When you stand on the ground barefoot, do your toes touch the ground? I sure hope so. So, why are most shoes designed with an upturned toe (toe spring)? Toe spring can be defined as a design feature that "creates a subtle rocker effect that allows your foot to roll into the next step." Have you ever had trouble rolling into your next step? Didn't think so.
Here's what I'm talking about:
See the upturned toe? It puts your toes in an unnatural position of extension.
Above is a great illustration of how the last two bones of the foot (metatarsals) are forced into extension (curved upward) in a shoe with toe spring.
The top is a healthy foot. The bottom is what toe spring does.
Similar to the Tapered Toe Box problem, there is no consensus or straightforward reason from shoe manufacturer's why this is done. As I mentioned above, maybe it's to help you "roll into your next step" which is not just mind-numbingly dumb but also harmful to your feet! And THIS, my dear friends, is why I am so passionate about shoe design - because it is not harmless. Most shoes in developed countries are creating significant injury to your feet and therefore, to the rest of your body and it is all unnecessary. But, fashion and the absurd desire to fix what is not broken has created a whole industry of foot conditions that don't exist in cultures that go barefoot or in simple sandals!
*clears throat* Thank you for allowing me to vent. Back to Toe Spring! Check out the photo below and this is how you check your own shoes for toe spring.
Since most shoes have both an elevated heel AND toe spring, you get a shoe that is essentially "U" shaped - elevated at both ends. A healthy foot is shaped like a gentle arching bridge, sloping slightly downward at each end, with the 3 natural arches of the foot providing support. This dissonance between your foot's ideal shape and the shape of a shoe will often give rise to problematic foot conditions/injuries, such as Plantar Fasciosis, Hammer Toes, Bunions and Morton's Neuroma. Let's explore the wonderful world of the Arch Support/Rigid Sole. Go get yourself another Hot Pocket and a glass of iced tea, this is gonna be fun.
Arch Support / Rigid Sole
Arches of the foot, as defined by Wikipedia: The arches of the foot, formed by the tarsal and metatarsal bones, strengthened by ligaments and tendons, allow the foot to support the weight of the body in the erect posture with the least weight. They are categorized as longitudinal and transverse arches.
Even this illustration has bunions from a narrow toe box!
Illustration courtesy of teachmeanatomy.info
So, reading the definition above and looking at the illustration, it should now be clear that we have THREE natural arches of the foot. Do we REALLY need a fourth arch, as provided in nearly every shoe worn in a developed country?
The shoes we buy have artificial arch supports in them because our natural arches have been weakened and made useless by the very shoes that have the artificial arch supports in them. AAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHH!
And this is the point in the blog where I go lie down on the couch and ask one of my sons to bring a warm washcloth and a large glass of Daddy's special happy juice.
Here is a study of 2,300 children with the conclusion of: "...shoe-wearing in early childhood is detrimental to the development of a normal longitudinal arch." Children should be barefoot as much as possible and I will go further and say ADULTS should be barefoot as much as possible. Preferably, on a white sand beach with your own large glass of happy juice.
An arch support in a shoe is actually a brilliant design because it creates a need for itself. The artificial arch acts as a brace for the foot and the natural arches of the foot don't have a need to work as hard, thereby weakening them. And, what do you need if you have weak arches? An arch support! And so it goes, on and on and on...
SOLUTION: Yes, I have one and it's fabulous -
This exercise is a fantastic way to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of your foot - those muscles that start and stop in the foot and do not cross the ankle joint.
Takeaway: If your foot is strong and mobile, you have NO NEED for external support from a shoe, such as an arch support.
I frequently hear the comment that someone needs to wear their orthotics or certain highly-supportive shoes or else their feet/knees/hips/low back hurt. This is because one, some or all of those areas are not functioning well. Wouldn't you rather work on getting your body healthier than be dependent on orthotics the rest of your life?
If you want to be independent and free from the clutches of the shoe companies that are ruining your feet well then, I'm glad you're here *virtual fist bump* and now let's get to work.
You don't want a rigid sole or a rigid soul. I can help you with the former. It's this easy - your foot is flexible (or should be) and your shoe should be, also.
If your shoe does not allow your foot to bend, move and flex as it's supposed to, you WILL be creating extra stress not just on your foot but in your knees, hips and low back. Your sense of balance and joint position will be diminished as well because the specialized nerve endings in your feet aren't being stimulated properly when you walk.
Proprioception is an awareness of the position of one's body and wearing clunky, stiff shoes takes that away. One segment of our population that I believe needs flexible shoes most of all are those 60+ years of age. And yet, these seem to be the folks most likely to NOT be barefoot and in clunky sneakers.
Test your shoes to see if you can bend them in half with minimal effort or, better yet, roll them into a ball.
Can your shoe do this?
The Takeaway -
Problem: Your shoes curve upward at the toe, have unnecessary arch support and are inflexible!
Action: Find flat, flexible shoes. Or, just go barefoot. Try Lems Shoes and this website also has a recommended shoe list.
Difficulty: Moderate. Find shoes that fit the above criteria, work on your balance and do the towel exercise. Soon, you'll have arches of steel!
Coming up: I am very excited to move on to the Foot + Ankle. I'll explore basic anatomy, common injuries and how to prevent them and why neglecting foot + ankle health will very likely cause issues elsewhere.
I trust that you will reach out with questions, comments and constructive feedback because you're an awesome person and you want to live an extraordinary life! Or you can just e-mail me with a joke.