Over the past several years, millions of people have said goodbye to modern footwear (cushion, stability, higher heels) in favor of minimal footwear or even ditching shoes altogether. Whether the decision to forego modern footwear was in an effort to regain foot and overall body wellness or to get back to basics, in doing so, many have run and/or walked into a bit of a conundrum called concrete.
Recently, a post was made on the Facebook group, “Body and Sole,” where a group member described some pain she was having, stating:
“I live in a place where walking on anything but hard flat surfaces is difficult to find, including around my neighborhood and home. I have a pair of Keota Unshoes that are excellent for hiking, awful for going to the grocery store because there is zero cushion. I’ve tried, and I’ve suffered. … I find myself wearing shoes around the house because of the hardwood and tile. Is this normal? Will there come a day when being barefoot or wearing the Keota shoes on all types of surfaces (including hard and flat) will be a reality?”
To help answer the user’s question, we are going to delve into the history of concrete (manufactured hard surfaces) and footwear, separately. This will help us understand where the two have come into play in our evolution of footwear and possibly even pain so that we can hopefully answer our question at hand: “are minimal footwear and concrete surfaces meant to coexist?”
Let’s first look at concrete
Concrete, as we know, is the mixture of ground up rocks/sand that is mixed with water to form a substance that can be used to bind things together when it hardens. The type of concrete that is at question here is poured or spread out out to create a hard, even flat surface. This we can all agree on without checking Wikipedia.
Where/when concrete originated is where many are stumped, and it requires a bit more digging. Many believe that concrete is a “modern” surface, only being around since the industrial revolution. However, “Understanding Cement,” the very website that has dedicated its efforts to understanding and educating others on this material, begs to differ.
The site noted that the ancient Egyptians used calcined gypsum as a cement and the Greeks and Romans used lime made by heating limestone and adding sand to make mortar, with coarser stones used for making concrete. The origin of the claims came from an excerpt from the book, “Ten books of Architecture,” stating that concrete floors were made as early as first century BCE by Roman architect and engineer, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio.
And while the process of creating cement and concrete surfaces has changed since its early uses, the fact still remains that man has walked on man made concrete surfaces for thousands of years.
Now, a look at footwear
Taking a look at the history of concrete surfaces and footwear, one would assume that the creation of protective, cushioned and even stability based shoes would immediately follow. After all, with such hard surfaces to walk on, people must have been riddled with foot, joint and back pain.
While footwear, specifically sandals and moccasins – what we would call minimal footwear today – were created to protect the feet from superficial injuries (cuts, etc.) and extreme temperatures, other footwear was not created for those purposes.
In fact, according to Wikipedia, ancient civilizations, such as Egypt – even around the time cement was being used – saw no practical need for footwear and used shoes primarily as ornaments and insignia of power. That sign of power related to footwear continued into the middle ages when shoes and newly created high heels were adorned by the most wealthy.
As centuries have gone on, shoes have continued to be a symbol of status and even fashion. And somewhere in the middle of all of this, feet began to feel discomfort. This sparked many shoemakers to create shoes with cushion and stability to remedy the problems people now had.
These shoes that were made to save people from modern surfaces, over time, were weakening the feet, and as a result the person’s body structure. Pain continued to be the norm for many.
Enter: minimal footwear – on concrete surfaces
In May of 2009, author, Christopher McDougall wrote a book titled, “Born to Run,” where he essentially dispelled the myth that modern footwear/running shoes were needed to run. He even wrote about his own challenges with pain, and overcoming them through wearing minimal footwear, particularly, Huarache-style sandals.
This sparked a revolution of sorts with those riddled with foot and joint pain, looking for a solution in minimal footwear. Minimal footwear was the new craze, and nearly every brand was coming out with its version of what consumers wanted. Unfortunately, the trend saw a crash because people were getting injured due to concrete and minimal footwear coexisting – too fast, too soon.
Just think of it as long lost relatives forced to spend every second of the day together without being properly introduced – all the while being told that the family members (or in this case, shoes) you’d known your whole life were to be completely left behind forever.
This is what happened, and there was a falling out with some people blaming minimal footwear/going barefoot, and others blaming hard/concrete surfaces.
So, what is to blame, or can/should the two coexist?
The fact of the matter is, neither concrete nor minimal footwear are to blame because both have been around for a very long time, and actually coexisted peacefully for many years. And just like any long lost friendship, it is important to ease back into it gradually. This can be done by alternating between your previous footwear and minimalist footwear. You should even consider any misconceptions or false indoctrinalizations about concrete and/or minimal footwear that may be causing an underlying fear of new pain or recurring pain you’ve experienced prior. This fear could possibly be leading you to unnecessary chronic pain.
And even after you have rekindled your relationship, it’s very important, if not essential to shake things up a bit. Ditch the cement for a hike in the mountains. Walk on a dried out river bed or even through a stream with river rocks below. Go for a stroll on a sandy beach and feel the warm grains in between your toes and the burn in your calves that tells you you’re getting stronger.
Our feet were meant to walk on hard surfaces just as they were soft, bumpy, grainy and all sorts of earthly surfaces manmade or not. Feet are really that awesome, and should be allowed to show just what they’re made of.