I co-wrote the following article with Correct Toes inventor Dr. Ray McClanahan to explain what constitutes a healthy shoe and how to assess whether a shoe will support or interfere with the health of your feet and toes. This article originally appeared on the Correct Toes blog.
We all spend a lot of time on our feet, in shoes, so understanding what constitutes healthy footwear is absolutely crucial for building and maintaining optimal foot, toe, and joint health. Indeed, the health of your feet has profound implications on your entire body and life. But what are the key differences between a truly foot-healthy shoe and the industry standard? Quite a bit, as it turns out.
Conventional Footwear Flaws
A typical “conventional” shoe possesses at least a quartet of injurious design features, including heel elevation, toe spring, toe taper, and rigid soles. These design features are usually incorporated (to varying degrees) into almost every type of footwear, from fashion shoes to boots to casual shoes to athletic shoes.
The athletic shoe category can be particularly deceiving because people tend to think of athletic shoes as comfortable and healthy; by and large, they are neither of these things. If you look closely at most athletic footwear, you'll see that the negative design features present in other shoe categories (women's fashion shoes, for example) are still evident and still cause foot and toe problems.
So, what does a foot-healthy shoe look like? A truly foot-healthy shoe is completely flat from heel to toe to provide real stability for your foot and enable natural arch support. A foot-healthy shoe possesses a sole that you can easily bend or twist, which allows your foot to become strong on its own. And (perhaps most importantly) a foot-healthy shoe has a toe box that is widest at the ends of your toes, not at the ball of your foot. A toe box that is widest at the ends of the toes allows for natural toe splay (enabled, ideally, by Correct Toes in individuals who have toe deformities caused by a lifetime of wearing harmful conventional footwear).
A foot-healthy shoe is also devoid of “motion control technology,” or anything that attempts to “improve upon” or “control” the already inherently brilliant design of the human foot. Da Vinci said it best: “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” The job of footwear is simply to respect the foot and stay out of its way as much as possible.
Letting Your Foot Function as Nature Intended
Because we all spend large amounts of time on our feet in a weight-bearing situation (as well as enormous amounts of time in our shoes), the shape and orientation of our feet and toes within our shoes is crucial. Bad shoes (i.e., shoes with the negative design features already mentioned above) can lead to toe deformities and pain, discomfort, and an inability to pursue cherished leisure activities. It’s impossible to rehabilitate your foot to the way nature intended while wearing conventional footwear, as conventional footwear itself is the underlying cause of most common foot problems and deformities.
A good shoe allows your foot to function as nature intended (i.e., like a bare foot inside your shoe). Foot health-positive shoes help reduce your likelihood of foot and ankle injuries, eliminate pain in your lower extremities, and allow you to get the most out of your years (especially your later years, where maintaining mobility—and independence—becomes an even greater consideration).
Choosing the Best Possible Footwear
Your feet and toes were naturally designed to enable optimal balance, gait, comfort, and longevity. Unfortunately, the vast majority of footwear on the market today includes problematic design features, so you need to be extra diligent when shopping for footwear. Seek out shoes that respect nature’s brilliant design instead of dominating it. You can use the Shoe Liner Test to help you select the best possible footwear for your feet.
At Natural Footgear, we take great pride in offering men's and women's footwear that best supports and preserves natural foot health. Every shoe on our site is Natural Footgear Certified, which means that it lives up to our expectations for what constitutes a healthy piece of footwear. We are extremely picky when it comes to our footwear offerings, and not many brands make the cut. What you see in our Store represents only the very best (i.e., most effective) options for achieving optimal long-term foot and toe health.