The NWFA/Correct Toes team is seeking input from our readers about BOOTS! Specifically, women’s “fashion” boots (i.e., boots that are suitable for casual-to-semi-formal occasions). We would love to know if anyone has found a fashionable boot that meets our foot health criteria? If so, we would love to hear from you. Please leave your comment below so that we can follow up on your recommendation. Thank you!
We all spend a lot of time on our feet, in shoes, so understanding what constitutes healthy footwear is absolutely crucial for building and maintaining optimal foot, toe, and joint health. Indeed, the health of our feet has profound implications on our entire bodies and lives. But what are the key differences between a truly foot-healthy shoe and the industry standard? Quite a bit, as it turns out.
A typical “conventional” shoe possesses a quartet of injurious design features, including heel elevation, toe spring, toe taper, and sole stiffness. These design features are usually incorporated (to varying degrees) into almost every type of footwear, from fashion shoes to boots to casual shoes to athletic shoes.
The athletic shoe category can be the particularly deceiving because people tend to think of athletic shoes as comfortable and healthy; but by and large, they are neither of these things. When one looks closely at most athletic footwear, the negative design features present in other shoe categories are still evident and still cause foot and toe problems.
So, what does a foot-healthy shoe look like? A truly foot-healthy shoe is completely flat from heel to toe to provide real stability for your foot and enable natural arch support. A foot-healthy shoe possesses a sole that can easily be bent or twisted, allowing your foot to become strong on its own. And (perhaps most importantly) a foot-healthy toe has a toe box that is widest at the ends of the toes, not at the ball of the foot. A toe box that is widest at the ends of the toes allows for natural toe splay (enabled, ideally, by Correct Toes in individuals with toe deformities caused by a lifetime of tapering toe box footwear).
A foot-healthy shoe is also devoid of “motion control technology,” or anything that attempts to “improve upon” or “control” the already inherently brilliant design of the human foot. Da Vinci said it best: “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” The job of footwear is simply to respect the foot and stay out of its way as much as possible.
Because we all spend enormous amounts of time on our feet in a weight-bearing situation (as well as enormous amounts of time in our shoes), the shape and orientation of our feet and toes within our shoes is crucial. Bad shoes (i.e., shoes with the negative design features already mentioned above) can lead to toe deformities and pain, discomfort, and frustration. It’s impossible to rehabilitate the foot to the way nature intended while wearing conventional footwear, as conventional footwear itself is the underlying cause of most foot problems and deformities.
Good shoes (i.e., shoes with the positive design features already mentioned above) allow our feet and body to function as nature intended. These shoes help reduce our likelihood of foot and ankle injuries, eliminate pain in our lower extremities, and allow us to get the most out of our years (especially our later years).
Our feet and toes were naturally designed to enable optimal balance, gait, comfort, and longevity. Unfortunately, the vast majority of footwear on the market includes problematic design features, so we all need to be extra diligent when shopping for footwear. Seek out shoes that respect nature’s brilliant design instead of dominating it.
Examples of foot-healthy shoes can be found in the Northwest Foot & Ankle Shoe List. You’ll notice two seals of approval next to many of these footwear options. One of these seals is our “Natural Foot Approved” seal, which means that the product does not possess heel elevation, toe spring, or a rigid sole, and allows for natural toe splay. The other seal is our “Correct Toes Approved” seal, which means that the product conforms to the above criteria and also works well with Correct Toes toe spacers.
We’d like to introduce you to Andrew Rademacher, the creator of Lems Shoes—foot-shaped shoes that support natural foot and toe health. We recently interviewed Andrew about his company, his journey as a entrepreneur, and his experience with Correct Toes. Here is what we learned:
Q1. It’s no secret: We LOVE Lems shoes, and we feel very fortunate to work with you. For our readers, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and Lems.
A1. I founded Lems Shoes two years ago in Charlotte, North Carolina, while working as a clerk in a shoe store. Despite studying Landscape Design in college, my passion for shoes and the human foot urged me to take the leap into footwear and start my own company. Getting back to my roots, I decided to build the company and the brand in the town I grew up: Hermitage, Pennsylvania. Although Lems Shoes is currently just a two-man show, we have become a well-oiled machine in which I handle the manufacturing and design, while my colleague, Steve Perna, handles customer service and sales. I have discovered that building a company from scratch can have its ups and downs, yet as the years progress and the sales increase, it is exciting to be able to measure our progress and look forward to what the future has to offer.
