Shoes & Joints

I wanted to just share some anecdotal experience with my “shoe journey” this past year. As a woman who’s been big-boned since childhood, I’ve always had a shoe addiction. The addiction began because growing up in the 90s my size was rarely available. Later, as my weight fluctuated, shoes became a way to add glamour regardless of what size clothing I was wearing.

I worked in tech, commuting by car. Except for the brief periods I lived and/or worked in Manhattan, my life was usually pretty sedentary.

In other words, for twenty years, my shoe obsession was decorative.

But last year I found myself, at 41 years old with knee issues, discovering an entirely new facet to shoes. I was pounding the floors as a waitress, stocking heavy plants at a local big box store, keeping up with boyfriend and lanky rescue dog on multi-mile walks. I not only needed to be more active than I had ever been before, I wanted to be. No one wants to feel too achey to keep up with your cute partner in crime, right?

And, in my fifth year of avoiding industrial healthcare, I was determined to take care of my body myself.

My feet hurt, but it was my knees that were scaring me. They had creaked for years, and hurt when stepping down. One of my last attempts to utilize the medical system was to visit a knee specialist who basically told me I had bad knees. There was nothing I could do about it. He said I was too flexible – not quite double-jointed but close. My cartilage or whatever was probably deteriorating. He basically told me to have a nice life until I got them replaced.

My mom had her first knee replaced at sixty and many of the women in my family had issues with their joints.

I didn’t want to go back to sitting at a desk job, and I didn’t want to fall apart. I loved being more active. I had lost weight, but more, I just felt more energetic. I enjoyed moving. And, interestingly, the more I walked, the better my hips felt.

Since I wasn’t going back to a doctor I started researching and experimenting on myself. I tried various supplements, knee braces, stretching. But the more I explored, the more I found that the real issue started with my feet.

We’re typically told to buy “squishy” shoes if we have any kind of pain. But the more foam was in my shoe, the worse my knees felt.

The first discovery was that a soft insole actually causes my arches to flex, drawing down one side of my knee joint and creating a special pain of its own.

The second discovery is that the more your toes can stretch out into their natural (wide) form, the more your feet can support your body on their own.

In the course of figuring this out, I spent probably five hundred dollars on shoes last year, and this was while making about $22k for the year. It was my old way of thinking, the “If you spend it they will come” model.

I bought Timberland Pros. I bought Salomons. I bought Birks. I wore my Keen hiking boots down to the sole.

The last discovery has, at last, ended my shoe obsession. It is this:

My body is supported by my feet, and what my feet want… just like my soul… is to be left alone.

I’m talking barefoot.

Now, I’ve spent money on the barefoot shoe thing too. I LOVE my pair of Flux high tops. But in the end, the beauty of barefoot is that you really just need something simple that holds a protective, flat, thin, sole to your foot. My current favorite – a $10 pair of water shoes.

You have to learn to walk differently, landing on the ball of your foot instead of pounding your heel down like I have my entire life.

Once you start down this path you will find that all other shoes just start to seem intrusive, pushing your foot into a shape some well-intentioned designer hoped would solve everyone’s problems.

Instead, and if you’re into holistic health this makes perfect sense, we find that our feet do their best work without manmade interference.

I still have some pain, but generally it’s when I’ve eaten too much inflammatory sugar and all my joints hurt.


  • Wide toe box so your toes can splay out as needed / designed to
  • Flat thin sole that allows your foot to feel the earth
  • Rubberized protection at the heel is helpful
  • Held closely to your foot – you don’t want your foot to be working to hold the shoe on
  • Water shoes are a great way to test it out
  • You’ll need time to relearn to walk, and develop different foot and leg muscles, so walk mindfully

If you’re looking for more info on barefoot shoes, Anya’s Reviews is a great place to start.

Be well,


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