You Weren't Born With Shoes On!

Our bodies come with everything they need to support the arches in our feet. More support and more cushioning may feel more comfortable for your feet in the short term but can be the source of long term posture and pain

Brent Stevenson

Living in the technology era, we have come to believe that human creations have given us a leg up on what mother nature provided.  Can you picture how ridiculous a monkey would look wearing a brace to hold its’ shoulders back, a neoprene sleeve on its’ knee and a pair of Nike Jordan’s on its’ feet?  We tend to wrap ourselves in the latest gizmos, in order to avoid actually learning how to use our bodies properly.  To be fair, shoes have become a social norm and do provide us a mechanical advantage in certain contexts, but the long-term cost-benefit relationship we have with our shoes, our feet and our bodies is one worth considering more deeply.    

Our feet are as important as our hands in helping us explore the world, but they have fallen victim to the fact that we have paved over much of the natural world around us, and that skilled marketing teams have made us chase fashion and/or perceive a need for cushioning and “support.”  Our feet are designed to allow us to lightly grab the ground and provide feedback to our bodies for the purposes of balance, posture, and movement; they are full of muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments that create a structure capable of being both a shock absorber and a rigid lever to push off.  The arches of our feet are created and maintained by the contractile tensions of the muscles and fascia in our lower limb, but unfortunately our flat world and stiff, cushioned shoes limit their opportunities to do their job.  It is a false assumption to conclude that foot, knee or back pain is the result of unsupportive shoes instead of considering the notion that years of overly supportive shoes might really be the problem.

Our bodies adapt to the forces that we expose them to, for better and for worse.  We can learn new tasks and make muscles stronger by using them regularly, but we can also forget how to activate and feel parts of our body if we routinely wrap them up and prevent them from doing their job for an extended period of time.  I wrote an article on my blog many years ago titled Shoes: Good Support, or Coffins for your Feet, after I decided to start working barefoot most of the day and found that my hips, back and feet all started to feel better.  Most people lose touch with the dexterity of their feet and toes and don’t consider where they are loading their weight or even that they have some control over that process.  I encourage people to start paying attention to their feet and to start appreciating that there is both a trickle up effect on posture from their feet and a trickle-down effect on their feet from how they hold their upper body.

Shoes do provide a certain level of protection from the elements and can make an otherwise ugly appendage look quite nice, but the act of regularly and passively lifting our heels up one to three inches and squishing the fronts of our feet into a space that is too small has a direct and potentially long last impact on our bodies.  Many people develop bunions, hammer toes, knee, hip and back problems due to the long-term use of inappropriate shoes, and the solution tends to be a recommendation to buy orthotics, braces and “more supportive shoes,” because we are usually looking for short term comfort over long term benefit.  

I regularly recommend that people buy zero-drop shoes (i.e., the heel is the same height as the forefoot), with a small amount of cushioning and a comfortably wide toe box.  I recognize that these are not always the most fashionable shoes, but I don’t suggest that they have to be a person’s only footwear.  You want to make your feet and your body adaptable to a variety of different surfaces, which can mean a variety of different shoes, but you really should give them ample opportunity to experience being barefoot or as close as possible to it for the health and posture of your body.  I, and many of my clients have found that once you get used to spending more time in a light, zero-drop shoe, you will naturally start to dislike most more traditional shoes that have an elevated heel, built in arch and tapered toe. Lems shoes are a good example of the type of shoe I am talking about (one of my favourites, not a sponsor).

Different people have different needs depending on the genetic structure of their feet and the degree to which they have already deteriorated, but I still find that most people derive significant benefit from weaning away from artificial support and connecting to the feet that they were born with.  Once a degenerative process has started, you can’t necessarily undo the structural deformities that have occurred, but you can prevent them from getting worse and/or having a negative impact on other parts of your body by creating some awareness around how and when to use your feet effectively.  

Read or listen to my new book to learn more about the importance of your feet in the experience of being you. Click Here to learn more.

More Recent Stories.

Sign Up For My Monthly Updates

Stay up to date on my new blog posts, videos, books & courses
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.