The Slow Death of Your Feet; How Traditional Footwear is Inhibiting your Quality of Life
“There are many points about the shape of the feet and their relation to shoe wearing. When known and applied by experts in various fields, especially in gymnastics, military drill, and in shop and factory work, will result in increased efficiency and diminished suffering’
You ever recall that feeling of letting your shoes off after a long day of school as a kid, and immediately become bestowed with a heightened sense of freedom and rejoice? Or perhaps the joy of sliding on the tile floor and playing outside in the grass barefoot. Endorphins were running wild as we were truly carefree and at play, with little responsibilities to tend to and the leisure of the world (and our parents) at hand.
While it may be challenging to get ample outside time or play as an adult with professional, social, and familial responsibilities, here is the more simple action for you to consider. You have control over the decision of your footwear, and ultimately the influence it has over your body’s foundation and function.
Function leads to feeling. More rightly worded, proper function leads to proper feeling and inhibited function leads to inhibited feelings. When our immune system doesn’t function properly, we get sick and are obligated to pay the lesser end of the opportunity cost for not taking proper care of ourselves. When my hips don’t function by opening and closing to the degree of their ability, my back takes much stress and I find myself with low back pain.
It is a universal truth. With a little more clarity and education on the awareness of how our feet matter so much, I hope to empower you to consider the malleability of your foot, it’s aesthetic, and the freedom that making the better choice can have towards improving the quality of your life. But before we go into why you need to make the switch and put energy towards positively influencing your structure, let’s consider how the heck we got here in the first place.
THE BIG LIE
For most of our generational life, we have been drilled the importance of proper footwear. And for good reason! look at all of the dangerous things we need to protect ourselves from. Like a small rock or a shard of glass, or that brown recluse creeping around the corner. Stepping on one of those could put us out for the count, and be a real bother for a short or long while.
For sports, we need shoes or cleats to grip the field, or court in order to perform at a level conducive or greater to our level of competition in order to get the win. These all make sense. Protection from environment and injury debilitating occurrences in sport.
Then we have the shoe as a sign of a status symbol. You can tell a lot about a person about their appearance, the way they carry themselves, and even more so, the shoes they are wearing. Although very superficial, there is truth to this statement. That’s just the western world we live in and how our culture has brought us up. We know what we know or have been told, and we don’t know what we don’t know, or have yet to have been told.
Around early adolescence and formative teen years, parents and children all together want their child to make first interactions impressionable. We find a need to fit in, in hopes of receiving some overly zealous compliment and aspirations towards creating new friendships, or feelings of importance. As a matter of fact, I spent a good time of my teen years in this stage, willingly stretching my true shoe size of an 11, to a broad range of 8-12 in order to come up on good shoe deals and resale tactics in one of my first forms of business. Quite foolish now in retrospect, but hey, it is what it is. Money talks and dogs bark.
A classic case if only I had known then, what I know now. The lack of awareness and the destruction I was doing to my body and structure reigned on for nearly 4 years, some of which I am still paying the price for today (although making an active and conscious attempt to undo the wretchedness). My ability to maintain proper posture, even distribution of weight, and respond to environmental stimulus and proprioception was greatly inhibited as a student-athlete.
While there are specific instances where shoes are required, here is a perspective to consider for shoe manufacturers and consumers alike. To what degree is “support” OR “Look” held when we are in a constant knee, hip, back, or neck pain? What if we can have shoes that are contoured to our foot’s natural structure, and more minimalist in nature to awaken and revitalize the hundreds of thousand’s of Ruffini nerve endings in our feet? As with anything, there are two ends of the spectrum. Shoe manufacturers and companies have sold us the idea over the last hundred or so years that we need artificial support and Orthotics when we’ve already got what we need.
By making more conscious decisions to take ourselves out of our foot casts, as my good friend The Urban Barefoot, Jeff Shub MD, would say, we can begin the healing process much quicker. And here is the beautiful thing, you don’t have to go full on hippie if you don’t want to just yet! There are a large number of footwear companies out there such as Vivobarefoot, Lems Shoes, Vibrams, Earth Runners, and more that create minimalist footwear to get the proper function of your foot back that you deserve.