Q2. Prior to the inception of Lems, we implored several shoe companies, both small and large, to design a shoe that’s completely flat, widest at the ends of the toes, lightweight, and flexible — in other words, a shoe that respects natural foot anatomy. While many individuals within these companies understood the merits of our request, their companies didn’t believe in the marketability of such a shoe. In light of these circumstances, we’re curious about what inspired you to start a footwear company, especially one as unique and unconventional as Lems?
A2. The idea to start Lems Shoes came to me four years ago while studying at Purdue University. While on the track team, I consistently laced up footwear the was not only uncomfortable, but looked nothing like the shape of my foot. Ideally, I wanted a shoe that had three characteristics: flat, flexible, and most importantly mirror the shape of my foot. My search led me to countless dead ends, including a custom-made moccasin that met most of my requirements, but which did not appeal to my tastes. After hours of research and inquiry, I came across The Barefoot Running Trend, which was full of many dissatisfied customers that were also searching for a flat, flexible, foot-shaped shoe. Although I found several companies that designed flat and flexible footwear, all of the options I found were much narrower than my foot appeared to be. It was evident that most companies disregarded the true shape of the foot and focused on a narrow toe box, squeezing the toes together inside of the shoe. A foot’s widest point is at the toe, therefore, a shoe’s widest point, should be at the toe as well. I felt it was time something needed to be done, and the shoe I was looking for needed to be created, therefore I took it upon myself to start my very own shoe company and Lems Shoes was born.
Q3. How were you introduced to Correct Toes?
A3. I discovered Correct Toes online as well as Correct Toes’ founder Dr. Ray McClanahan‘s recommended shoe list. All of the shoes Dr. McClanahan recommended were flat, flexible and had an acceptable but not ideal design. It was clear that Dr. McClanahan and I shared the dissatisfaction with the design of a tapered toe box and believed that shoes should be widest at the toes. Although the shoes on his recommended list were the best he could find, he still felt they needed significant improvements. After informing Dr. McClanahan of my ideas and interest to design my own shoes, he exclaimed, and I quote, “Andrew if you can make this shoe that you’re talking about, it will heal tens of thousands of feet and be the first solution to improperly fitting footwear.”
Q4. What feedback have you received from your customers about wearing Lems and Correct Toes, and about the general natural foot health approach?
A4. Some of our biggest fans have been referrals from Correct Toes and patients from Dr. McClanahan’s practice, Northwest Foot & Ankle. These customers understand the importance of spreading the toes and therefore appreciate the unique design of Lems Shoes. We have dozens of success stories from patients that, after switching to Correct Toes and Lems have been able to alleviate a lot of pain that stems from incorrect footwear. After making the switch, one particular customer even called the partnership between Correct Toes and Lems Shoes, a “match made in heaven”. We are humbled and honored to be able to collaborate with Correct Toes in order to cure the chronic foot problems for hundreds of patients that have all but given up hope.
Q5. Nowadays, there are several footwear models on the market that label themselves ‘minimalist’ or ‘barefoot-like’, and yet the toe box is still narrow and tapered, which as we well know, does not allow for natural toe splay. Why do you suppose these footwear companies are so resistant to an anatomically-shaped toe box?
A5. Shoe companies stick to traditional design standards or fashion trends. Large shoe companies believe, “if it is not broke, why fix it”; therefore they continue to make what has been selling. Unfortunately, narrow, tapered shoe lasts and toe boxes have sold in the past therefore they continue putting them on the market. A shoe with a natural-shaped last is seen as a risky experiment to these companies. It has not been done before, which means there is no proof that it will sell. With that being said, as research continues and foot pain spreads, companies are beginning to experiment by gradually making wider and more anatomical lasts. Although they are beginning to see the advantages of a wide toe box, their developments are extremely gradual and no company has gone to the extremes that Lems Shoes has. A natural, foot-shaped last was the only thing we knew so it only made sense that the shoe we designed had this distinct characteristic. Although risky, we designed our last from scratch, modeling it directly after the human foot instead of modeling it after another shoe company’s design. The risk paid off, our customers have fallen in love with the fit of their Lems, admitting that they have “never worn anything quite like it”.
