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 your quality of 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 elements, including heel elevation, toe spring, toe box taper, and rigid soles. These design elements are usually incorporated (to varying degrees) into almost every type of footwear, from fashion shoes to hiking 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 elements present in other shoe categories (such as in women's fashion shoes, for example) are still evident and still cause foot and toe problems.
Defining Foot-Healthy Shoes
So, what constitutes a foot-healthy shoe? Here is our definition:
A truly foot-healthy shoe is lightweight, unobtrusive, and completely flat from heel to toe to provide real stability for your foot and ankle 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) and all the benefits associated with that.
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, then, is simply to respect the foot and stay out of its way as much as possible.
Let 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 that include one or more of these seven negative design elements) can lead to toe deformities and pain, discomfort, and an inability to pursue cherished leisure activities. It’s impossible to effectively rehabilitate your feet while wearing conventional footwear, as conventional footwear itself is the underlying cause of most common foot problems and toe deformities.
A good shoe allows your foot to function as nature intended (i.e., like a healthy 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 athletic activities. They also help you build legitimate foot strength and provide real stability for your feet and body. This is especially important for older individuals for whom maintaining mobility—and independence—becomes an even greater consideration.
Choosing the Best Possible Footwear
Your feet and toes were naturally designed for optimal balance, gait, comfort, and longevity. Unfortunately, the vast majority of footwear on the market today includes problematic design elements, 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 featuring 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 high standards for what constitutes foot-healthy footwear. We are extremely picky when it comes to our footwear offerings, and not many brands or models make the cut. What you see in our Store represents only the very best (i.e., most effective) options for achieving profound and enduring foot and toe health.
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If you have questions about whether a particular shoe model will support or hinder foot health, please do reach out to us. We are happy to evaluate any shoe based on its included design features and their likely effects on the foot.
Note: The above content is for educational or informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or augment professional medical instruction, diagnosis, or treatment. Read full disclaimer here.