I’m 27 years old, 5’11”, around 170lbs, and fairly fit. I have always disliked shoes (all shoes trap heat and moisture in a way I find uncomfortable), and I ran barefoot quite often throughout my youth. I’ve also always lived in shoes-off households, so I spent much of every day barefoot even before changing my outside footwear. My previous outside footwear included Chuck Taylors and today’s conventional tennis shoes.
I changed my shoe preferences two years ago because it fit with my general health philosophy (i.e., evolved mechanics are probably best), not because I was experiencing any kind of pain. Also, I was blessed with an uncanny ability to not give a fuck, which helps when starting out barefoot running.
In the last two years, I have spent an embarrassing amount of money on minimalist shoes. I have VFFs, Vivo Barefoots, Unshoes, and Softstars: i.e., minimalist all-stars.
The exact timeline is fuzzy because it’s been a while.
Relatively soon after I changed my shoe preferences, my problems began. The first thing was plantar fasciitis in the left mid-foot. It was mild at first, but gradually got to the point where every step was painful. I figured too-much-too-soon, switched back to regular shoes until the pain went away, and eased back into minimalist shoes/barefoot . I also went to a doctor who suggested I perform a variety of stretches and exercises: a regime I complied with. That took about 2 months, but once I finished the slow transition, the PF didn’t come back, so I was pleased.
I noticed calluses building up in my right forefoot. This didn’t bother me for the first 4 months, but after a while, I noticed the underlying bone was very sore. This blossomed into metatarsalgia, and my arches started to fall. It seemed like what I was experiencing matched up with Morton’s foot-type issues, so I tried putting a Morton’s pad into my shoes. This didn’t really do anything, so I went to a podiatrist for the first time. He wanted me to wear $400 orthotics. My response: “LOL NO. Barefoot, barefoot, etc.,” so nothing came of this visit.
By this point, every step I took with my right foot was painful; my second metatarsal had “dropped,” and it was like I was walking on a stone. Running was completely out of the question, and I just wanted some relief. I tried fancy insoles for a month or so, and those did nothing. My plantar fasciitis came back in my left foot, and I started having top-of-the-foot pain. The latter developed into a visible bump as the tendon over that metatarsal became increasingly inflamed.
I started practicing a number of foot exercises, foam/ball rolling in the hopes that they would help. I still do all of those (because, hey, who knows), but they didn’t resolve my pain.
This is where I tried toe-spreaders and had real relief for the first time. My plantar fasciitis went away, along with the top-of-the-foot pain. The pain from metatarsalgia greatly decreased, but remained, as did the calluses and the small bump. After easing into them, I wore the toe-spreaders religiously 24-7 in wide shoes for about a month. I could walk comfortably as long I wore them, and I was thankful for the relief.
Then the metatarsalgia pain started coming back in force, leaving me pretty exasperated. One day in Costco, I saw a pair of arch supports for $9. I bought them because I had already spent so much money on shoes and other curatives that I figured it didn’t matter. I put them into my Vivo Aquas and started wearing them around. Within three days, my feet were completely pain-free.
It’s now a month later, and I don’t have any calluses, my metatarsal is back in place, and the bump on top of my foot is gone.
My own feelings about this experience are pretty complex. I invested a lot both emotionally and economically into BR. I can’t say for sure that switching to “barefoot” caused my problems. After all, it could have been part of aging, etc. Given my relatively young age, overall health, and the sequence of events, however, I do think it’s more likely than not that the switch did cause my issues. And that bothers me.
I’m sharing this story because I don’t want anyone else to go through what I did. Scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests barefoot is good. It works for a lot of people. But, if it’s not working for you and you’ve given it a fair shot, I suggest trying something else. After two years, all I care about is that I can walk pain-free and run again.
For now, I’m still using the arch supports in case the soft tissue hasn’t completely healed yet. I’m hoping I can eventually take the supports out and my feet will be able to function naturally one day.