This post is going to be short and sweet but is just something I really, passionately want to put out there. I am always reading, in just so many places, that the only kind of footwear you should even consider if you have hypermobility issues such as joint laxity, hypermobile type EDS or even Chiari malformation and cervical instability, also chronic pain issues such as fibromyalgia, is the kind that is as soft and cushioning underfoot as possible and, usually, they will also tell you the shoe has to be “well-structured”.
This advice is misguided, in my personal opinion…derived from direct experience, including all that l that I have had to learn “the hard way” and from reading and watching all I can about barefoot technology and how the human foot is designed to work with the rest of the body. Across all the many years I have had chronic pain and hypermobility issues, it is a far less structured, completely uncushioned type of shoe that has delivered me the best results, and then some.
What (in my opinion) you would be much better doing is learning how to walk properly all over again (not said in a patronising way…I had to do this too!) and then learn to befriend a well-researched barefoot type footbed such as Vivobarefoot (this is the only brand I have tried and so I will specifically talk about those, plus they also provide a wealth of research and learning resources on their website and YouTube). They will take some getting used to, for sure, and the method of walking you need to adopt involves unlearning the classic heel-strike way that most people are entrained to use from the very moment the freely running and exploring toddler is measured-up and rammed (much too early!) into a fixed, often heinously distorted (for fashion’s sake), human-devised shoe shape, and instead learn to properly roll the foot as it was natually designed to do. In fact, as we all would have done, before shoes were invented or if we were encouraged from birth to walk as Nature intended.
For far more eloquent and scientifc extrapolation of this, I refer you to this and other short how-to videos by Vivobarefoot. What you will learn is not difficult to master and will benefit all your other joints as you learn not to refer strain up into knees and beyond. By the way, I’m not affiliated to Vivobarefoot in any way, I just seem to have a cupboard full of them!
The point I want to make is that without my shoes (and thus my feet) being on my side, I really don’t know how I would cope with my hypermobility issues when they are at their worst as they are currently (triggered by the time of year). Honestly, I think I would be trapped at home in such inertia that my muscles would atrophy and all the very spirit would go out of me languishing in a chair rather than risk my daily walks by the river. Instead, courtesy of my Vivo walking boots, I am able to go out pretty much every day and, as long as my knees and neck and hip girdle are well suported and reasonably comfortable (plus I also use my Nordic poles) my feet just roll along and are in absolute bliss, plus there is no refered pain…NONE…to my knees, hips, neck or other areas.
I know this because I had such refered pain FOR YEARS before I found Vivos.
Even then (and I must have purchased my first pair 8 or 9 years ago) I tended to only wear my barefoot footwear in the summer because I told myself I needed more grip and protection in the winter months. Even as recenly as last year, I pulled on reasonably heavy thick rubber-soled wellies to walk most days in all the slush and sludge of my local walks in winter…and it wrecked all the considerable headway I had made with reducing my joint pain in the summer. By February, I had such foot pain it was almost unbearable; my soles burned, my bones ached, I had laxity issues in my ankles and other small bones and rock-hard painfiul calouses beneath my “great” toe. My husband nagged me to give up all the other footwear and use only Vivos from that point…and my callouses miraculously disappeared, the pain went away, the burning pain completely evaporated and my feet became, conspicuously, the least problematic part of my entire anatomy!
One other thing I notice is how strong my feet and ankles have become, like they can really be trusted not to let me down, though I have weaknesses in these areas for decades. When all your other joints are lax, this feels so important!
Now, I wear Vivo footwear all year round, with lighter walking boots or shoes in summer (though I prefer the boots as they support my ankle), Vivo shoes when we go out, Vivo long boots when I want to be smart and more supported and grip-soled Vivo walking boots when I go out for my daily constitutional in winter (the wonderful thing is that, though they are warm and grippy, they aren’t at all heavy, so I hardly know I have them on, wheareas the sheer weight of so many other types of footwear can be a literal pain with chronic pain issues). I can’t tell you how much difference it has made to my ability to keep getting my exercise daily and also not to have to pay the price for it when I get home. In fact, it was the fact my feet felt so wonderfully OUT of pain, so utterly comfortable as I walked along today that made me want to share this post, given my feet used to cause me just soooo much relentless pain I would want to saw them off from the end of my limbs at times. Now, all those years and years and years of footpain is all gone, even at my worse time of year.
So, when I keep seeing those well-meaning advisories about cushioned footbeds (I read it in two places relative to hypermobility and EDS just last night), it makes me want to weep. I tried all those shoes, even some well known brands, for a few years when I first noticed my hypermobility issues were gtting worse. What happened was that I got even worse, and when I put them back on recently to compare (before sending them off to shoe-recycling…) I could see why as I felt as though I was all at-sea, rolling around and out of touch with the ground, putting so much additional strain on my internal “suspension”. Its like when you put your car in comfort mode and the car’s suspension seems to roll from side to side instead of taking all the bumps of the road. What this does is force the body to hold even stronger against all that rocking, like being on a fairground ride; and with hypermobility this causes untold strain as you are already struggling to do that very thing, given all your internal structures are also lax. Laxity plus laxity (inside and out) creates a double problem and that seems very obvious to me now.
One other improvement I want to mention as a sufferer of Reynaud’s and neuropathy, I find that the way my foot rolls correctly in these shoes has vastly reduced episodes of numbness and tingling pain at times that I have been walking as it ensures good, steady circulation into the foot and down to the toes. When I wore more cushioned shoes, I would frequently return home with numb toes or chillblain-like sensations as I took my shoes off.
When you can trust your feet, when you can feel the earth beneath you (people always seem to think this means barefoot shoes are painful as though you can feel every sharp lump and bump…not so!) and when your body knows it can really trust where it is putting its weight down, your whole body relaxes, you become more instinctual in the way you walk, your balance improves, your left and right hemispheres get toned in their relationship with one another as you walk out in nature, and you come back feeling happier, healthier and as though you have had an all-round therapy just from putting one foot in front of the other. Its how Nature intended us to be…and it is deeply, deeply healing. We need to use this; its foundational for good health!
Those other shoes (trainers especially!) feel like they are devices of detachment, cutting you off from all that could be of most help to your recovery, most especially all that is natural and innate. That’s how I feel about it, my husband too (and he’s a trained yoga teacher who really understands how the body works at a very deep level), so I just wanted to share.
For more about how modern “advances” in footwear have actually wrecked the human foot, see this trailer for the film Shoespiracy.
Disclaimer: This blog, it’s content and any material linked to it are presented for autobiographical, anecdotal purposes only. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing. This article does not constitute a recommendation or lifestyle advice. Opinions are my own based on personal experience.Please seek medical advice from a professional if you are experiencing any symptoms or before you change your diet, your shoes, your habits or anything else.