Q6. Please feel free to share a customer or personal testimonial about Lems and Correct Toes, or a customer’s story about a recovery from a foot problem.
A6. With the willingness to do anything and everything to heal an excruciating bunion, one particular customer decided to purchase a pair of Lems. After several weeks of wearing Lems Shoes paired with Correct Toes she exclaimed that the pain had completely gone away. She was relieved that the size of the bunion had diminished and she was finally able to wear shoes again. After her pain had ceased and she became a convert to our shoe, she called us to personally “thank us for making the most comfortable shoes ever! I’ll never wear another shoe ever again! Please do not change a thing.”
Q7. Will you offer us a sneak-peak of what’s coming from Lems?
A7. At the end of October we will be releasing the Boulder Boot in two new colors, Black and Gravel. The Black is a vegan-friendly option, with an upper that is 100% nylon consisting of no leather or animal by-products. We are proud of the look and feel of the Boulder Boot and think it is one of those signature designs that has a classic and timeless feel. The Boulder Boot is extremely versatile and can be worn throughout the year. It is completely collapsible and perfect for traveling or wearing around town. In January we will be releasing the Men’s Nine2Five in black, arguably the first semi-dress shoe that has a wide toe-box and can be utilized in an office or business setting. Finally we are excited to announce that in the Fall 2014 a completely waterproof version of the Boulder Boot will be released.
Q8. Please feel free to share anything else you’d like our readers to know about.
A8. First and foremost, we would like acknowledge Correct Toes, the world’s first toe spacer that can fit inside a shoe and teach natural toe splay! Together, we have enabled hundreds of people to feel how the foot is supposed to naturally function, an opportunity that most people have never experienced in their lifetime. Finally thank you, for giving us the opportunity to share the story of our small but growing company, Lems Shoes.
Thank you, Andrew, for sharing your experience, and for your invaluable role in healing foot ailments, world-wide!
When I moved back to my hometown of Portland in 2010 with my wife and infant daughter, I did so to be closer to family. I did not expect to get any more traction in the medical community with my natural-foot treatment concepts than I did in Seattle, which was basically none. Yet again and again, I heard other practitioners saying: “you’ve got to meet this ‘barefoot-podiatrist-guy’, Dr. Ray McClanahan. You guys are speaking the same language.”
Soon after meeting, we realized that despite coming from two distinct disciplines [podiatry and physical therapy], we had reached many similar conclusions about the foot’s ability to support itself and the problems with most modern footwear. With a blueprint hashed out on the back of beer coasters, Dr. Ray and I decided to try to create Minimalist Mondays, a weekly community-education program designed to share some of these concepts with the public, and help those interested to become happier and healthier runners. 2+ years, 90 clinics, and thousands of miles run and walked barefoot by participants later, and the message continues to grow.
We have filmed the entire 12-week Minimalist Monday series in its entirety, from special guest speaker Michael Sandler in Week 1, to the cross-Portland relay Tabor2Crest in the Week 12 finale. So even if you can’t make it down to the live sessions in Portland’s waterfront park, you can follow the program at home with weekly episodes released on Northwest Foot & Ankle’s YouTube channel.
Overall, I feel blessed to have connected to Dr. Ray and my patients have benefited greatly. From his ingenious Correct Toes, to introducing me to Dr. Rossi’s influential articles, Dr. Ray has been nothing short of a great influence to my practice, and gracious colleague. We have worked together successfully on many patients and I look forward continuing to grow for years to come.
Sanatan (pronounced sah-NAH-tahn) started his professional life as a mechanical engineer, but soon realized that the ‘machine’ he most loved was the human body. After years as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and personal trainer he decided that there would be no better way to improve his ability to help others grow strong and healthy, than becoming a Doctor of Physical Therapy. He received his degree from The University of Washington Medical School, where he was honored with the McMillan Fellowship for being the top applicant in his class. He is currently pursuing advanced manual therapy training through the North American Institute of Orthopedic Manual Therapy.
