The human body, especially the foot, has gone through many transformations over the years. First, our feet were originally designed to walk on the contours of the Earth, not the flat surface of pavement. Then, with the invention of shoes, the use of the intrinsic foot muscles was affected. We are seeing more foot-related complaints in children as they learn to walk in shoes instead of barefoot. Most recently, we’re battling obesity and the pressure endured by the feet as the majority of the population maintains a sedentary lifestyle. These factors combined are sending more people to their physicians complaining of foot pain. In Body Logic, we’re also seeing an increase in low back complaints originating from “foot problems.” Although barefoot is often the best route to go, as a society, it’s expected that we wear shoes… so how can we have our footwear work for us, not against us?
Cushion vs. No Cushion?
Many runners are leaning towards the “minimalist” shoe, meaning there is very little support or cushion. One of the biggest reasons for choosing a shoe with minimal support is because it changes the way you naturally strike your foot on the ground. The cushion may be more comfortable under your feet, however you are more likely to place extra pressure on the heel. When running, having an intense heel-strike will transfer the pain/pressure to the ankles, knees, hips, and eventually the low back. Conversely, when in a minimalist shoe, you are encouraged to place the majority of pressure on the ball of the foot. You are more mindful of your foot placement and also stimulate the nerves in your feet to improve your proprioception, or your awareness of your body in space. Although it may be more beneficial anatomically to wear a minimalist shoe, it’s important to consider your overall well-being when deciding what to choose. For example, if you’re carrying excess weight, a cushioned shoe may be a better option to provide better shock absorption and distribute the force throughout the body.
What if I have flat feet?
Excessive pronation is being seen more frequently and, in my opinion, is related to the lack of foot muscle development at an early age. Although walking barefoot may be more uncomfortable, I recommend doing so to help develop those foot muscles so they can withstand the demands of a more active lifestyle. If you have flat feet and plan to do excessive walking or standing, it is recommended that you have additional arch support to prevent your foot from fatiguing too quickly. There’s not a magic brand to make that happen, but it may be beneficial to have a custom arch designed to prevent aggravating the plantar fascia.
Are heels really bad for me?
Having a shoe with a raised heel, especially more than 1/2 inch, can cause long term problems not only for the foot itself, but also the lower leg traveling into the low back. A heel causes the toe to point, shortening the Achilles tendon. This position adds strain to the tendon itself as well as the back of the knee where the muscles associated with the tendon attach. To counter the weight body’s weight distribution over the toes, the low back develops an increased arch placing more compression on the lumbar vertebrae and nerves. To answer the question… yes, heels are bad for you.
For more information on selecting the best athletic footwear for you click here. For ideas on how lacing your shoes can help you, click here. If you’re experiencing foot-related pain and symptoms, schedule an appointment with any of our chiropractors or massage therapists to see how we can help! Lastly, help your kids out and keep their shoes off as much as possible! Allow them to develop stronger foot muscles to prevent future problems.