What’s Wrong with Shoes

Shoes not only protect us from the ground we walk upon, they insulate us from it, tricking the brain into thinking that the terrain is always what the insole of your shoe is.

Bad Shoes

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What’s wrong with shoes?

They don’t bend where our feet bend, they bend where it’s convenient for the shoe to bend – if they even bend at all. They cram our toes into a very un-footlike-shaped box. They raise our heels above our toes, even in the flattest of shoes, throwing us off-balance. They support our arches and thus weaken them by interfering with their function. They press the balls of our feet into an insole well, giving the impression of stability whatever we’re stood on. Given that our feet are the supports on which our whole body stands, is it any wonder that wearing shoes changes everything we do? From how we walk, run and stand, in fact almost everything we do. All upright movements are forced to adjust to never standing on level ground – the whole time.

There is a direct connection between many things that effect the shoe wearers of this world and their obsession with wearing shoes.  In poorer communities that habitually go barefoot they’ve never heard of many of the things that affect us, shoe wearers. Bad backs, hip replacements, runners knee, shin splints, ankle trouble, achilles tendonitis, planter fasciitis, bunions, corns, athletes foot. You name it and it all affects the shoe wearers in developed countries, but it’s never heard of with the shoeless populations of the world.

A brief history of shoes

Shoes evolved as a symbol of status, power and fashion. The first shoes held a ceremonial role, such as in Egypt – the earliest recorded use of footwear in a human society. Footwear in developed cultures such as these would be used seldomly, often depicted in the art of these cultures.

Whilst humans in extreme, northern climates must have used some sort of foot protection to provide the insulation necessary for survival, it’s telling that they only wore them when the hindrance to locomotion was outweighed by the aid to survival.  For the vast majority of humans, barefoot locomotion was still the most efficient and preferred method.

Luc-Olivier Merson’s painting depicting Pheidippides uttering the word of victory to the people of Athens, at the Battle of Marathon. Note the lack of shoes on the original marathon runner.

This all changed with the Renaissance in Europe following the Black Death. Learned people from that era considered shoes to be effective protection against the filth outside, and on the streets. The transmission of the bubonic plague was linked directly to being barefoot; shoes being the magic barrier that kept your skin from the streets and thus the Black Death from your home. The Renaissance began 450 years before Germ Theory disproved this in 1890, but by this time shoes were the norm. In fact, there was already a vast industry dedicated to making shoes. The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers (shoemakers), obtained their charter from Henry VIII in 1439 at the very start of the Renaissance.

Sandals and moccasins are where shoes for the masses started. These started appearing in civilisations such as Egypt, Greece and Rome. The Romans were especially responsible for spreading the idea of shoes equating to status. Even then, shoes added no benefit to the wearer other than demonstrating that they could afford shoes. To do any activity; work, running, or even walking efficiently, shoes were not worn. Barefoot was still the most efficient way to take part in these activities, and shoes were never worn for anything other than showing off. True, the Roman soldiers uniform included sandals. But this was for used on long marches on gravelled roads, and intimidating the people they conquered, rather than any other advantage the sandals gave them.

Fast forward to today and it’s now completely ingrained in our society. We truly believe that our feet need shoes, and because we’ve been wearing them all our lives, that belief has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our feet need shoes, because our feet are accustomed to only wearing shoes. Shoes today actually work against our feet, hindering their function.

Shoe construction

Shoes feature many things that give no benefit to the foot, but are traditionally part of any shoe.

Classic Shoe

formal-shoe

Cushioned Running Shoe

Arch Support – Fills the longitudinal arches, stopping their function as an energy store and spring.

Insole Well – A hidden depression under the ball of the foot in chunky running shoes. This hides the bulk of the shoe, rendering your transversal arch ineffective.

Heel – the raised heel (of any size) throws the whole body off balance, causing the

wearer to lean back to in compensation. This throws the body into an unnatural stance for long periods, never mind all the time.

Sole – inflexible, doesn’t bend where feet bend, if at all. Changes gait, natural walking or running is not possible.

Sole – thick, so insulates from the ground, stopping the foot sensing the terrain underfoot and adjusting gait accordingly.

Sole – flared, creating wider stability base, giving less for your ankle to do, ultimately weakening it and making you susceptible to twisted ankles.

Toe Box – crams toes into an unnatural shape, stops toe-splay under load which would have provided stability.

Toe Spring – raise toes above foot at rest, stopping the toes providing stability.

Do I even need to tell you whats wrong with these?

High Heels – Everything listed above is magnified to the extreme with high heels.  Worn once in a while they probably don’t cause too much harm, but worn regularly they cause real damage, to the feet and the rest of the body.

High heels demonstrate to the extreme what any heel will do to your stance and gait. They are worn for their ability to make your legs look longer and make you feel more confident.

However the side effects of are:

Pressure
High heels increase the pressure on your forefoot; as the height goes up, so does the pressure.
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Calf
Calf muscles contract, shortening and tightening.

Achillies Tendon
The achillies tendan contracts, shortening and tightening.

Knee
The altered posture creates higher pressure on the inside of the knee; a common place for osteoarthritis in women.

Spine (posture)
Centre of mass is moved forward; dis-aligning the spine and hips.

This causes:

Hammertoes
Narrow toebox bends the toes down and in at the middle joint; deformity remains when not wearing shoes.

Bunions
Body growth on the side of the big toe’s base joint forces the big toe to angle inwards.

Metatarsalgia
Pain in the ball of foot due to increased pressure.

Morton’s Neuroma
Thickening of the tissue around nerves between third and forth metatarsals, causes numbness and pain.

To the extreme – The blooded feet of a Canadian waitress after a shift at one of Joey’s Restaurants in heels.

Originally posted on Facebook.

Flip Flops – Although they look minimal, the lack of a heel strap makes for other foot problems. The toes need to clench slightly to push the top of the foot against the straps to keep it on. This changes your gait and causes overuse injuries.

Flip Flips (or Thongs) seem like pretty minimal shoes, however they differ from sandals by not having a back strap.  Without this you need to clench the toes slightly to keep them on.  You probably don’t even notice you’re doing it.

However the side effects of are:

Muscles
Muscles in the feet and lower legs stay contracted from gripping to hold shoe in place.

Toes
Repetitive gripping causes tendinitis, hammer toes and bunions.

Friction
Between insole on shoe and sole on foot, also between straps and skin.  Not good for walking distances.

Claw toes – This is how it starts, or at least you run the risk of straining something.

Original post.

Shoe shape

Pointy

Chisel

Rounded

Barefoot

Shoes are actually shaped like shoes, and not like feet.  This may seem a little odd, until you consider the diagrams above. If you could see your toes through your shoes, you’d see how your toes are forced into a very confined space.

Years of binding your toes into tight spaces will deform your feet so they can no longer fan out. Your toes are no longer straight and have no room to splay under load.  A barefoot shoe (mitten type) is designed to allow toes to move around, rather than confine them.

This photo is taken from a 1905 study.  It clearly shows the effect pointy shoes have had on the feet wearing them.  This is a permanent alteration of the foot, akin to the foot binding that women had to suffer in China for centuries.

These feet belong to Mother Teresa (Saint Teresa of Calcutta). The story goes that she was so self-sacrificing, she always chose the worst fitting shoes; so others could have better fitting ones. True or not, her feet were deformed like this by wearing shoes, albeit at the extreme end.

No wonder it’s a nice feeling to take your shoes off at the end of the day.