Selecting foot-healthy shoes is the most important consideration in caring for your feet, as most foot problems are caused by conventional footwear. Most shoes that generally are considered appropriate by society’s standards cause foot and toe deformities and lead to numerous musculoskeletal health problems, including bunions, hammertoes, ingrown toenails, and knee osteoarthritis.
Shoe Design Features to Avoid
Four design features in conventional footwear—including shoes and boots, and many sandals—are responsible for the negative foot health effects that occur over time: Heel elevation, toe spring, tapering toe boxes, and rigid, inflexible soles. Shoes or boots that possess these design elements represent the majority of footwear sold today, though an increasing number of footwear companies are producing more minimalist designs that incorporate less heel elevation, wider toe boxes, and more flexible soles. Please see our men's and women's shoe pages for examples of such footwear.
Toe Box Width & Sock Tightness
Toe box width is perhaps the single most important consideration when selecting footwear, and a shoe’s toe box should accommodate your natural toe splay. Another factor affecting toe splay—and one that is rarely mentioned or considered—is sock tightness. Some socks may contribute to toe deformity and foot problems by pulling your big toe into a hallux valgus position, or a position in which your big toe is shifted toward your foot’s midline (also known as “bunion configuration”). Consider stretching the seams of your socks to reduce their tightness or buying socks that are less constricting, such as Injinji toe socks.
Natural Feet & The Merits of Healthy Footwear
Caring for your feet involves selecting footwear that is shaped like how a human foot is meant to be shaped; that is, with the widest part of the shoe at the ends of your toes, not at the ball of your foot. Evidence of true human foot anatomy can be seen in newborns or in populations around the world—especially in Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia—who largely have gone unshod most of their lives. Many Nepali mountain porters, for example, prefer to go barefoot or wear just a thin, unobtrusive sandal when carrying their loads. Porters' feet are strong and possess excellent toe splay, and foot health in this population is outstanding.
Your feet are inherently strong and resilient and, in most cases, do not require arch support, pronation control, or any of the other features shoe manufacturers have been touting for years. Observations of unshod cultures reveal the true depth of this statement: Populations who go shoeless or who wear minimalist footwear experience only a fraction of the foot and lower extremity problems that plague shoe-wearing populations. If arch support and other common conventional shoe design features are required for foot health, we would expect to find most of the developing world crippled with foot problems, which clearly is not the case.
Selecting the proper shoes, including running shoes, is a constructive way to prevent foot or ankle surgery. Most acute and long-term foot problems are preventable and do not require surgery to correct. Choosing shoes that protect your feet but still allow them to develop the strength and flexibility they require for optimal health and function is crucial in avoiding nagging foot injuries and invasive treatments.
The Shoe Liner Test
Getting a proper shoe fitting from a trusted foot health professional is another important consideration when selecting foot-healthy shoes. Most people fail to get an individualized shoe fitting and select shoes that are too narrow, especially in the toe box. You can test your shoes to determine if they are wide enough for your foot by pulling the liner out of your shoes and standing on it, with all your weight centered over your foot. If any part of your foot, including your toes, hangs over the margins of the liner, the shoe is too narrow for your foot.
How Correct Toes Can Help
We recommend Correct Toes to help reposition your toes in their normal anatomical arrangement. Correct Toes can be worn throughout the day or as a night splint to help realign your toes and resolve foot problems. This toe-spacing device works best with weight-bearing activities and fits in certain shoe models, including the options you'll find on our men's and women's shoe pages. Note: Avoid using Correct Toes in shoes that possess narrow toe boxes. We have found that a combination of appropriate footwear, Correct Toes, and metatarsal pads is an effective, economical, and healthy approach to resolving most foot problems.