Sanatan is recognized as a regional expert in running mechanics and efficiency, and specializes in lower extremity injury prevention and treatment. He instructs physical therapists, doctors, and other healthcare practitioners with his continuing-education course: Successfully Integrating a Natural-Foot Perspective Into Your Practice. While personally an avid barefoot runner (yes, skin to the ground) since 2008, he has found that his patients need not get rid of all their shoes in order to reap the strength, power, and healing benefits provided by the restoration of natural foot posture and function. Sanatan partnered with podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan in the founding of Minimalist Mondays in 2010, a 12-week program for those interested in the many benefits of transitioning to more minimalist shoes (or none at all!) to restore natural running and walking gait. They have since hosted over 90 clinics in Portland and helped countless runners find a natural stride that is more efficient, injury resistant, and fun.
Spending years as high-flying competitive Ultimate Frisbee player at the collegiate, national, and international levels, Sanatan certainly knows the demands of sport on the body. A bit more grounded now with a 3 year-old daughter, Nalu, and 1 year-old son, Levi, he also understands the challenges of trying to stay active and healthy within our busy lives. If you feel too busy for exercise, be sure to ask him about ‘opportunistic therapy/training.’
Sanatan is psyched to be part of the interdisciplinary team at Optimal Results Physical Therapy Downtown Portland, and looks forward to helping you and your body move naturally down the path towards health and wellness.
Education & Professional Certifications
- Doctor of Physical Therapy from University of Washington
- Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Bucknell University
- Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
- ASTYM Certified
- BikeFit Certified
- Certified Level 2 MovNat Trainer
Specialties / Interests
Ultimate Frisbee, Natural running and Barefoot running technique, Movnat training, Primal movement, Cycling, Kettlebell training, Olympic-style lifting, CrossFit.
After three great years practicing physical therapy at Therapeutic Associates-Downtown Portland, Dr. Golden has decided to become an independent practitioner. An expert and instructor in the field of functional natural foot health, his innovative practice is now in the heart of Downtown Portland, at: Optimal Results Physical Therapy.
Sanatan (as most of his patients call him) is very excited about his new venture, which will allow him to not only give more time and attention to each of his patients, but also spend more time with his young family. Over a long working relationship with Dr. Ray McClanahan, Sanatan has developed many complementary treatments to help accelerate the process of healing lower extremity injuries, including:
- Total body evaluation and assessment to find root-causes of pain and treatment.
- Building you a personalized, and laser-targeted, home exercise program to address your specific needs
- Targeted manual therapy: A hands-on method of restoring proper motion and function.
- The Astym System: A manual treatment the stimulates the body’s own healing response.
- Real-time running technique video analysis and specific training drills to immediately improve technique.
- RESTORE: The natural foot function restoration program.
- Full access to the only AlterG Antigravity Treadmill in Portland, outside of OHSU. Click the link to see an amazing short video of one of the most revolutionary pieces of rehab equipment around. From the Olympic track stars, the Portland Timbers, to weekend warrior trying to run their first half-marathon, to a patient the day after a hip replacement, the AlterG can help folks get back on their feet sooner, and go for longer, than ever before.
Special Offer For Correct Toes Newsletter Recipients: As a token of appreciation for his ongoing partnership with Dr. McClanahan and Northwest Foot & Ankle, Dr. Golden would like to extend the offer for a complimentary injury examination and consultation or AlterG trial for all those looking accelerate their healing process. Between now and December 1st, contact Optimal Results and mention the Correct Toes Newsletter to get your complimentary appointment.
If you would like to see Dr. Golden’s Specialties and Professional Profile, click here.
If you would like to read more about Dr. Golden’s practice and relationship with Dr. McClanahan, click here to read Natural Feet Unite!
