Your Shoes Are Strangling Your Feet, According to An Expert

“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” -Leonardo da Vinci

…and our modern footwear is strangling it.

Out of the 206 bones in the entire human body, 52 of them live in your two humble feet. In ancient Egyptian art, lesser mortals were depicted as having the unpleasant affliction of two left feet. The English language hosts countless foot-inspired phrases, such as ‘getting off on the wrong foot’ and ‘put your best foot forward.’ Humanity, in so many ways, is predicated on our two incredible feet. So why do we treat them so badly?

Modern shoes are a wretched deal for feet. Toes jammed tightly in narrow pointed shoes; balls balanced unnaturally due to sharply angular heels; soles laced with padding so thick they may as well be wrapped in pillows. In effect, we are strangling our feet—desensitizing the hundreds of thousands of nerve endings, stiffening the 60+ joints, damaging the many muscles and tendons. From the moment we learn how to walk, we are slapped with toe-scrunching foot coffins. After all those years of hard evolutionary work, why are we cruelly interfering with our foot’s brilliant natural biomechanics?

Woman standing near shoes

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Galahad Clark, the incredible founder and CEO of the UK based barefoot shoe company VIVOBAREFOOT, to discuss the way traditional shoemaking is infringing on the natural biomechanics of the foot. Coming from seven generations of shoemakers—his is the family who originally founded Clark’s shoes—Galahad believes that we have been going about shoemaking all wrong.

“Most shoes restrict [your big toe]. That’s your body’s anchor. And shoes that have a heel rocker are really impure because there’s this big, unnatural right-angle block on the back. So, compromised angle, no big toe—[in modern footwear] most people are walking really unhealthily.”

Our feet are designed to function perfectly when they’re barefoot. Other than an additional thin layer to protect our skin from rugged terrain or cold, there is no need for the overbuilt shoes we have today. Galahad has spent a good deal of time studying indigenous cultures around the world who still go barefoot and has found that they have virtually no foot pain, lower back pain or overuse injuries.

In fact, the way we are binding and mis-training our feet from an early age may be directly responsible for the foot, knee, hip and lower back pain that plagues so many of us later on in life. And this isn’t just coming from the barefoot shoe community. Numerous studies have been conducted to confirm that things like foot structure, gait, heel strike and energy exertion are significantly compromised in modern, traditional footwear. Going barefoot encourages you to have a shorter stride, encourages an upright posture and reduces heel strike—a habit which creates a force through your body comparable to hammering the bottom of your heel with a hammer three times your own weight.

“It’s nearly impossible to heel strike when you’re barefoot. If you ran down the street on a hard surface [with bare feet], you’d stop heel striking really quickly because your body would be like ow, ow, ow, ow, oh okay, all right. It finds a better way.”

That way is through utilizing the body’s built-in, highly evolved structure and biomechanics.

But, having been trained since childhood to walk in shoes that prevent proper foot function, many of us have lost the natural elasticity, stability and strength of our feet. In fact, wearing shoes encourages our feet to become stiffer and narrower, which interferes with the stability and power which fanned out toes and a wide, sturdy big toe can provide.

“It starts with kids. I was with a really famous kids’ shoes designer the other day who is a really prolific, wonderful designer, and we were talking about barefoot and she said to me, ‘Yeah, but have you ever seen someone who’s never worn shoes before? Their feet are really wide and the toes are all fanned out.’ And I said yeah, it’s good physics, a good stable base of support, and that’s the way it [the foot] is designed. ‘Yeah but we specially design children’s shoes so that they don’t become like that. If children develop feet like that, then they won’t be able to wear nice leather shoes when they’re older.’ And I said, so you deliberately make children’s feet in shoe shapes because it’ll be easier for them to buy shoes later in life?… I hate to say it, but children’s feet are bound. It’s unbelievable honestly. It’s completely shocking.”

