A couple weeks back on the blog I wrote about why your feet absolutely have to flatten when you walk. You can check the entire post here.
This concept of your feet flattening is important to understand because your feet have multiple motions they have to perform when you walk. The back of your foot (rear foot), the front of your foot (forefoot), and your toes all have to move in different ways in order for you to efficiently propel yourself forward. Now, if you are familiar with foot mechanics during gait, you know they are a very complex thing. So, I am going to do my best to oversimplify this while still being truthful to what is happening.
When you take a step and your foot hits the ground, the arch has to flatten. This happens by your rear foot diving down and in and your forefoot getting pushed up and out by the ground. Then, when you go to push off of that foot to move forward, your rearfoot will point up and out and your forefoot will go down and in to make a bigger arch and a solid lever to propel forward off of. Additionally, your toes have to extend or straighten when you go to push forward so you can roll over top of them. This series of events is typically called pronation (foot flattening) and supination (foot making an arch and propelling forward).
Now, this is important to understand when making choices about the shoes you are going to wear. Yes, shoes can serve a fashion purpose, but they also have a mechanical influence over your body. Specifically, if you wear either 1) really stiff shoes or 2) flip flops, there may be unintended consequences that are being created throughout your entire body.
Really stiff shoes can block your feet from being able to flatten. If your feet cannot flatten when they hit the ground, that will force excessive motion to be created at your knees, hips, and spine in order to compensate for the relative lack of motion in your feet.
In the short term, this may or may not be a big issue. I know for myself, if I wear stiff shoes, I almost immediately start feeling the effects throughout the rest of my body. But, for others, your body may be able to tolerate it better. In the long term, though, this may lead to abnormal wearing in your knees, hips, and spine as well as create excessive stress in the muscles that are controlling those joints.
Flip flops are another type of footwear that can create massive issues. I wrote a post on this topic a while back called “Tis the flip flop season”, which you can read here. But, to tie in the earlier points about the foot mechanics from above, the big issue with flip flops seems to occur when you are propelling yourself forward.
The thing about flip flops is they don’t have a strap going across the back of them. While that makes it easy to slip them on and off, it can create massive issues in your feet when used for an extended period of time. Do you hear that sound of the flip flop hitting the bottom of your foot when you walk? That sound is from your toes having to curl to keep the flip flop on. You have to curl your toes in order to hold it on because there isn’t a closed back to the flip flop. And when do you think your toes are curling to keep the flip flop on? Yup, right when they are supposed to be straightening to allow you to propel forward over them.
Similar to the stiff shoes, this may not be an issue for your feet in the short term, but if you feel the bottoms of your feet starting to ache, it would be worthwhile to change your shoes. In the long term, this can start to stress out the muscles on the bottom of your feet even more, which could lead to various foot and ankle ailments, not to mention other issues in your knees, hips, and back.
One of the biggest compensations we see here when clients cannot extend their toes well is turning their feet out when they walk. This allows them to roll over the inside part of their foot with each step instead of rolling over the front. Again, while this may not be a concern in the short term, doing this repeatedly may contribute to excess bone growth in the foot, i.e. bunions, as well as put increased stress across the inside part of the knee and throughout the hip and trunk.
If stiff shoes and sandals seem like they may create issues in your feet, what kind of shoes should you be looking for? The first recommendation I have is to wear shoes that are close-backed or have some kind of strap across or enclosure across the back. The most notable culprits of this recommendation are flip flops and clogs – shoes that you can literally flip on and off. Even if the shoe is a slip on, if it is closed on the backside of it, that will be a much better option than an open-backed shoe.
The second recommendation I have is to consider the mobility and structure of the shoe itself. Personally, the first thing I do before I try on a shoe is I grab the toe box and the heel of the shoe and I see if I can twist the shoe up like a corkscrew. I prefer to wear shoes that are highly mobile, so this is a strong consideration for me. However, you need to make sure that the shoes are appropriate for you.
Most shoes have a pitch to them. In other words, the heel is raised up. This is another factor to consider when purchasing shoes. Again, for me, I prefer to wear shoes that have as little of a pitch as possible. The higher the heel is raised, the worse my body feels when I wear them. This is another variable that you will need to make sure is appropriate for you. I do not recommending wear flat and highly mobile shoes if you are not used to it. Your body will need time to adapt and your feet will need time to get stronger and more stable. As such, you may consider gradually progressing yourself into a flatter and more mobile shoe over time, so long as your body can tolerate it.
In order to figure out what is appropriate for you, you also need to consider the strength and stability of your feet, which leads me to my third recommendation – utilize Muscle Activation Techniques® (MAT®). By finding an MAT® practitioner in your area you can get your feet assessed and start proactively addressing any strength and stability issues you may have. Your MAT® practitioner may be able to discuss shoe recommendations based on their assessment, and you can then go about implementing them. You can find an MAT® practitioner in your area here.
You may only see shoes as a fashion accessory or something that is necessary to operate in a first-world society. But the reality is that shoes can have a tremendous impact on how your body feels and functions. By understanding what to look for in a shoe as well as what to avoid, you can make better decisions about what you are putting on your feet. Wearing shoes that are appropriate for your body may not only help your feet feel better, it may help to reduce the stress that the rest of your body has to take on, as well.