There are times when you have to ignore what you know and believe for the greater good of a situation.  You may have to put yourself aside and do what is “right” based on what is being put before you at that very moment.  That is exactly what happened to me two weeks ago.  I did the unthinkable and recommended someone do something that I would normally say is the worst thing a person can do.  I advised a client to get shoes, and not just any shoes but something like the MBT or Shape Ups!  Don’t judge me!

If you are not familiar with these shoes then I say there is no need for you to be because I personally feel they are one of the biggest scams perpetrated on the public in a very long time.  They are thick and cushy soled shoes that completely eliminate all foot movement and create their own motion as a person walks in them.  They are sold as a way to tone and strengthen the legs just by wearing the shoe, and there is some truth to that, but like anything new you add to your routine, that effect will last for a couple of weeks, and then what are you left with?  You find yourself sitting around with a goofy-looking shoe that has not only stopped “building” your leg muscles but is actually putting you at risk of injury.  It completely inhibits the foot, and the extremely thick and squishy heel puts the wearer at a pretty high risk of ankle injury, as I’ve had to help a good number of people recover from ankle sprains when they lost their balance in these shoes.  So with that said I’ll restate that I do not under any circumstances feel good about these shoes, except for in one situation.  I do not recommend these shoes for any reason, except for one.  I feel bad for anyone who has wasted their money on these shoes, except for one very unique person, and even now it’s difficult for me to admit that I told her to give these shoes a try.

I have had the pleasure of working with a young runner this summer, and she has blossomed into a runner with a bright future.  A few weeks ago her mother asked if she could get in my schedule and wondered if I could help her with her fitness routine.  I said of course and that it would be no problem.  She expressed to me that she has dealt with an ankle injury in the past that was very severe and required an extensive fusion surgery.  I, having dealt with ankle fusions before, told her it was still no problem, and I would get her on track with no problems.  When I arrived for our first session I attempted some basic movement tests to determine muscular ranges of motion and the one that really stood out with her was the overhead squat test.  This is where you stand with your arms raised over your head and perform a basic squat.  Through a series of check downs I can see where muscular imbalances are and build a program to counter and eliminate those issues.  Her ankle allowed her to squat no more than a few inches without nearly falling.  She was very uncertain and readily gave me the “are you sure you know what you’re doing?” look.  I just smiled because although I had never seen a case as bad as hers I already knew I could show her how to work around it and rebuild her lost control.  Through a series of form changes, a few minutes later she could perform a full squat and feel once lost muscles firing again.  All was well, right?  Wrong.

As we began to talk about her cardio options I found out more about her fusion, and it is by far and away the most intense fusion I have ever come across.  Because of an accident, her lower leg was shattered and after years of trying everything the final straw was to take her outer anklebone and slide it into the center of her ankle.  They would then use steel to attach everything together and take away all motion in the ankle aside from a little side-to-side wiggle.  Her ankle has zero dorsiflexion or plantarflexion, which means she cannot raise or point her toes on that foot.  It stays flat, or so I thought.  She told me her goal is to be able to go on morning walks with her husband, but her leg hurts when she does because walking is not easy on her.  The ankle does not flex at all, and if you’ve ever had to wear a boot or lower leg brace then you know how exhausting and irritating that can be.  I began to make some recommendations, but she let me know that a thinner shoe like I normally prefer for people would not work for her.  Her foot was not fused in a flat position; instead her genius “enter sarcasm here” doctor gave her an inch and a half of heel lift.  He did this so she could still wear heels!  It took a lot for me to not want to ask for his office location so I could pay him a “slap upside the head” visit.

So what could she do?  How could she ever get to a point where she could enjoy something as simple as a morning walk with her husband?  I will admit that it took me a few minutes to come up with a solution, and then it took me a few more before I could bring myself to propose it.  My first thought was the Nike Shox.  Its heel drop is roughly an inch and half, and the springy heel shocks could provide enough push for her foot so that it would roll through a walking movement without hurting her ankle.  The heel lift would also keep her feeling ok during the day as it would support the now built-in heel lift in her foot.  The only problem there is that her uninjured foot would be elevated in an unnatural way so it could cause compensation issues.  Then it hit me, and I felt a pain in the pit of my stomach.  Oddly enough though, I felt a small amount of pride because I had figured out how to help this woman, and it would work.  I had no doubts that my enemy (the overly built shoe) would help this woman find a normalcy in her life, yet I still had to work myself up to saying it out loud.  I even told her I had an idea, but I needed a minute to process it before I said anything.  We continued with the workout while I worked the logistics over and over in my mind.  I would not recommend my idea unless I was sure, and I was so torn about it.  I’m the barefoot guy, the minimal guy, and here I was about to go against my principles.  Is it still wrong to ignore your beliefs and what you know is right if it’s to help someone?

I looked at her and said, “You need to get the Shape Ups”.  I took a deep breath, and she looked at me, puzzled.  I don’t know if the look was because she was wrapping her head around the idea, or if she was confused that I would recommend them, but I had said it.  It was out there in the open, and I could not take it back.  My principles were broken.  As she thought about it, I began to explain my theory.  The shoe has a thick, like two inches thick, heel that is very squishy, and with her heel imbalance each foot would be allowed to deliver its own level of pressure into the heel of the shoe, and it would absorb it differently so she could actually stand level.  When she walked the heel would give more than enough to allow her leg and foot to move through the walking motion without causing pain, and again the ultra thick heel would allow the differences in her two feet to go unnoticed because each one could go through its own motion in the shoe and not affect the rest of her body.  It made sense.  No matter how much I disliked the idea, it made sense.  She agreed, and we finished the session.

A couple of days later we talked, and she was excited and happy because she had tried the Fila Walk N Sculpt, which is basically the same thing as the Skechers that you see all over the TV.  Her exact words were “They are awesome like they were made for me!!”  I was happy to hear this, and when I asked how they felt on a walk she said, “My gait felt smoother, and I got more of a workout but was very comfortable, too.”  I cannot argue with either of those statements, and I am happy for her.  Even those of us who believe that shoes in general are bad for us have to remember that we are not all created equal, and each person is very different from another.

I still sort of hate the fact that I have contributed to a shoe design that I find to be evil, but someone is benefiting from it, and for the right reasons!  For someone with the limitations that she has to be able to go and purchase a shoe that compensates for her limitations is amazing.  Many people have heard this story now, and each of them has gotten a good laugh at watching me struggle in pain to tell it.  It goes against everything I know, but then again doesn’t just about everything in this world?  Don’t most of us face something on a daily basis that is not in line with our own personal make-up?

Either way I am happy that this woman is now set on a path of fitness and health and is doing so without pains that she shouldn’t have to deal with.

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2 responses »

  1. C. Beth says:

    It sounds like you gave her great advice! She doesn’t have a normal anatomy, so shoes that are normally healthy aren’t best for her. It’s kind of like a lot of medical interventions in childbirth. They are overused…but thank goodness they’re available for emergency situations, and even a natural childbirth proponent like me is so glad that someone whose life is in danger can get a C-Section! So you’re using those shoes as a medical intervention for someone whose body isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. For her (unlike for most of the people who wear them), the risk is well worth the reward!

  2. Algis says:

    Hey, if the shoe fits! (Pun intended…) 😉

    Great article Jimmy!

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