toes are tiny floating bones called sesamoid bones, which provide leverage and assist in tracking as a tendon moves over bone. The knee cap is a sesamoid, too – in fact you can imagine a miniature knee cap under that joint in your foot. The bones have grooves that the sesamoids are supposed to follow. If the toe angles inwards, the bone is pulled off track. Ouch!

The funny thing here is that my feet look pretty “normal.” I don’t have bunions or any obvious deformation… just a few degrees was enough to cause that foot pain for me. I haven’t worn heels for years. Even so, I had a huge pile of shoes and boots (some of them practically new) that I had to sell, donate, or toss. The trick is finding shoes that:

1)   Have flexible soles across the ball of the foot and also longitudinally, for twisting.

2)   Have the heel at the same level as the toe. Now that I’m used to “zero-drop” shoes, even a half-inch heel feels weird.

3)   Fit well in the heel and instep, but have lots of room in the toebox. This is why regular “wide” shoes don’t work for me – the rest of my foot isn’t wide. See the pic below.

4)   Don’t have a lot of  “toe spring” – that’s when the toe of the shoe comes up off the ground. It pushes you into an unnatural position all the time.

When buying shoes, remember to check for fit with the shoe liner test. Take out the inserts and stand on them (with all of your weight). If your toes drip off the edge, they are too small. Standing  on the bottoms of the soles of shoes is another good way to assess how much room you’ll have. If your favorite shoes are just a smidge too tight in the toe box, you can remove the inserts, which gives you a few more millimeters of room to stretch out.  If they are lace-up shoes, skipping the first set of holes can also let the toe box open up.

No more foot pain! See how the medial (inside) edge has a square-ish corner, instead of being rounded? Wide at the ball of the foot isn't enough - that big toe needs to be able to move and spread outwards. These are my new favorites, Clark's "Faraway Field," available in other colors if you aren't into blue suede shoes. :)

No more foot pain! See how the medial (inside) edge has a square-ish corner, instead of being rounded? Wide at the ball of the foot isn’t enough – that big toe needs to be able to move and spread outwards. These are my new favorites, Clark’s “Faraway Field,” available in other colors if you aren’t into blue suede shoes. :)

The sad truth is that most of the anatomically correct footwear out there is hideous, but I have found some cute options! Shopping info here. My winter boot review is here.

In addition to going shoe shopping, I also got some socks! The regular “mitten” sock can encourage toes to gather together, especially if they get pulled tight as you slip into your shoe.  When I wear those, I stretch out the toe seam to give myself some room. Sock Dreams is a fun local company that carries a variety of toe socks, and they ship for free.

Can’t give up the heels due to work or your fashionista status? Check out this article on ways to mitigate the effects of high heels. 

So… the real question is, did it work? My emphatic answer is YES! A week after switching, for the first time I finished a LARPing weekend without being in agony. My foot and knee may have grumbled a few times (I run for miles during these weekends) but that searing pain was gone. At the end, instead of waiting miserably for Robert to be done cleaning, I was out doing extra trash sweeps, because I felt that good!  Plus, at my next workout, I had to ask Brandie to throw extra weights on for the leg extensions and squat press, because the weight we were doing before suddenly felt ridiculously easy. Correcting my foot function helped my knee normalize, too, which is a bonus I hadn’t expected. It makes sense, though. If the toes can spread out and do their job creating stability, it takes a lot of pressure off the knees.

The next adventure is the perfect intersection of SCA / LARP / craftiness, and healthcare: I’m going to try making my own shoes!

*Setting aside the issue of the heel height for the moment, it’s true that Danskos and other hard clogs make it easier on your feet. The trouble is, they make it too easy. It was obvious once I thought about it…

When a patient comes in with a brace (on the wrist, knee, back, whatever), we always have this discussion: “Immediately after an injury, a little support is very helpful. As you heal, though, you need to wean off the brace. It’s good to wear it for sports, or challenging events, but not all the time. If you baby the muscles, they won’t work and get stronger, which is what you really need to heal. Eventually you should be brace-free.”

I’d been over-bracing my feet. *headdesk*

Wearing softer, more flexible shoes that allow / force my feet to get to work makes them stronger. Here’s a cool exercise you can do to strengthen your arch. I still prefer some shock absorption when walking on man-made surfaces like concrete, but for dirt and carpet I like to go more minimal. More exercises! And even more!

What about arch support? Modern shoes actually give us TOO much support, so our foot and leg muscles don’t work, and get weak. Remember we evolved without shoes. Our feet are designed to support us, given the chance. By doing foot exercises and gradually transitioning to more minimal shoes, your arch will support itself. This is awesome because it means your feet take a lot of the load back from the ankles, knees, and hips in terms of balancing. The whole body works better when strong and supple.

Now that I have spent some time opening my feet up, I love the thin toe-separated shoes like Vibram 5 fingers. Just ease into them… minimal footwear takes some transition if your feet have been over-supported in regular shoes. I have a pair of Filas that are similar (just have shorter toes, so they fit me better) and I adore them! They are phenomenal for running around in the woods.

EDIT 7/1/13: Here’s an awesome article on another reason to wear good shoes – neurological challenge! Also – I get asked about foot pain due to Morton’s neuromas and plantar fasciitis (inflamed fascia) a lot. YES, I can treat them! The good news is that the treatment is immediately and highly effective. The bad news is that it’s the only treatment I do that hurts… Sorry. But only briefly, and it’s worth it, speaking personally!

Trusted Referrals & Healthy Shoe Shopping

Here’s a short list of professionals I recommend. Please let me know if you use one of these referrals – I’d love to hear how it goes for you!

