The discussion is often about big-soled supportive running shoes verses minimalist or barefoot shoes. The fact is as humans we are designed to not need to wear shoes — the skeletal and neuromuscular structure of the feet, ankle and in fact the entire body is purpose built to move. However, our feet have always needed protection from sharp and even blunt objects to prevent injury.
The first modern day shoe was manufactured about 250 years ago with the first structurally supportive shoe only arriving in the 1980s. What did we ever do before this? The development of big-soled supportive shoes is an interesting one, but there are more pressing issues when it comes to footwear.
Anyone who constantly wears footwear that does not allow their feet to function properly or creates weakness of the musculature of the feet is putting the rest of their body at risk of injury. The human movement system functions in an interdependent and interrelated structure. If one part of the system is out of alignment it will cause other parts of the system or structure to compensate and alter their alignment to rebalance the overall movement system. For example, if the muscles of the foot are weak, the foot will generally pronate, resulting in the ankle being forced into internal rotation. The knee will then internally rotate causing the thigh to do the same. As the thigh internally rotates, the pelvis or hip with drop and consequentially the lower spine will then lapse to that side. The upper spine therefore has to compensate and curve to the opposite side elevating the shoulder. As you can see from the diagram, a malfunction of the foot can lead to compensation elsewhere — back pain can often be the result of poor foot function.
The Trouble with Shoes
There are two types of shoes that cause major problems with people’s posture and movement capabilities. The first is Asia’s favourite — the flip-flop or thong. The second is a woman’s best friend — the high heel.
When most people wear flip-flops they change the way they move and how the foot strikes the ground when walking. These changes in foot placement effects the way you walk and hold yourself — it changes your entire posture and movement system.
A recent study found that people wearing flip-flops take shorter steps and shuffle their feet. These simple and minor changes to the HMS completely changes the natural gait and can trigger problems and pain throughout the body, as it causes joints to misalign.
Minor changes to foot placement and function are amplified and lead to greater malalignment in joints further up the body at the knees, hips, spine and shoulders. Flip-flops commonly cause the wearers to develop a swayback posture, where the hips protrude forward in front of the midline of the body. This posture can cause problems or pain within the hips and lower and upper spine, not to mention that it looks unattractive.
The high heel is a fashion icon and they do make women’s legs look good. However, from a functional and postural point of view there is nothing worse.
If you have to wear high heels, wear them for the shortest time possible and take them off when sitting. Heels cause an array of feet, ankle, pelvic and spinal complications, and they actually deform the feet.
The big toe is pushed inwards into the other toes creating a bunion or boney growth at the joint of the big toe. The combination of the narrow toebox and the elevated heel can lead to numbness and pain of the toes. Another study found that pressure on the knee joint increased by 26 percent, which will cause the wearer to develop quadriceps dominance and weaken the glutes… not great if you want a bum like J-Lo.
High heels push the centre of mass forward meaning the lower back has to arch (lumbar lordosis), which can cause tightness, stiffness and pain in the lower back. At only three inches, heels will increase the pressure on the balls of the feet by 76 percent, causing all sorts of additional foot and back problems.
High heels and Asia’s favourite footwear, flip-flops, cause a lot of problems that people are just not aware of. Try to walk barefoot as much as possible, so that the muscles of the feet can strengthen, rebalance and you can feel where you need to correct your posture.
Treat yourself to foot massages and be conscious of how you stand. Your feet can be the key to good posture and movement — don’t abuse them by wearing bad footwear.