Toe box taper—the narrowing of a shoe from the ball of your foot to the ends of your toes—is one of the most harmful features of conventional footwear. It's difficult to find a pair of shoes or boots (or even sandals) that are wider at the ends of your toes than the ball of your foot. Most shoes and boots, including athletic models, force your toes into a wedge position that compromises foot health, form, and function. Tapering toe boxes have long been accepted as the norm in footwear, as most consumers (and many manufacturers and even doctors) are unaware of the injurious effect of this design feature or the importance of the toes in overall foot health.
Problems Caused by Tapering Toe Boxes
Possible problems associated with tapering toe boxes include athlete’s foot, blisters, bunionettes, bunions, corns and calluses, crooked toes, fungal toenails, hammertoes, ingrown toenails, lower extremity tendon imbalances, neuromas, plantar fasciosis, runner's knee, sesamoiditis, and shin splints. Note that these lower extremity problems occur only rarely in unshod cultures, or populations who go shoeless. They are exceedingly common in our conventional shoe-wearing culture. Toe box taper is the principle underlying cause of these conditions, but few healthcare professionals educate their patients about the hazards of this common shoe design feature.
Considerations for Children
Because toe box taper causes toe deformities over time, including the loss of normal toe spacing, and because toes are critical to propulsion, balance, and overall foot health and function, it is crucial that children avoid shoes with this problematic design feature. If you’ve ever examined the foot of a child, especially a baby, you may have noticed that the widest part of his or her foot is at the ends of the toes. This foot shape, along with foot health and function, can be maintained throughout life if it is not altered by tapering toe boxes during a child’s formative years and beyond. The toes of a child who wears shoes with tapering toe boxes get pushed into an unnatural—and injurious—configuration, and this can lead to a lifetime of foot problems, unless steps are taken to preserve foot health early on in life.
Let Your Toes Spread!
Most shoe-wearing people begin to lose toe function early in life, due in large part to the consistent and prolonged use of shoes with tapering toe boxes. Abnormal gait, toe deformities, and knee, hip, and back pain often appear next. It makes sense, then, to use shoes that allow your toes to spread and that position your toes as close to the ground as possible. Toe box taper is one of the leading design criterions we at Natural Footgear consider when selecting shoes to stock.