We are what we are as a result of thousands of years of evolution. Evolution is a mechanism of adaptation built in everything – living or dead. It progresses completely based on our environment – both internal and external. Some might argue that evolution only applies to living creatures. So here’s my argument against it. Take a piece of rough stone with rugged edges and place it in a shallow river so it is submerged. Over time, it will get eroded in order to take a shape that allows the water to pass around it in the smoothest and most organic way, offering the least resistance to the flow of water. That’s evolution.
Now, what does that have to do with shoes? Our feet comprises of hundreds of small bones, joints, tendons, muscles, varied shaped toes, skin textures working in tandem to do what it does best – walk, run, balance, move softly, move heavily, jump, trot, dance, etc etc. Every tiny bit of our feet is there for a reason in order for it to serve the purpose. And then comes companies like Nike, Adidas, On, etc who claim to know in a couple of decades that they could make our feet better at its job than what it has evolved to in millions of years. How insane of a claim is that! What’s worse is people actually buy into their arguments! Theses shoes introduce features like heel support, cushioning, air pockets, arch support, breathable materials and god knows what else. Off course this is the perfect recipe to deform your feet, make them more injury prone. Next time you walk in a busy street, pay attention to how people walk. Notice how many of them cannot lower their heels completely to the street. That’s because they think that shoes are part of their body and there is no need to take them off – EVER!
All those cushioning & elevated heels shorten the Achilles tendon, simply because it never gets stretched. Same for people who are unable to squat without lifting their heels. All these shoes are limiting the mobility that our joints are naturally supposed to be capable of.
In case someone’s wondering what the heck is Achilles tendon…
It is the toughest and the strongest tendon in our body that allow our ankles to be stable and mobile. It starts from the middle of the calf, runs down and attaches to the heel bone at the bottom.
What happens when you do not use a certain muscle in your body? That muscle gradually gets weaker and weaker because your body does not use it anymore. Same for tendons and ligaments and everything else that makes us what we are. When you stand barefoot on the floor, the muscles and the tendons on your feet actually has to work very hard. The natural arch that we have in the middle of the feet are the result of our evolution, and is one the key reasons why we are able to walk upright. The shape of our feet allows us to distribute the weight with the least possible effort when we are standing or walking. Its literally a workout for your legs. That’s why when you walk for a long time barefoot, your feet tends to get more tired, as compared to with shoes on.
What we are talking about here is the Medial Longitudinal Arch. This is enabled by the muscle group in lime green (Fibularis longus) and the plantar ligaments in reddish brown.
What most shoes tend to do is provide a support for that arch, hence reducing the work that your feet need to do. It may sound like a good idea to work less, but overtime, this weakens the muscles in your feet and makes it injury prone. You are also very likely to end up with a flat feet, as those muscles get weaker. Flat feet can often cause knee pain, cartilage damages, lower back issues, etc etc.
Have you ever wondered why the same toe looks so different from person to person? Because the shape of a toe is a function of how you use it. If you tend to put more weight on the big toe while walking, it would probably be quite flat and broad, evolved to support your specific way of walking. You may be someone who has a tendency to walk on the outer edges of the feet more so than the inner edges, or the front of feet than the back, or a million other possibilities. Depending upon your posture and gait, each of your toes function differently. It is unique to you and hence it has a unique shape. Now what happens when you cover all the toes inside a shoe? They lose their individual capabilities – all the evolution that it had gone through over time has just been made pointless.
Bear in mind, if you have issues with your feet, that won’t be the end of it. It will impact the neighbouring muscle groups, your posture, it will climb up your body to your hips, shoulders, etc as the rest of your body tries to compensate because you wanted to buy those bloody pair of trendy sneakers.
Now I am not saying that wearing shoes is a bad idea. Despite the fact that the best shoes are the ones that you were born with, shoes do have a very important role and that is to protect your feet from rough surfaces. What shoes are NOT supposed to do is change the way you naturally walk. Just because a pair of shoes are from a well-know brand, fancy and has all the bells and whistles that apparently could make you the coolest person alive, does not mean that your feet will be very happy with those on.
I suggest spending as much time as possible bare feet – for instance when you are at home, you don’t need to wear shoes. If your workplace allows it, may be you could also do that at work. There is a sense of freedom in being able to walk everywhere without any shoes. But off course that is not always possible. I don’t normally like to vouch for specific brands but I feel there is a need to mention what’s out there in the market that could potentially help us get healthier alternatives. Despite how ridiculous they look, Vibram Five Finger actually does a pretty good job in maintaining a barefoot posture. Another option is New Balance Minimus. Good thing about these are they actually look like regular shoes. However, they cover the toes, meaning your toes lose their individual functions. Bear in mind that if you start wearing any of these, you will feel some pain in the early days as your feet learns to walk again without support. So I would recommend starting with short distances and gradually increasing it.