This post has been a long time in coming, over a year in coming actually. I switched to the barefoot alternative in May 2008 and have been wearing barefoot alternative/minimalist footwear as often as possible ever since. I wish I had taken some 'before' pictures of my feet last year, but I didn't think there would be that much of a change. I was very wrong. I thought I would share some of the observations of how my feet have changed after a year of minimalist footwear (and more recently going completely barefoot) and what makes me think these changes are real and not 'wishful thinking'.
1. My feet are stronger.
I know this because I suffered from chronic plantar fasciitis before the switch. Every run and every morning stepping out of bed, my right arch would scream in pain. Now, I have no arch pain, ever. I attribute this healing to stronger arches.
In addition, when I first started working on switching to wearing VFFs running, I noticed that my arches were very tired very quickly, and they would tell me so with pain (although not the same pain as the plantar fasciitis). I transitioned slowly and eventually worked up to over an hour running with no pain. I also attribute this to stronger arches.
2. My feet are wider.
I know this because the running shoes I used to wear no longer fit my feet because my feet are too wide for them. I tried them on once a few months ago just to see if they would be comfortable for me after switching to the barefoot alternative; they were not. Not only did my back hurt with every step because of the raised heel, but they were too tight for my newly expanded in width feet. I don't feel too bad that I can't wear them anymore, though.
3. My feet are longer.
From what I've read in VFF forums and blogs, most people's feet shorten in length after wearing VFFs for an extended period of time. Not mine. I know this because my VFF Classics used to be SO comfortable, every toe pocket fit perfectly. Not anymore. My Classics are somewhat binding and have started hurting my pinky and next-to-last toes when I wear them for too long. (I know that they have not shrunk, too. Although the material could possibly shrink in the wash, the rubber would not.) Time to get the next size up in Classics, I think (although I'm really looking forward to trying out the new Performas).
4. My toes are straighter.
I really wish I had a picture of my feet from last year. My outside toes used to all curl inward toward my big toes. I am extremely happy to report that most of my toes have straightened out and only my pinky toes have a little bit of twist left in them. Hopefully, that will resolve as well, but if it doesn't, I'm really impressed with the change in my toes already.
5. My feet are warmer.
I used to have excessively cold feet ALL the time. Although I still enjoy wearing socks, my feet are so much warmer than they used to be. My thoughts are that this is due to increased muscles in my feet and increased circulation, but I don't know for sure. I just know that warm feet are better than cold feet.
6. My feet are more dexterous.
This is not exactly quantifiable, but I've noticed that my feet are more agile and move more finely than before being freed from foot casts. Perhaps all the 'working out' for my feet being barefoot and nearly barefoot have improved fine motor control in the muscles in my feet.
7. My feet FEEL better.
This last change has two meanings: they feel like they have improved sensory perception and they just feel better than they used to. It's probably due to going completely barefoot, which I don't do all that often but strive to do more of in the future, but I think my feet feel the ground better than before. Kind of like the sensory nerve endings have 'woken up' after being asleep in shoes for so long. In addition, with the lack of pain and increased warmth, dexterity, and sensory perception, they just FEEL so much better than before I freed them from conventional shoes.
I don't know that everyone who frees their feet with the barefoot alternative/minimalist footwear will experience the changes I have, but I think the improvements were definitely worth the switch.