Choosing the right footwear is crucial for maintaining good structural health and supporting your corrective care progress. The shoe industry has done an incredible job of marketing the benefits of cushioned and supportive shoes, but the truth is that there is no science or common sense to back up this advice.
There is, however, research showing that wearing soft, supportive trainers increases your risk of injury. This is because they don’t allow the foot to perform the job of supporting your body. This is a job it does remarkably well if allowed to do so.
Over recent years there has been a marked reversal in foot health thinking with the trend towards more minimal, flexible and unsupportive shoes that allow the foot to feel the ground beneath it and move in natural ways. This is a trend that takes us right back to our roots as hunters and gatherers, where we have been barefoot, most of the time, for the last 7 million years!
So the first myth to dispel is that we need to support the arches of the feet. Nothing could be further from the truth. The human foot is arguably one of the most impressive natural designs in existence, and it is more than capable of supporting the body when the bones are properly positioned in the feet and the lower back.
Proper foot bone alignment allows for optimal nerve control and supply to the supporting muscles of the feet and lower legs. If you have had your feet imprisoned in tight, inflexible and ‘supportive’ shoes for many years these supporting muscles can become weak and atrophied. It can, therefore, take some time for them to regain their strength and flexibility, but the important point here is to give them the opportunity to do so.
They will never rehabilitate fully if the foot arch is artificially lifted with an orthotic or shoe support. If you have an average spine that has many layers of injuries and compensations you may not notice the further compensation that has to occur if you support your arches.
Once your spine begins to unlock and reposition the negative effect of orthotics are easy to feel and demonstrate with muscles tests and balances tests. They are best off avoided as they will hinder your spinal correction and may very well prevent you from rebuilding and healing your spine.
If you have any questions or concerns around this issue, please feel free to ask your SpineCentral chiropractor to explain or demonstrate these effects to you in more detail.
Recommendations for choosing healthy shoes
1. The best shoes have thin, flat and flexible soles. It is best to avoid thick cushioned shoes because they cause a disconnect between your feet and the ground, numbing the sensory feedback that is so critical for your foot and postural health. Many shoes have arch supports built into the inner sole. You can usually pull this out. If it is not removable, you will need to buy new shoes. The shoe may feel too big when this inner sole is removed and if that happens simply purchase a flat inner sole to replace it.
2. The height of the heel does not matter too much. A small heel of about 1 cm can be quite beneficial for the alignment of the lower back. Try to avoid wearing heels that are more than 1.5 inches high as this can throw the whole posture off balance by tipping the pelvis excessively forward. You will have to pay attention to what your body is doing when you wear high heels. If you feel that your body is thrown forwards, then the heel is too high.
3. A more common problem with many modern shoes is that they have a ‘negative’ heel, meaning that the very back of the heel dips downwards causing the ankle bone (calcaneus) to sink and your posture to fall backwards. This can cause adverse compensation in your lower back mechanics and is best off avoided. This problem can easily be detected by your chiropractor so if in doubt, please ask to have your shoes checked at your next session. A negative heel is also commonly found in shoes that have been worn down over time through overuse.
4. Avoid shoes such as “cross trainers” which often have arches already moulded into the shoe which cannot be removed. Wearing these shoes will stop your body unlocking and unwinding by blocking normal foot mechanics.
5. Make sure that your shoes are wide enough in the toe box and are not squawking your toes together.
6. Make sure that your shoes are long enough. It is amazing to 0observe how many people wear shoes that are too small, squashing the big toe against the end of the shoe. Not only can this cause harm the big toe joint but it can also significantly negatively affect your gait mechanics. Ensure at least 1cm of room for the end of the big toe to the end of the shoe.
7. If you are undergoing treatment with ABC technique and you know your breakdown side, you can help support your breakdown side my placing a small lift under the arch of the foot on that side. For example, if you are a left break downside then you would only support the left arch. You do this by taking two plasters and taping them lengthwise one on top of each other on your innersole so that the pads are under the highest part of your arch. Some people just require one plaster, others require three. Start with two and test it out by walking and make adjustments if necessary. You can even test out the theory by placing the support on the wrong foot and noticing the differences! (If you have any difficulty with this step, please ask your chiropractor for help when you see them on your next session.)
The best approach is to be barefoot as often as possible. This is why we teach barefoot therapy at SpineCentral, to help you regain the strength and flexibility of your amazing feet. There are some fantastic shoe companies these days that sell ‘minimal’ shoes that closely mimic the conditions of being barefoot without making you stand out like a sore thumb and appear crazier than you probably are.
Vivobarefoot is a fantastic company that supply a whole range of minimalist footwear for all aspects of daily life from work, to street wear, to sportswear. Check out www.vivobarefoot.com.
Vibram FiveFingers shoes provide perhaps the closest experience possible to running without shoes. They are just a thin film of rubber that covers the sole of your foot and protects it from anything sharp or unsavoury that you may walk or run over. They are very light as well so you hardly notice that you are wearing them.
There are many other shoe companies like Merrel, New Balance, Saucony, Nike, Addidas to name but a few who have started to produce minimal shoes. The best approach is to go to a specialist running store and try a few different varieties. It doesn’t hurt to have more than one pair so experiment and find what works well for you and your feet.