Have you ever really asked yourself which shoes would make my feet happy? What about which shoes would make my feet strong?
If you haven't, I can certainly tell you about a colleague who often asks these two questions when thinking about her own feet and her clients' feet at Juniper Physical Therapy. Her name is Dr. Stacey Eck, and she is obsessed with finding ways to create happier, stronger feet.
I have known Stacey for over ten years, and not only is she a colleague, but she has become an excellent friend of mine. I have witnessed her journey to understand feet, and let me tell you; she has dived deep. She has taken numerous classes, has gotten loads of experience, and continuously picks up new information. The clients that walk into our clinic with persistent foot pain & skepticism walk out smiling & utterly amazed at how much better they feel. I am so happy for our clients, proud of my friend, and thrilled to be working with her.
I've learned a ton of information about feet from Stacey over the years. However, the most profound thing I've learned from her is that we need to stop relying on passive external "things" to improve our feet. To have healthy feet, they need to move well and be strong.
Over the recent years, Stacey has moved further away from supportive footwear, arch supports & passive stretching. She has moved towards foot-shaped shoes, toe spacers, and active strengthening. I've seen this shift in her approach do incredible things for our clients. They are better faster and leave our office feeling empowered to make lifelong changes.
Recently, Stacey and I played Mahjong with two other friends of ours (yes, that game on "Crazy Rich Asians"), and the conversation of sore feet came up. Of course, we all looked directly at Stacey for advice. She talked to us about her experience with foot-shaped shoes and their impact on her clients, herself, and her two little girls. She explained how the shoe's toe box is more expansive and shaped to follow the contour of our natural feet. This additional space reduces pressure on our foot & toe joints allowing our muscles to work & thrive. Over time, this leads to stronger feet — strong Feet = happy body.
Of course, we all wanted in on these foot-shaped shoes. Stacey wore an adorable pair of foot-shaped boots as she told us all about her favorite brands. This information was golden, and I'm happy to share it with you!
Here are 7 of Stacey's favorite brands:
WHITIN - budget-friendly and an excellent place to start to move towards a more minimalist shoe
Altra - offers cushion & stability; options for running, hiking, gym training, and lifestyle (I LOVE these for running & lifting)
Splay Shoes - great for kids and a reasonable price point
Zaqq - German brand with very cool shoe and boot options
ZeaZoo - offers great "Ugg" style pull-on boots that are super warm but foot-shaped & minimalist.
Stacey's advice to her clients is to change to minimalist shoes gradually. If your feet have been living in shoes with a higher "heel" or heel-to-toe drop, moving to a minimalist or zero drop shoe can be too drastic of a change for your body's soft tissues and joints.
Follow these guidelines to wean gradually:
Wear your new shoes for a few hours a day and add more time as you feel comfortable.
Walk barefoot in your house more often to get your feet and body used to the lack of support.
Begin foot & toe strengthening exercises.
Lastly, Stacey suggests starting with the WHITIN or Altra. WHITIN is a great price point and contains an insert that provides some cushion. Altra's offer cushion and stability, enabling your feet and body to better transition from a standard shoe to a minimalist one.
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