I read a very interesting article written by a podiatrist about feet. In the article the author did research on indigenous peoples who do not wear shoes. He found that 3% of those people had foot problems. Then the same study was done on modern society. He found that 78% of the people had foot problems. I think of the 3% as equal in both populations – these are foot problems that are present from birth; club foot, flat feet, etc. If you subtract the indigenous 3% from the modern society number you have 75% of the population that has foot problems. That is due to the only thing that differs in walking between you and me and an indigenous person – modern SHOES.
Shoes are made around a form called a last. The last time that the (shoe) last was really re-engineered was over 150 years ago. Thus, we are a bit out of date with our thinking. Make no mistake; shoes are designed for fashion, not function. Fashion sells shoes. It amazes me how much pain and discomfort people will put up with to “look good”.
If you read the book “Born to Run” you will notice that the book strongly suggests that we did not really have problems with people running with shoes on until the 1970’s when the first running shoe came on the market. Those shoes changed the way the foot strikes the ground and that lead to problems. The design of running shoes still has not changed. The problems still persist.
One thing your shoes should not do is be straight along the inner edge. If you look at a babies feet, their big toe is a bit to the middle (medial) from their heel when the foot is straight (it looks a bit like an ape foot). They can also move their big toe more like a monkey (they can move it toward the middle). This is normal. When you start wearing shoes, the muscle that allows this motion of the toe (called abduction) gets weak (atrophy). After a time it simply can’t move the toe to the middle anymore – it does not have the strength. This is due to the end of the shoe (the toe box) pushing the big toe against all of the other ones. Over years the abductor muscle weakens and the adductor muscle (the one that moves the big toe toward the others) gets stronger (it has no opposition). This pulls the end of the big toe toward the others and the joint (the ball of the foot or the metacarpal/phalangeal joint of the great toe) begins to move toward the middle – away from the other toes. We call this a bunion. Notice the cause of the bunion – SHOES. Shoes that work with your feet (rather than against) will not try to make the inner edge of your foot straight, but will allow it to make the natural curve that nature intended.
Contrary to popular belief, the human foot (when it works correctly) is a self-supporting structure (as in it requires no outside help). Thus, arch supports are not required when the foot mechanically works as it should – they are not a long term solution to foot pain. My first recommendation is to get your feet treated by someone who is skilled at getting the bones, ligaments and muscles to work correctly, and then buy shoes that work WITH the foot, rather than against it.
My personal favorite for shoes is a company out of Pennsylvania called Flexible Footwear. Their shoes are the most comfortable that I have ever owned and their customer service is amazing!
I am also a fan of barefoot shoes.