We just don’t pay enough attention to our feet. There are 26 bones (one quarter of the total in the human body), 33 joints and countless muscles in the feet. OF COURSE our feet affect our posture…and our posture affects our feet! [Note: People with hammer toes often have a significantly forward head posture resulting in their toes “digging in” to keep them upright!] The concept of posture is not limited to the spine, head and trunk. Posture is also how each joint relates to another when still or in motion (during movement, this active relationship is called the “kinematic chain”).
Research shows that the more cushion, firmness and heel that a shoe has, the more it increases the stress on the ankles, knees and hips while walking, particularly affecting those with osteoarthritis of the knee. Osteoarthritis is caused by undue wear and tear on a joint, often from previous injury, but just as often from the misalignment and uneven weight-bearing on a joint that is out of alignment with its proper posture.
The idea of “striding” and landing on our heel when we walk or run is not helpful and is encouraged by thick padding on the soles of shoes, eliminating our feeling of the earth and increasing our impact. Biomechanically, there is no need for increased height on the heel of a shoe. It makes no sense. It causes undue force on the joints of the lower leg and hips and pitches us forward when standing or walking (for which we must compensate by altering our posture). If you watch small children run, especially before they have been hobbled with shoes, they have considerably more up and down motion to their walking and running, which is more helpful in absorbing the shock and impact of each step. If you study barefoot running, or even begin to walk barefoot, you will find that it is necessary to change the gait to one more like a child, to unlearn the high impact, stomping, striding gait of an adult in shoes and to learn to “tread more lightly upon the earth”.
People who know me know that I am a proponent of going barefoot as much as possible and that for the past 4 years all of the shoes that I wear have a “minimalist” or “barefoot” construction (yes, even my winter boots!) This means that the sole is as flexible as possible and there is zero “drop” from the heel to the front of the shoe. The sole purpose (pun intended!) of a shoe is to protect the foot from sharp objects and the hard surfaces of pavement and cement, and to keep it warm in the winter. This can all be done with a flexible sole that allows the foot to function as if barefoot, as it was, indeed, designed to function.
*Please use caution when transitioning to a barefoot lifestyle. This post is a general report on going barefoot, not a prescription or recommendation for all who read it. Not all feet that have lived in shoes for 30 or 50 or more years can go back to the way they were designed…though many will still benefit by doing so!