Also – the second half is a guide to shopping for healthy shoes.

Medical Doctor:
Dr. Kathy Alvarez
Cedar Hills Office Park 
1815 SW Marlow Suite 206 
Portland, OR 97225
(503) 296-6144

Chinese Herbal Medicine:
Root and Branch
7642 SW Capitol Hwy
Portland, Oregon 97219
(971) 288-5939

Physical Therapy:
New Heights
Locations in Vancouver, SE Portland, and NW Portland

Hand Surgeon:
Dr. Charles Woolley
2311 NW Northrup St, Portland, OR 97210
(503) 274-4865

Podiatrist:
Dr. Ray McClanahan
Northwest Foot & Ankle
2701 NW Vaughn Street, Suite 424
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 243-2699

Personal Trainer:
Brandie Sylfae
(503) 422-0402

Rolfers:
Jenny Rock
(503) 345-7660
Body Balance Rolfing & Massage
10700 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Highway
Building 3, Suite 605  (2nd floor, there is an elevator)

Karin Edwards-Wagner
2732 SE 18th Ave Portland, OR 97202
(503) 230-0087

Massage:
Sally Leonard
Forget Me Knots
12655 SE Center St, Ste 530, Beaverton 97005
Yes, she’s in my office!
503-201-7110

Clark Original on the left. The Jafe on the right is too stiff to be ideal for regular wear, but a rare find for fancy dress-up occasions.

Clark’s Original “Faraway Field” on the left, grey with mint stitching, also available in red, black, and brown. The Jafe on the right is too stiff to be ideal for regular wear, but works as a rare heel-less find for fancy dress-up occasions. Edited to add: The Jafe’s softened up with use, and the Clark’s model comes in more colors now! I just got myself some blue suede shoes!

Buying bio-mechanically correct shoes:
First, read this article about foot function and how to assess a shoe. Then, look for brands like Born, Clark’s, Keen, Lems, Jambu & J-41 (sexy sandals!), Vivo, Altra, Jafe, Xero, TOPO, Vivobarefoot, and Merrell. Naot and Reiker make wide-toebox shoes that are super cute but stiffer / more supportive in the sole, so they are appropriate for transitioning or if you are going to do major mileage on concrete. FiveFinger and Fila make minimal, separated toe shoes (personally, my short toes like the Filas much better – and they were a mere $30 at Big 5 sports!). Please note that I am NOT endorsing every model shoe the above brands make. For example, Keen has two footbeds, a stiff, narrow version (skip these!) and the one I like with the wide toebox.  In all brands, some models may be great, but others are too pointy-toed, too stiff, or have a heel. Shop carefully. When trying shoes on, you need to step on the liner and examine other factors discussed here. Try not to get carried away with something cute or a pair that feels “good enough” – your feet will get pickier as they adapt to having room to move! They will also spread out, so if you are between sizes, go up. REMEMBER: Most people gain a half to a full size as their toes spread out, and they build muscle in their feet.  It’s best not to buy too many until you know your new size. Winter boot guide here.

A happy surprise for the Pacific NW Fall weather - Bogs rainboots have no heel and give plenty of room for the front of the foot. I got my pair at Clogs & More on Hawthorne.

A happy surprise for the Pacific NW weather – Bogs rainboots have no heel and give plenty of room for the front of the foot. I got my pair at Clogs & More on Hawthorne. Update: 2017, and I just bought another shorter pair of waterproof, fabric pull-ons from Bogs. LOVE THEM!

Places to get biomechanically-correct footwear locally:

Pie in the Alberta district
Cobbler Bill’s near 82nd & Foster
Shoe Mill and The Walking Company at big malls (NOTE – most of the shoes in the mall stores are aimed at symptom relief instead of true health and are too stiff! Be careful!)
FleetFeet (formerly FitRightNW) off NW 23rd
Footwise on Broadway
Imelda’s on Hawthorne
REI (surely you know where REI is)
Clogs N More – note – don’t buy clogs! :) Hawthorne and downtown

And don’t forget the toe socks so you can move freely inside your spiffy new shoes. Sock Dreams has a store in Sellwood, or you can order online. They carry unique, high quality stuff, including the elusive toesock with formed heels. I love that Sock Dreams thoroughly describe their stock on the website, including measurement info like calf size, and they ship for free.

Places to get biomechanically-correct footwear online:

Hot Chocolate Designs is making cute Mary Janes with a wide variety of prints! These aren’t quite minimal, but have pretty flexible soles.

Ahinsa Casual style, fabric shoes
Altra  Wide toebox running shoes, everyday shoes, and boots.
Baer Shoes check out the Joe Nimbles for women and men!
Belleville Military & law enforcement-type boots.
The Drifter Leather Sleek, stylish shoes and boots.
Glerups Wool felt clogs, shoes, boots
Hot Chocolate Designs Mary Janes with fun prints
Lems ugly but comfortable
Oesh Variety of women’s styles from professional to casual.
Shoes for Crews Steeltoes, other serious work shoes & boots
Skidbusters Nursing, etc.

soft-star-products

Part of the Soft Star shoe line. You can custom order your color choices!

 

Soft Star Shoes Minimal, basically leather socks. Rubber soles available. Based in Corvallis
Tadeevo casual laceups
Topo Athletic runners
Tune Men’s penny loafers
Unshoes sandals, mocs
Vibram FiveFingers and wrap shoes
Vivobarefoot Lightweight, minimal shoes and boots
Xero sandals, including DYI

Again, not everything these places sell will be good for your feet. Double check the shopping guide. I recommend wearing your new shoes inside for a while on a trial run (so they are returnable) before venturing out.