Are our shoes ruining our feet?

Shoes.  We wear them every day, sometimes multiple different pairs a day and most of us never leave the house without a pair on, but could they actually be responsible for the high level of foot pain experienced by 1 in 5 adults on a day to day basis? 

Where are we going wrong with shoes?

If you can, take a look at your feet without your socks on.

Notice their tapered shape?

Now, take a look at a few pairs of shoes you own, do they look like a good match?

The chances are, the answer is no and the problem lies in footwear focusing on fashion rather than suitability for our feet. The issue with most high street footwear lies in three key areas:

  1. The toe box
  2. The width 
  3. The heel 
Why shoes are bad for your feet?

The toe box

It turns out that what we tend to find aesthetically pleasing when it comes to footwear, often doesn’t align with what would best fit our foot shape, especially the trend for pointed-toe shoes.

Pointed toe shoes force the toes into a very unnatural shape, often squeezing them together and applying unnecessary friction to the outer toes.

Not restricted to women, pointed-toe shoes can be found in men’s fashion too and can lead to bunions, corns and other foot deformities. 

The width

Width is another common issue in footwear.  One size doesn’t fit all and most shoe manufacturers tend to air on the narrow side of caution.

Narrow shoes put pressure on the angular parts of the foot, often the joints of the big toe and little toe, once again causing issues such as bunions and corns.

Wide fit show varieties have begun to appear across most ranges but these two size variants leave many people not catered for and don’t solve a much wider problem. 

The heel

Finally, the heel.

High heeled shoes are incredibly unnatural and position the foot in a way that leads to a multitude of foot problems.

High heels raise the heel and cause the Achilles tendon to tighten up.  This can lead to muscle shortening in the calf muscle. With the person’s heel elevated their body weight shifts to the ball of their foot, leading to joint pain and metatarsalgia.

With the toes pushed forwards into an often narrow and pointed toe box, the pressure is applied to the toe edges and hammer toes can form when the toes are forced into a bent position.

And it doesn’t stop there.

High-heels are notoriously unstable, putting extra strain on ligaments, the ankle and the knee and increasing the chance of joint issues in later life. 

What problems are our shoes causing?

As you can see, many foot problems can arise from poorly designed shoes, but what exactly are the most common foot issues and how can they be treated?

Do shoes deform your feet?

·         Corns

What is a foot corn? – well, it’s certainly nothing you’d want to eat!

Corns are small lumps of hard skin, often forming in areas on the foot that are subjected to friction and pressure, such as the side of the little toe or on the tops of the toes.

As corns develop they can become very painful and so it’s important to have them seen by a podiatrist who will carefully cut them away.  

·         Bunions

Bunions are bony growths that form on the joint between the big toe and the foot. The onset of bunions is usually quite gradual but as they grow they can begin getting in the way and can become very uncomfortable.

The only cure for bunions is surgery and so it’s important to try and prevent them wherever possible. 

·         Hammer toes 

In narrow toe boxes and high heels, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th toes are often bunched up into a bent position. Over time, these toes lose their ability to straighten and are permanently bent, leading to a hammer toe.

Hammer toes can then rub on the tops of shoes and become very uncomfortable. If the hammer toe is treated before it becomes inflexible then it can be reversed through exercises and stretching, but if it has fused then surgery will be required. 

·         Flat foot

Flat foot is a deformity wherein a person does not have a foot arch. This can lead to pain and strain on their ligaments.

Although flat foot can be genetic it is also caused by environmental factors such as wearing shoes without arch support and standing for a long period of time.

To prevent this from happening wear insoles with arch support or purchase shoes with arch support built-in. 

·         Ingrown toenails

Finally, ingrown toenails occur when pressure is applied onto often the big toe by a narrow toe box, forcing the nail to grow down into the skin.

They can be very painful and in severe cases will require the removal of the toenail to rectify.

The best way to avoid ingrown toenails is to keep your toenails cut straight and short and to wear properly fitted shoes. 

Better shoes moving forward

It’s clear to see that, yes, shoes are ruining our feet, and designers aren’t in any hurry to change the way they design shoes.

This means that it’s down to us, as the consumer, to ensure we make a better conscious decision when buying footwear, in order to limit the damage we do to our feet and to reduce the likelihood of more severe complications such as arthritis, later in life.

It would be unreasonable to expect everyone to ditch their high heels for good, but there are some steps we can all take to make better choices for our feet such as: 

  1. Limiting the amount of time we spend wearing fashion-focused footwear 
  2. Choosing thicker and lower heels that are more stable and put our feet into a slightly less elevated position 
  3. Wearing activity appropriate footwear for sports such as running to avoid injury 
  4. Ensuring we buy the right size shoes wherever possible, including width 
  5. Having check-ups with a podiatrist to spot any foot issues before they become a bigger problem 

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