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Putting Your Best Foot Forward (Full Article)

Laura Tebbe, Personal Trainer


Putting Your Best Foot Forward

by Laura Tebbe


I have an uncle who is a retired orthopedic surgeon, and I remember him telling me about women who came to him in the 1980’s with severe bunions. He would have them stand on a piece of paper and trace the outline of their foot. Then they would place their shoe on the drawing to show where their foot was wider than the shoe impacting their toes. He would advise them when buying shoes to throw away the shoes and just wear the shoeboxes. At the time, I thought his hyperbolic message was funny as I imagined people walking around in shoe boxes. However, he was clearly prescient as I have come to better understand and appreciate foot health in recent years.


Our feet are the foundation for so much of the movement we experience. And similar to a building’s foundation, if it is not functioning well, it cannot support the structure on which it is built. 


Our feet are composed of an intricate network of bones, joints, and muscles and are built to have similar movement patterns to our fingers and hands. However, the way we have evolved has confined our feet to more limited ranges of motion and muscle atrophy impacting our posture and kinetic chain from head to toe. Imagine wearing mittens or boxing gloves on your hands most of the time. How well might your fingers, hands, wrists, and arms function? 


Thankfully in the past twenty years, a number of biomechanic researchers have been exploring foot health and sharing their findings with a larger audience that some, like my uncle, have known for years. For more information on the long term impact of wearing heeled shoes, narrow toe box shoes, and even flip flops and sandals with no backs, we encourage you to read the full article HERE. NASM certified personal trainer Laura Tebbe also shares ways to strengthen and stretch your feet and offers advice on what to look for when purchasing new shoes. 


We hope this advice can help you put your best foot forward and set you up for success on your fitness journey and beyond. 


Laura Tebbe






  1. THE EFFECTS OF HEELED SHOES - Most shoes (women’s, men’s, kid’s, athletic) have a heel of some kind which takes our joints (ankles, knees and hips) out of a neutral position - see diagram 1. Thankfully we do not fall over wearing heeled shoes because our body is incredibly adaptable, bending our joints to get to neutral. However, over time repeatedly wearing heeled shoes causes shortness in our calves and sitting for long periods in heeled shoes shortens our calf muscles even more - see diagram 2. Short calf muscles can pull on the achilles tendon or plantar fascia. In addition, heeled shoes move your center of mass from the back of the foot to the front of the foot where the more delicate bone, tendon and ligament structures cannot handle the load that can result in bunions, for example.


Diagram 1 Diagram 2




  1. THE EFFECTS OF A NARROW TOE BOX SHOES - Like heeled shoes, most shoes also have a narrow toe box. Long term use squeezes the toes and weakens the muscles of the toes loading the bones while they are positioned incorrectly. This can lead to joint and bone stress as well as soft tissue deformation like bunions which impact the big toe joint which contributes to foot stability. As my uncle recommended, trace your foot on a piece of paper and place your shoes over the drawing to see how much your toes are being cramped by your shoes. In addition, most shoes’ toe boxes point upward which is not a natural position for the toes to be in. Take a look at your shoes and see how much your toe boxes are lifted upward. Now let’s explore some better options…


BETTER FOOTWEAR GOING FORWARD 

SInce shoes are an important factor in foot and kinetic chain health, consider ones with a wide toe box and as little heel as possible (also known as zero drop between heel and toe). These types of shoes will encourage flexibility and mobility of your feet. If you are new to this kind of footwear or a heel strike runner, you will likely want to start with a little thicker sole. Here are some examples…

- Altra Running or Trail Running Shoes - https://www.altrarunning.com/

- Topo Running Shoes - https://www.topoathletic.com/

- Hooka Running Shoes - https://www.hoka.com/en/us/


If you have been wearing shoes similar to the ones above for several years, then you may consider shoes with thinner soles - called minimalist shoes. However, these take time for your feet and body to adap; take it slow…


A note about flip flops and sandals2 - Consider shoes with a sling back, NOT flip flops unless it is for very short jaunts like to/from the shower or pool OR attach elastic bands to flip flops that go around the ankle to keep toes from gripping while walking. Toe gripping while flip flopping is an unnatural movement and can cause foot and kinetic chain strain with extensive use. Here are a couple of options to start with…

- Xero Sandals - https://xeroshoes.com/


For more shoe ideas, check out - https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/shoes-the-list/ - or try searching online for zero drop and wide toe box shoe reviews.


NUTRIENT RICH ENVIRONMENTS FOR YOUR FEET

In addition to shoes, consider how you can strengthen and stretch your feet by finding opportunities to safely walk barefoot or with non-slip socks. Start at home where you know the lay of the land. If you are around children, watch out for toys like Legos! 


Try squatting, balancing on one leg for 5-10 seconds (near a chair, countertop or wall), standing in your favorite yoga pose, splaying your toes, stretching your feet, calves, quads/hamstrings and hips. With practice over time, you can graduate to more texture rich experiences by walking on uneven surfaces like river rocks, pebbles, grass, sand, brick or even reflexology boards that allow your feet to articulate and strengthen. Here are some tools to consider…


This article just scratches the surface of shoes and foot health. If you would like more information, please check out…

  1. Katie Bowman - Biomechanist researcher & author

  1. Irene Davis, PhD. - Biomechanist researcher - interview with Dr. Peter Attia on foot evolution, foot health, orthotics, shoes and running - https://peterattiamd.com/irenedavis/


And while you are exploring shoes and foot health for yourself, also think about any kids in your life - children, grandchildren, nieces/nephews, neighbors, students, athletes. They have a longer runway and wouldn’t it be great if they are putting their best foot forward too!

______________________________________________________________________

1 Whole Body Barefoot, by Katie Bowman

2 Non-shoe wearing groups generally do not suffer from bunions, only about 3% - Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief, by Katy Bowman

3 For more information - How Flip Flops Change Your Feet

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