Today we have an epidemic of degenerative joint issues, hip and knee replacements, back surgeries, foot problems like bunions and hammer toes, plantar faciitis, tendonitis and other ‘itis’s, as well as increasing incidences of non contact ACL, MCL, Achilles, and meniscus injuries. Everyone has a “bad” this or that, or a “bone-on-bone” something. I believe that all of these have one main cause: Modern footwear.
It is a simple theory: humans are not designed to wear shoes.
For the vast majority of the last 2.5 million years of human history, we did not wear shoes. Humans did wear footwear, but it was very minimal, and only for the purposes of keeping the feet warm in certain climates, and to protect the feet from thorns and rocks. We wore simple moccasins, flat sandals, and huaraches. There was no elevated heel, no cushioning, and no arch support. Footwear was essentially just a piece of flat animal hide fixed in one way or another to the bottom of the foot. Nobody had bunions or flat feet, and nobody needed prescription orthotic inserts.
Natural human foot in Natural footwear.
So why do people have so many foot problems today?
It is the various features of modern footwear meant to alleviate these problems that are actually causing them in the first place. Let’s explore these problematic features of modern footwear.
Modern shoes are not shaped like feet: Take out the insert from the bottom of your shoe, and compare it to your foot. Hopefully they are shaped very different. If they are the same shape, it is because shoes have deformed your feet so much over time to where they are now molded to your shoe, which leads to the next problematic feature:
Narrow toe box: In a natural human foot, the toes are the widest part of the foot. In modern shoes, the toe box is the narrowest part. So, your toes get pinched and deformed, eventually leading to bunions. Bunions are not a boney growth on the side of the foot. The ball of the foot is where it is supposed to be. It just appears to be a protrusion because the big toe is pinched inwards. So when you have bunion surgery, the surgeon is actually shaving down a normal healthy part of the foot, and it is really the big toe that needs to be moved outwards. This pinching of the toes creates other structural problems in the foot as well. It changes the tendons in the bottom of the foot, causing the arch to collapse.
Video example: https://youtu.be/44D07jhFlSc?t=15
Elevated heel: Humans are not biomechanically designed to walk with an elevated heel. The heel elevation in all modern shoes, even a very slight difference, causes the foot to be unstable. The feet tend to pronate, which causes more arch collapse, knee valgus, hip rotation, and biomechanical stress all the way up the spine. Eventually, from improper biomechanics the joints get stressed and inflamed, and over time, degenerate. These stressed joints are the exact places that infections like borrellia like to congregate.
Elevated heels make natural human posture and gait impossible.
Arch support/cushioning: Humans do not need arch support, period. Our feet have evolved to have tendons that naturally support the arch itself, without any external help from footwear. Adding arch support and cushioning causes the tendons in the feet to weaken, eventually needing more external arch support, which causes more weakening and need for orthodics, and flat feet.
Toe spring: Modern shoes have toe spring, an industry standard of about 20 degrees of elevation. Over time, the tendons on the top of the toes become tense, causing hammer toes. If this continues, the toes can get so rigid that the toe joints will fuse, and the hammer toes will be permanent.
Lebron James (Top) and Deion Sanders (bottom), both Nike athletes. This is what Nike does to your feet.
Also of possible importance, in Chinese medicine there are various organ representations all over the body. One of these is in the bottom of the feet, meaning there are acupuncture meridian points for every organ on the bottom of the foot. This is the basis for Reflexology. One can only imagine what modern footwear is doing to these different point on the feet, and what impact this could have systemically throughout the body. This could be similar to how dental infections affect the organs of the meridians connected to the teeth.
So how did modern shoes become to be so biomechanically incompatible with our feet? There are a many reasons. Part of it is the strange fetishization of feet and shoes (Japanese foot binding being an extreme example), and marketing. In the 1970’s a false belief among shoemakers was developed that athletic shoes needed arch support and cushioning. It makes sense on the surface, but falls apart when you examine the basic biomechanics and structure of the feet. Oh, and podiatrist can make a boatload of cash billing foot surgeries to insurance. The surgeries never solve the problem long term, and the patient needs more surgery.
Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell dominated basketball in zero drop Converse All-Stars, the shoe of choice at the time. ACL, MCL, Meniscus, and Achilles injuries were rare then, compared to the high rate we see in sports today.
Solutions: Very simple, stop wearing shoes. Obviously this is not always possible in today’s world. Thankfully, there are many shoes on the market today that are evolutionarily compatible with human feet. There are not a lot available at the moment, but minimalist footwear is a rapidly growing market. Specifications to look for include no elevated heel or toe spring (referred to as “Zero Drop”), a wide toe box, and no arch support with minimal cushioning. This can be a simple as $10 flip-flops, or as complex as the notoriously ugly Vibram five fingers. This doesn’t mean that you can never again wear high heels or nice dress shoes to an event, but it is not something you want to do regularly or for long periods of time.
Popular companies that make minimalist shoes:
-Vibram Five Fingers
-Many other mainstream companies are also now making minimalist footwear.
Double Olympic marathon champion Abebe Bilkia set the world record in 1960 running barefoot.
Unfortunately, The feet can sometimes become so deformed that abandoning shoes is not always enough correction. There is a product called “Correct Toes”, a silicone toe spacer that corrects the shape of the foot with regular, weight baring use (Note: correct toes must be worn in a zero drop shoe with a wide toe box or while barefoot. They cannot be used with orthotics or regular shoes.) Different stretching exercises may also be needed for correction.
Resource for exercises: https://www.youtube.com/user/correcttoes
Personally, I have had great success switching my footwear and using correct toes. Nagging foot, ankle, knee, hip, and back injuries have faded. I no longer get as tired or sore from walking or standing for long periods of time. Correcting the feet is a process. It can be uncomfortable at first and needs to be started slowly. Over time as the foot muscles strengthen and you will no longer have any need for modern shoe support.
Q: How long does it take to correct the feet?
A: It depends. For the average person it will probably take a few months. Severe cases could take a year or more.
Q: If I don’t wear my orthotics, my feet hurt. What should I do?
A: Orthotics weaken the feet until you are dependent on them. You will have to wean off of them slowly. It will take time to regain strength in the foot muscles.
Q: How come LeBron James wears Nikes and he never gets injured?
A: LeBron is an alien. Even Michael Jordan broke his foot one year.
Q: All of the minimalist shoes available are ugly. Do I have to throw out all of my shoes?
A: I can’t help you with fashion advice. If you create a demand, companies will start making better shoes.
By Bryant Rubright