The human body calls and immediacy towards the challenge, as in the absence of it we will cease to grow and ultimately fall short of the fruitfully vibrant lives we were intended to create. Challenge and appropriate action are conducive with ascending growth, and resiliency for future scenarios. The more tough environments and stimulus we are exposed to, the more inclined we are to adapt.
When traditional footwear is brought under the scope or into the conversation, it is important to distinguish context. When we are gearing up for competition in sport, yes it is imperative to our performance to saddle up the feet as it will give us a specific protective layer towards 100% effort and the intangibles that competition may bring about. However, when looked outside the lens of match play, we have nothing more than an inhibition to our overall performance. By becoming reliant on traditional shoes, day in and day out, we are losing function and ability of those many nerve endings aforementioned that give us an idea of how to maintain ourselves in an ideal posture, or our ability to shift gear and maintain balance in an ever-changing environment. By inhibiting our feet, we place much-unwanted stress on the rest of our kinetic chain due to over compensatory patterns of movement. Lack of mobility at the foot means my knee, hip, spine, and neck are taking much more force than necessary. The “comfort” or “support” we have been led to believe we need is in actuality placing a constraint on our performance and lessening the breadth of the weight distribution of our foot.
If you are considering changing your choice of footwear, it is highly advised that you take a few things into consideration before you commit to the full-time wear or activities that you would normally participate in.
1. The current level of ankle mobility and foot sensitivity
If you have been wearing traditional shoes for 20-30 years, have little to no athletic background, and live a predominately sedentary lifestyle, a drastic full-time switch could be very overwhelming to your nervous system and ability to adapt.
Consider your current bubble and work towards expanding it. You could incorporate more static movements and exercises such as squats, push-ups, and short distance walking to acclimate your feet to the new feel.
You will immediately notice your weight start to shift towards the mid/ back side of the foot, as most shoes contain elevated heels and place undue stress on the knee and anterior (front side) of the body.
2. Hours spent on your feet, or off of your feet at work.
As a coach and trainer who spends 75% of his day on his feet, you could bet that I felt the change immediately. Considering that I have a very high level of activity, tissue tolerability, and functional training methods I employ, I didn’t’ have an overly tough time adapting.
This may not be the case for the door to door salesmen or the office worker, so consider your daily demands and utilize the “current bubble” approach when making the switch
3. Commitment towards progress and consistency
While wearing your newly found minimalist shoewear will help insurmountably, it is important to be able to introduce foot strengthening techniques and introductions to new environments such as pebbles, the beach, grass, or hills. If in doubt contact a professional or someone with experience.
The initial quote to this article was an excerpt from a study conducted 113 years ago, titled “Conclusions are drawn from comparing the feet of barefoot individuals and shoe wearing individuals”
This concept is not new and was well known prior to the uprising of this so-called “trend” of footwear. I firmly believe with that proper knowledge and education of the function of our feet and the importance it holds, paired with real actionable steps, that this will create a wave of conscious consumers and sustainable change for generations to come.
Q and A
Here are a few questions from an interview with The Urban Barefoot, Jeff Shub MD, of Jaws Podiatry in Hollywood, FL, who provided valuable insight into the curation of this article and dissemination of information. Jeff is a thought leader in the barefoot movement and is having a great impact in the community, and the way traditional Podiatrists run their practice.
What is the most common ailment you see within your practice?
Plantar Fasciitis. It is largely a product of the western world and our obsession with comfort and fashion. Achilles tendonitis and bunions are also very prevalent.
If you could suggest 3 simple and actionable preventative practices, what would they be?
- Change out of comfort footwear and encompass training to support stronger feet
Seems pretty clear to me.
Why are you so passionate about feet?
It is an underexplored and spoken of topic, and has much potential to impact wellness within the daily lives of many people. It provides an opportunity to educate and create positive life changes.
If you could tell one thing to the athletes and parents of the youth, and the youth about the importance of preventative podiatry, what would it be?
There are few structures more important to the body in terms of foundation and performance than the foot. You can compensate with strength and movement only for so long until the inevitable happens with time and age. Build resiliency from a young age and put good habits into practice.
For more education on foot function and the influence of shoes on the foot, you can check out this ebook,
In health and wellness,