I received lots of feedback and questions from Part 1 of our newsletter. (I definitely saw that coming!) Let me start by saying that your choice of shoes is not the life or death part, it's the health of your feet! I must say, however, it was surprising to me just how many people on our mailing list own a pair of Hoka shoes!
At the end of Part 1, I posed a couple questions based on the shoes you currently choose to wear. "Do your feet live in a passive or active environment". The second was, "Does it make a difference?"
By "passive or active", I am referring to not only the structure of the shoe, but the function. Feet living in a passive environment are supported, cushioned and stabilized. The foot simply rests in the shoe, with the expectation that the shoe, if good enough, will take care of everything to provide the comfort we seek.
Feet living in an active environment are required to provide their own support and stabilization. Whether barefoot or with shoes, comfort is based on the strength and mobility of the foot, and nothing else.
By and large, shoe companies, sports professionals, podiatrists, and other care providers recommend a passive environment when searching for shoes. In the aging population this trend is even more evident. The chart below shows popular "Passive" characteristics of shoes. The proposed benefits all seem to be pretty common sense and fantastic, but let's look closer to see if these features are really our best long-term approach to healthy feet.
To decrease the amount of force from heel strike.
Changes the natural gait pattern by promoting heel-strike and lengthened gait stride.
Provide comfort for the whole foot.
Decreased sensory input and may give a false sense of balance.
Produce more forward motion compared to flat soled shoes. Prevents the need for toes to flex during the gait cycle.
Causes the upper torso to lean forward, rather than being centered over the hips. Also promotes further rigidity of the digits of the foot.
Provide stabilization to prevent turned ankles.
The wider or taller the sole of the shoe, the more potential for severe ankle turns.
Support the foot to keep arch lifted to reduce pain and also reduce pronation.
Enables muscular weakness in the bottom of the foot, causing further dependance on shoes for comfort.
Cushioned Heel- Notice the difference between how you walk with shoes vs barefoot. With shoes, we generally strike the heel first then move forward to the toes. It is how we are "taught" to walk. But barefoot, we find that striking the heel first can cause significant discomfort. When walking barefoot we tend to land more toward the front of the foot than the heel. So which is "right"?! "Experts" on such things land on both sides. But given the fact that our feet have so many bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles, it seems just common sense to conclude that our feet were made to absorb shock, not send that impact up the long bones of the body to the hips and spine.
Shoes with limited heel cushion encourage a gait pattern that absorbs shock and keeps foot muscles strong.
Cushioned Sole- Shoes with cushioned soles provide comfort to our tender feet. They remove "undesirable" sensory input from, sticks, rocks, and uneven surfaces. Think back to the last time you turned your ankle. The overwhelming reason for turned ankles is the lack of sensory input to the bottom of the foot. Minimal soles on shoes allow for sensory feedback. (Think about this. Have you ever turned/sprained your ankle while walking barefoot?)
Rocker Bottom- If you have toes that will not bend, perhaps this style of shoe is more comfortable, as it relieves that need. However, the less we move anything, the less we will be able to move anything. A flat sole keeps feet healthy by allowing for maximal natural movement of the digits of the feet.
Wide Sole- Wide soled shoes are marketed for stability, but these shoes are actually fairly dangerous on uneven terrain, causing ankles to turn at a much higher rate than shoes with a narrower sole that are closer to the ground. The wider the sole, usually the thicker as well. This further increases the risk of turned/sprained ankles.
Maximum Support- Nothing sounds better to people than the promise of maximum support and comfort! And shoes with support often provide immediate relief. I have nothing against immediate relief. However, I am against short-sightedness when it comes to our health. The overwhelming cause of chronic foot problems is feet that do not have sufficient strength and resilience of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Are you wearing the cushioned, supportive, stabilizing shoes because you want to, or are you wearing them because you have to?
What could you envision to be the benefits of strengthening the feet, rather than enabling them to stay weak? (as it pertains to balance, confidence, mobility, comfort)
Part 3-- Strengthening the Feet- coming soon!!