Many people are aware that a transition period is required when switching from conventional, PECH-style (Pronation Elevated Cushioned Heel) shoes to minimalist shoes. In fact, this is one of the most common topics we hear about from patients and customers. Most people want to know the proper protocol for transitioning to foot-healthy footwear—shoes, boots, or sandals that are widest at the ends of the toes, have flexible soles, and possess no heel elevation or toe spring. Though every individual is different and has unique factors or circumstances to consider, we’ve come up with eight general suggestions to heed that are important for everyone making this transition. And here they are:
1. Take a Slow, Progressive Approach
It’s perfectly normal to be excited about this new approach to foot health and function. After all, countless people have already benefited from true minimalist shoes and natural foot health approaches. But it is possible to be overzealous in the adoption of this new footwear, and failing to transition slowly from conventional-style shoes to minimalist shoes might lead to problems.
Consider wearing your new minimalist shoes for a very short period at first, such as 30 minutes per day, and then gradually increasing wear time by 30 minutes per day as your feet and body adapt to the changes. If you’re a runner, consider wearing your minimalist shoes for the first mile of your run to begin with, then switching to your conventional shoes when your feet get tired. As your feet and toes get stronger, you can begin wearing your minimalist shoes for longer periods during your run, eventually phasing out entirely your conventional running shoes.
2. Proceed in a Stepwise Fashion
Many people benefit from a stepwise approach to minimalist shoes that involves a gradual transition from a built-up conventional shoe to a transitional type of shoe to a true minimalist shoe. There are two main considerations as it concerns this stepwise approach: the sole of the foot and the Achilles tendon.
The sole of the foot is extremely sensitive (which is great for sensing the ground and making appropriate micro-adjustments during gait). But after a lifetime of wearing thick-soled shoes, the sole of the foot (skin, muscles, nerves) is not properly adapted to the ground, and being barefoot or using thin-soled shoes can be uncomfortable. The best way to build up your foot’s sole is to start with thicker-soled footwear, such as Altras and Lunas, and then move to thinner-soled options over time. Note that your thicker-soled footwear selection should still possess all the other foot-healthy characteristics that we recommend, specifically, a flat platform (no heel elevation, no toe spring, no arch-propping inserts), a wide toe box (widest at the ends of the toes), flexibility, and light weight.
Having worn conventional shoes with heel elevation for years (decades, in many cases), the Achilles tendon often becomes contracted, or shortened (sometimes up to three-quarters of an inch!). A shortened Achilles tendon will return to its normal length after conventional footwear is abandoned, but this process takes time. Heat, ice, physical therapy modalities, and warming or cooling gels can help with this transition and rehabilitation. Shifting from a shoe with heel elevation to a “zero drop” shoe can place a tremendous amount of strain on your Achilles tendon, and overdoing it, especially at first, can cause damage and pain in this structure. Again, a slow, stepwise shift to transitional footwear (e.g., Altra shoes, Luna sandals, etc.) can make the leap to ultra-minimalist shoes (e.g., Lems Primal 2 shoes, Vibram FiveFingers shoes, Xero Shoes, etc.) a much lower risk.
3. Allow Time for Adjustments to Occur
The changes and deformities that happen in feet and toes exposed to conventional footwear take many years to occur. It’s no surprise, then, that positive, healthy changes and true foot and toe rehabilitation will also take some time to occur. Some people who transition to minimalist shoes do not allow enough time for the soles and muscles (in the feet and the rest of the lower body) to strengthen. Transitioning to minimalist shoes will, in most cases, work your foot and lower body in a very new and unique way, leading to initial soreness and fatigue in many before the longer-term strength gains and other favorable adaptations occur. Be patient, monitor your body’s response to this transition, and take it slowly! Changes are afoot.
4. Address Gait Changes
It’s extremely common for gait changes to occur when switching from conventional shoes to minimalist models. Most people who wear conventional shoes are heel-strikers (thick, elevated heels make it almost impossible to be anything else). People who wear minimalist shoes, on the other hand, often first contact the ground with the mid-foot or forefoot—a very different gait pattern that has wide-ranging effects throughout the body. This change in gait pattern tends to happen naturally upon moving to footwear with a completely flat (and thin) support platform. But sometimes there is a lag in gait changes that occurs during this transition, such that some individuals still continue to heel strike even after shifting to minimalist footwear.
