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An Interview with Barefoot/Minimalist Friendly Podiatrist Dr. Michael Nirenberg

by Brian Patterson » on Oct 04, 2011 10

Last week we published a writeup questioning the practice of Podiatry, the philosophy behind it, and the treatments that many podiatrists prescribe.  This came on the heels of an article being published on WebMD where Dr. Brenner, Podiatrist, called FiveFingers, “The Worst Shoes for Your Feet“.

That writeup garnered quite a few passionate responses in the comment section, and one of those comments introduced me to the work of Dr. Michael Nirenberg.  Dr. Nirenberg left the following comment on that blog post:

As a podiatrist, I don’t think all podiatrists “hate” minimalist shoes. Most podiatrists believe that most feet need support, protection etc. This is what most have been taught. (I have written about the benefits of barefoot activity for a long time, and I wear VFFs)

After reading that comment I immediately started reading about Dr. Nirenberg on his website to see what he was all about.  He seems to be one of the ‘good guys’, someone in the medical community on our side (for once!).  So I reached out to the Dr. to see if we could interview him.  He graciously agreed, and below is the Q&A I had with the Dr. Nirenberg.

A photo of Dr. Nirenberg from an article about him in the NWI Times.

Why is it that most podiatrists (it seems) are anti-minimalist/barefoot?

Most podiatrists are just doing what they have been taught: that feet need support. The average podiatrist’s education spends a great deal of time focused on the best ways to provide support and padding to feet. I hope in the future the detrimental aspects of footwear and remarkable benefits of going barefoot, become part of a podiatrist’s education.

Along these lines, here is a question that comes to mind…  Perhaps we should be asking:

Why are so many people convinced their own two feet need to be encased in thickly padded, supportive shoes?

Most people believe their feet need support, just like most podiatrists. The big difference is that most of the public will not criticize barefoot walkers and runners for giving up supportive shoes, but some podiatrists will. From what I can tell, these podiatrists actually make up a small percentage of the profession. Some of them believe they need to speak out to prevent people from injuring themselves. On some level, this is noble, albeit misguided in my opinion. A small number of these outspoken podiatrists may have other motives.  I know of one podiatrist who is an anti-barefoot zealot. He makes money off a running shoe website and teaching podiatrists the biomechanics necessary to put people’s feet in orthotics. His motive is obvious, and it bothers me.

As a podiatrist, what are your reasons for wearing VFFs and recommending them to patients?

I was an avid runner who suffered with heel pain (plantar fasciitis) off and on for years. After reading Christopher McDougall’s book, I read everything I could on barefoot activity and the hazardous effects of footwear. I started barefoot running slowly and soon my heel pain was gone, and it has never come back.

Do you ever recommend orthotics or inserts?

Yes. I am in a service business. Most people do not want to go through the process of learning to run barefoot. In fact, many people do not want to exercise at all. They just want pain relief and as quickly as possible. For most people, orthotics alleviate their pain.

Do other podiatrists take issue with the fact that you are a proponent of the barefoot movement?  Have you dealt with any backlash or ever been ostracized?

There have been nasty emails. But, I believe I am helping the public and so I feel good about being a proponent of barefoot activity.

Do you foresee more podiatrists becoming supportive of minimalist/barefoot shoes as time goes on?

Probably not. Sadly.

Are there times when you recommend patients not wear minimalist shoes, and instead wear traditional (padded) shoes?

I do not recommend minimalist shoes for people with circulatory or neurological impairments or other significant deformities. It is important that those people who wear minimalist shoes have intact sensation of their feet.

For more information, I encourage people to visit my site

Thank you, again, Dr. Nirenberg for sharing your unique perspective with us!  Readers, have any thoughts or questions?  Let us know in the comments below!

Submitted Comments

  1. Dan says:

    Thanks for sharing this information and your insight Dr!

    Too often I feel that modern medicine is threatened by that which it claims to be so important… True tested science.

  2. Michael Spinks says:

    Surely anyone who self proclaims themselves as “America’s Podiatrist” has got to be some sort of idiot?

  3. Brian Patterson says:

    or genius!

  4. When someone resorts to name-calling, it is often an act of desperation…. “Spinks” is very likely an shoe/orthotic-loving podiatrist.

  5. Adam Farrah says:

    Great interview!

    I’ve taken plenty of flak from the mainstream medical community regarding Paleo diet myself. I always keep this quote in mind:

    “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

    Arthur Schopenhauer

  6. Lisa G says:

    I am middle age femaile, bout 25 lbs overweight and have enjoyed running for the last few years, logging about 10-12 mi per week, Last summer I developed terrible shin splints. I gave unshod running a chance and I am now on my 2nd pair of Vibrams!!!! My shin splints are gone and my feet, back, etc have never felt better! I also have bunions—which amazingly, now hurt less—someone explain that? I AM SOLD ON VIBRAMS!!!!

  7. Lauren says:

    what is the diffence of running barefeet and with vibrams?

    I have sore knees and the pain is worsened when I’m on my feet (at home). Will wearing vibrams be any different?

  8. David says:

    I love my VFF’s. I have noticed a decrease in my pain of back, knees, feet, etc.. but now, my boss said I have to have a Dr. note to wear them at work. I am a teacher and I am on my feet for 90% of my day (6 hours). I’m at a loss. I only have a family Dr., but try not to make a habit of visiting.

  9. Kim says:

    I am not a runner. I have systemic lupus with a lot of inflammation and pain in my feet. Wearing atheletic shoes is painful but I am no longer able to live in flip flops as I used to. I have constant pain and swelling at my first MP joints, swelling and pain in multiple other joints as well as general swelling in my feet and ankles. I am in the least amount of pain when I can walk barefoot. My husband has been turned onto five fingers and I wonder if they could help my pain? I also have Reynaulds Syndrome so my circulation isn’t always the best. Do you think I could benefit from these shoes? I’ve found nothing else that has been tolerable on my feet for very long thus far.

  10. Melonie Abbott says:

    FYI I started in Vibrams 3 years ago but sometimes ya just need shoes. I tried LEMS and loooove them (I wear correct toes due to bunions and there is still plenty of toe room)

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