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Transitioning to a Minimalist Shoe: Val’s story of successfully overcoming chronic knee pain.

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In efforts to show others how running can be enjoyable and pain-free if done right, we collected stories from runners all over the world who had transitioned to a minimalist shoe and experienced relief of chronic pain. Below is Val’s story of how she suffered from knee pain for many years and had failed treatment with orthotics. She overcame her injuries by learning proper form and did this by running in Vibram FiveFingers. I do want to stress that the FiveFingers didn’t “fix” her problem, they just allowed her to run correctly which eventually allowed her issues to resolve. Thank’s for your story Val! I hope that others learn from you!
36 yrs old
McAllen, TXGrowing up as a competitive ice skater, I was used to pushing my body to its limits to see what it was capable of. Unfortunately, chronic knee pain at the age of 11 plagued me and set me back until the time I finally hung up the old boots when I was 13 years old. Therapists had tried extensive strengthening, stretching, modalities and of course rest periods – all to no avail. I was told to avoid impact sports, “especially running” due to the extent of the chondromalacia (breakdown of the cartilage) in my knees. Devastation ate away at me but life went on. Years later the drive to do more…to push more…to compete against MYSELF rose up again andI decided to see what running felt like. I was a poor college student at the time so it seemed to be a logical, and free, choice. I remember running the streets of my campus, slowly and awkwardly, and feeling accomplished. A new hobby had been born despite the former advice of medical professionals.I began entering community fundraising “runs” and easy races but never really pushed my speed or distance. Frequent struggles with knee pains and shin splints, however, nominated ice as my new close friend. Upon studying in the physical therapy program in college, my eyes were opened as I learned more about the biomechanics of the feet in relation to the rest of the body. I also learned that I was one of the most severe pronators (aka: flat feet) my professors had ever seen! My feet became a fine example to the rest of the class due to its severity as well as the extensive bunion on my left foot (my landing foot back in the skating days). Orthotics were custom made for me and what a difference they made! For a few years anyways. The shin splints kept creeping back. Random pains in the knees and feet emerged. But I kept trying to problem solve my way through it.

Eventually I learned about proper form and taught myself how to quit heel striking. I ditched the orthotics and amazingly the knee pain and shin splints finally became a thing of the past. I began “racing” (I am not fast, it’s always a competition against myself) more frequently and really starting to push myself…and loving it! My body still wasn’t though and it seemed to always be something. Eventually, the bunion was achy and a horrible little pain crept in on the underneath of the ball of my other foot. Morton’s Neuroma. It grew so painful that I would often be in tears. The pain was present while walking on any and every hard surface. Running became out of the question. I tried toe spacers, lifts, different supports, new shoes, extra cushioning, my old orthotics and nothing seemed to make a difference. I even considered medical procedures and figured my running days were more than likely over. Again, my inner potential was being cut short and I was not happy about it! Then I read a random blog post about running in Vibrams and it planted a seed. Not being a feet person, I thought they were the ugliest things I’d ever seen but hey, to each his own.

Shortly after, we headed for a weekend at the beach. My breakthrough moment was about to occur! I was used to the pain in my foot by now and compensated for it by rolling my foot slightly out when I took a step to avoid extra pressure under the ball of my foot. But an odd thing happened. When I walked on the concrete surrounding the pool after a stroll in the sand there was NO PAIN! It had been so long I had been able to walk “normal” that I noticed immediately and it got me to thinking. My therapist brain started turning and I knew that it MUST have something to do with the muscles being activated in my feet. Back to the drawing board I went. I dug back into studying more about running form and read numerous barefoot running blogs and sites. To my surprise, as I implemented what I was learning, I was able to jog in place…barefoot…on the kitchen floor! That was enough for me. I took it to the treadmill and managed an entire half mile PAINFREE. After months of pain with every step I was completely in awe and ready to start off on another journey…in minimalist shoes that would support my newfound knowledge of proper running form. A friend happened to have some Vibrams in my size that she graciously lent to me and I ran a 5k race a week later. (Note that I’m not being an example of how you are supposed to transition. I knew nothing about it at the time, but I was so ecstatic that I could run that far with that simple change that it was hard to not just go for it!) I eventually backed down on the miles, ordered my own pair of Vibram Bikilas and wore them all around the house. I had NO PAIN when those babies were on my feet and I knew I was onto something.

That was nearly 3 years ago. Sure I had a few other kinks to work out along the way (due to poor initial transition…where was Dr Nick’s blog back then?) but I eventually ran a half marathon last year in my Vibrams (first ever!) and have PRd on my 5K time by over 2 minutes as well as on my 10K time. I can run further and faster but the best part….is I cannot even remember the last time I had any pain while running. Shin splints and knee pain truly are a thing of the past and that Morton’s Neuroma that doctors told me would be there forever is GONE. Even when I wear heels! Regardless of what surface I’m walking around on. Oh and my nasty bunion? Diminishing before my eyes. I never knew that a big toe could actually move side to side and now I have muscle control that I didn’t before. And the arch of my foot, or previous lack thereof? Let’s just say that if I walk barefoot out of a puddle of water across the sidewalk I have NORMAL footprints, not a big fat splosh like I had before. I am sure my former professors would be amazed. The transition my feet have been through over these past few years has been a miracle to me and everyday I am grateful for the ability to run pain-free. My feet are closer and closer to how God designed them to be and it’s only onward and upward from here.

So now, I’m ready to really push it and truly discover the potential that’s been forced to lie dormant all these years. It’s been quite the bumpy road and years of self-analization but the desire to push through has gotten me to where I am. I have learned to never take the words of another as the final call when your heart cries out for more and to keep an open mind…had fashion been more important, I may have never experienced how life changing Vibrams would be for me. At the risk of sounding like a commercial I can say with all honesty that I have no desire to ever run in another shoe. I guess despite all the hurdles I have encountered, to end up where I am today, I could eek out the words and humbly say “It was all worth it”.

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