Heel striking in minimalist shoes may cause some heel discomfort, as there is no longer the same level of cushioning in place to absorb the shock. Using heel cups (please see the next section for further details about heel cups) can be helpful in reducing or preventing this discomfort. Another helpful approach is to pay a lot of attention to how your feet and body feel during the transition phase. Consider paying extra attention to your feet during this time, and walk in a way that feels right to you (avoid “pushing through the pain” or limping in order to avoid pain). Forcing a forefoot strike is not ideal either. Basically, just feel and listen to your body and avoid distractions (chatting with friends, listening to music, etc.) while you’re walking or running during this transition period.
5. Use Met Pads and Heel Cups, if Necessary
Metatarsal pads are a fairly unobtrusive way to restore muscle or tendon balance in your feet and restore the position of your forefoot fat pad to a place that supports your metatarsal heads in the ball of your foot (a common pain point in many people with foot problems). Metatarsal pads, if placed properly, can also help spread your transverse foot arch, which helps take pressure off the structures that run through the ball of your foot, such as nerves and blood vessels.
Heel cups are are another helpful (and unobtrusive) natural foot product that alleviates point tenderness in the heel that may develop in minimalist shoe adopters. This point tenderness can happen early in the transition phase or later on, after you’ve been wearing minimalist shoes for a period of time. Point tenderness in the heel is relatively rare in minimalist shoe adopters, but it can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, lead to abandonment of natural foot health approaches. A simple heel cup is often enough to address this discomfort and keep a person in footwear that lets his or her foot function the way nature intended. Setbacks may happen from time to time, but in most cases, there is a simple solution or tweak possible that can help you stay on the path to natural foot health.
6. Use Correct Toes Toe Spacers
Using Correct Toes is one of the most powerful ways to support the transition from conventional footwear to minimalist shoes. Correct Toes naturally curbs overpronation and enables proper weight distribution. This extremely helpful product also encourages a natural strengthening of the muscles and tendons that act on your feet and toes. Correct Toes toe spacers work well in minimalist shoes with anatomically appropriate toe boxes (i.e., toe boxes that are widest at the ends of the toes, not the ball of the foot as in conventional—and many minimalist—shoes).
7. Add Barefoot Time to Your Regimen
Adding some barefoot time to your foot health and minimalist shoe transition regimen can be extremely helpful in ensuring a smooth (and injury-free) shift. Spending at least some time barefoot, even if only around the house, can help condition the soles of your feet and strengthen your foot and toe muscles, accelerating the foot adaptations that occur with minimalist shoe wearing in a safe and constructive manner. If appropriate, you may also consider walking outdoors in your bare feet, weather permitting, starting with as little as one block.
8. Perform Key Home Care Exercises
Performing certain exercises at home (or work) can help with your transition from conventional to minimalist shoes. The most helpful exercises you can perform include the Toe Extensor Stretch, the Bunion Stretch, and the Ball Rolling Exercise. These exercises, when performed in series, help relax tight muscles and tendons and build foot strength. For the best possible outcome, perform these exercises at least several times each day.
Using true minimalist shoes—shoes that are widest at the ends of the toes, have a flexible sole, and possess a completely flat support platform—offers the possibility of profound and enduring foot health benefits. Like most aspects of health, it’s always best to exercise caution and restraint in transitioning to a new and natural approach. Your feet and body are amazingly adaptable and will indeed strengthen if treated appropriately. But this remarkable adaptation process only works well with time, patience, diligence, and a progressive approach. It is an investment well worth making, as it will pay foot health dividends for an entire lifetime. If you have any questions about any aspect of transitioning from conventional shoes to minimalist footwear, please consider meeting with your natural healthcare provider. And now: onward, to excellent foot health!
About the Authors:
Dr. Robyn Hughes is a naturopathic physician; the Director of Medical Education for Correct Toes; a foot health educator in Asheville, North Carolina; and the co-founder of NaturalFootgear.com. She is an avid cyclist, trail runner, and yoga student.
Dr. Ray McClanahan is a sports podiatrist; the founder and physician of Northwest Foot & Ankle in Portland, Oregon; and inventor of Correct Toes. He’s a former elite cross-country racer and regular participant in various running events throughout the Pacific Northwest.