What are you doing to your toes?

The sad truth: I have osteoarthritis in both of my big toes. For 20 years I taught step aerobics and I’m pretty sure the repetitive motion of that activity is what burned out the cartilage between those toe joints. At least I had a really great time doing it.

But about 10 years ago, the pain in my toes became so bad that I finally went to a podiatrist who confirmed I was doomed. She said emphatically that I needed to:
1. Quit all high-impact activities — anything that included running and jumping
2. Get a steroid shot in my toes every few months to reduce the pain
3. Buy some $500 orthotics to take the pressure off my toes when I walked

The first recommendation I chose to ignore; the second I followed for one month, until the thought of going back for another ginormous needle inserted directly into my toes caused my stomach to lurch; the third I complied with gleefully, believing that if I just threw some money at the problem it would go away. I was so excited, I bought two pairs, just so I’d be totally covered in the orthotics department.

Have you ever used orthotics?! The ones I was prescribed didn’t fit into my regular dress shoes, so I had to buy more dress shoes. Not too much a problem. See “throwing more money at the problem,” above.

But they didn’t work at all in my workout shoes, they slid around and created blisters. (This must have been the podiatrist’s little joke on me. I could barely move, much less jump up and down.)

It wasn’t too long before I ditched them altogether. Well, they’re probably still here somewhere, a handy reminder that money alone usually solves nothing.

About that time I became a fan of Katy Bowman, a biomechanics expert from Sequim, WA, who wrote a book about foot pain, has an impressive body of work on natural movement, and produces a funny, informative and irreverent podcast.

Side note: Katy recently removed the chairs from her house, choosing to encourage her family to sit on the floor. How’s that for bold moves in the name of healthier bodies?

After reading Katy’s research, I had to ask myself. Could it be that my toes — my entire foot, in fact — needed to be set free? To be strengthened instead of protected from moving? To stop being abused by my shoes?

So I got rid of my dress shoes with heels and bought (plain, yes, sort of boring) flats. I stopped wearing my boots with 2-inch heels. Crazier still, I stopped wearing padded, built-up-in-the-back workout shoes.

I chose the most minimal shoes I could find. I started going going barefoot in the house at all times. Well, I wear socks because my feet are always cold, but I’m standing at my desk as I type this, with both feet planted firmly on the floor, all four corners of them touching down. Just like our feet were intended to support us.

Within 2 months of these changes, I noticed a difference in the way my entire body felt. Less back strain, fewer knee issues. Better posture and better balance.

And my toes? They aren’t 100%, since cartilage doesn’t regenerate. But they are now 80% pain free. In fact a week can go by when I don’t even think about my toes at all, unless I bang into something or my granddaughter steps on them.

Think about it. What are your shoes doing to your body alignment? How much are your feet allowed to move, breathe and get stronger?

Find Katy:
Katy Bowman: https://nutritiousmovement.com/
Katy Bowman’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NutritiousMovement/
On Sticher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/katy-says/e/48768187?autoplay=true