By wearing thick, respectively narrow shoes constantly, we are training our feet to take a shape that is unnatural. Think about it, wouldn’t you want to let your foot expand and contract as you walk? Don’t you want to allow it to rebound as energy moves through your body? Now put on your favorite non-barefoot sneakers. You are almost certainly not expanding and contracting in there. Your arch is likely held high and stiff, your big toe is drawn in towards the smaller toes, and there is no space between your toes whatsoever. There is no room for rebound. Your foot simply becomes a stiff, lifeless block on the end of your leg, all thanks to modern shoe design.

Your shoes are even impacting the function of your brain. With hundreds of thousands of nerve ending in your feet, wearing thick soles impairs our brain’s biofeedback mechanisms, meaning our movements become more clumsy, uninformed and injury-prone. The part of your brain that receives sensory information from your feet is actually roughly the same size as the part dedicated to receiving sensory information from your hands, which is incredible. But, since we aren’t using our brains to sense the ground anymore, that part of our brain grows dusty and dim and begins to atrophy.

“Basically, walking around in padded shoes in a concrete world almost, like, shuts down the vital connection between your feet and your brain to the point that that part of your brain begins to atrophy. A huge part of your brain is given to movement… If you look at the natural world, there’s a thing called the sea squirt that has a brain. The first half of its life it spends moving around. The second half of its life it finds a plot to clamp on to and it basically digests its brain because once it stops moving it doesn’t need its brain anymore. And it’s kind of the same with humans, to a degree. Humans are becoming sea squirts.”

Couple crossing the stream barefootedIf you’re horrified with your shoes, know that you can rebuild your foot and brain strength by walking and standing barefoot more regularly. But before you go out to buy a pair of barefoot shoes and try to become the next Christopher McDougall, Clark has one word of warning.

“Don’t, whatever you do, put on a pair of barefoot shoes and try to go running. That is the absolute worst thing you can do. First, just work on standing. Use a standing desk from time to time, get gravity working for your feet, and spend a few hours a day with as little shoes on as possible.”

For 80 percent of us, our feet are not strong enough to just up and run. The fascia is stiff and frozen. The muscles are atrophied from disuse. Our innate biomechanics are compromised. It’s like getting up to bike 100 miles after sitting on a couch for 10 years. Sure, you may be okay the first time, and maybe even the second, but you are going to get hurt. You need to allow your body to build up enough strength before you can even consider gentle running.

The thing I personally love about VIVOBAREFOOT is not only their dedication to healing and freeing the foot from its modern confines, but their dedication to the planet’s environmental health as well. A lot of companies claim to be sustainable, but in reality many of them are simply doing “the wrong thing righter.” With novel sustainability protocols, Clark continues to push for greener and greener progress. VIVO takes both what’s-inside-the-shoe and what’s-outside-the-shoe into serious consideration when creating their products. Hopefully more shoe companies will take note and follow their lead. 

For those making the transition to being barefoot or wearing barefoot shoes, Clark recommends the whimsical sounding activity known as toe-ga. Yes, simple stretching and strengthening exercises—yoga—for your toes. Dig deep and grab your sole.

Whether you embrace a barefoot lifestyle or not, think twice the next time you need a new pair of shoes. Ask yourself: why are we strangling and reshaping our feet to fit our shoes? Shouldn’t we be making more shoes to fit the form and function of our feet?

Related:
The Case for Going Barefoot
The Superfood with Super Healing Properties
Start Accepting Yourself. You’re Worth It

209 comments

Paola S
Paola S12 hours ago

Thanks for sharing

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Ruth S
Ruth S8 days ago

Thanks.

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Carl R
Carl R18 days ago

Thanks!!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cABVKIPk_u0

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Kathryn I
Kathryn I29 days ago

Pointed-toed shoes are the worst insofar as the strangulation of the feet! Thanks!

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Stephanie s
Stephanie sabout a month ago

Thank you

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Stephanie s
Stephanie sabout a month ago

Thank you

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Stephanie s
Stephanie sabout a month ago

Thank you

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Ellen J
Ellen Jabout a month ago

Cannot abide high heels. Oy! Thanks for the article.

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Maureen G
Maureen Gabout a month ago

Spent the past year going to a podiatrist and learned a lot about the shoes I should not be wearing. It was money and time extremely well spent.

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Sophie M
Sophie M1 months ago

thank you

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