by Karen G. Krueger
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how the shape of a conventional shoe differs from that of a natural foot — that is, a human foot that has never worn shoes. We saw that whereas shoes of all types typically get narrower from the ball of the foot to the tips of the toes, a natural foot is widest at the tips of the toes.
The tapered toes of conventional shoes are just one of the ways conventional shoes put our feet in unnatural positions and change how they move. Let’s look at two different types of typical modern shoe:
The first shoe is intended for running, the second for business wear. But they share at least four characteristics that the sports podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan has identified as harmful to feet and to the entire body of the person who wears them:
Tapered toe boxes.
Obviously the dress shoe is narrower and pointier than the running shoe. But both are much narrower at the tips of the toes than at the balls. They do not respect the shape of a natural human foot, but compress the toes into a wedge shape, with the big toes pulled outwards and the pinkie toes pulled inwards.
In such shoes, the toes cannot engage the ground properly, and the functioning of the various muscles that attach on the toes is impaired. Long-term wear can lead to deformation and loss of toe function.
Both shoes have a small but distinct heel elevation, lifting the heel of the foot above the forefoot.
This shifts more body weight onto the forefoot, and requires a change in both the alignment of the entire body and the length of all the tissues. Notably, the Achilles tendon becomes chronically shortened.
Notice that the toes of both pairs of shoes angle up from the forefoot, so that the toes are held above the forefoot, and off the ground.
This prevents the toes from supporting the wearer’s balance by contacting the ground, keeps the underside of the foot, including the plantar fascia, on constant stretch, and causes the extensors of the toes to be chronically shortened.
Shoes of this type typically have soles that are stiff and largely inflexible.
The foot cannot bend and flex as the wearer walks and runs, and the natural ability to perceive sensory information about the ground is almost eliminated.
These characteristics ensure that the feet that wear these shoes will be compressed and held in an unnatural shape, then subjected to the forces of walking and running without being able to respond with the resilience and spring inherent in a healthy bare foot.
In Part 3 of this series, I’ll share the benefits I have gained through a change in my footwear.. In the meantime, I invite you to take a good look at your shoes. How many of the adverse features described above do they have?
And if you are able to walk barefoot safely, see if you can identify how your barefoot walk differs from how you walk in various types of shoes — not only in how your feet feel and move, but how your whole body responds.
*This is the second of three posts about what I have learned from my experiences exploring the approach to foot health pioneered by sports podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan. For a wealth of relevant articles and videos, see:
1. Foot Help
2. Natural Foot Gear (Click on the “Learn” tab)
And for a broader perspective on movement that embraces bare-footing and natural foot care, see Katy Bowman’s website nutritiousmovement.com and her books Whole Body Barefoot and Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet.
KAREN G. KRUEGER became a teacher of the Alexander Technique after 25 years of practicing law at two major New York law firms, receiving her teaching certificate from the American Center for the Alexander Technique in December 2010. Her students include lawyers, business executives, IT professionals and others interested in living with greater ease and skill. Find her at her website.