The first step to assessing your own shoes is to perform the "visual test"
⇨ If your shoes have a foot bed begin by taking them out & laying them on the floor.
⇨ If your shoes do not have one, which is common, simply undo the laces or remove them completely.
⇨ If your shoes do not have laces or a foot bed you can still perform this.
⇨ Take your socks off & stand on top of the shoes or footbed with your toes fully splayed.
If your toes or overall feet are too large for the area your shoe provides then this is a clear indication that the shoes are ill-shaped and too small. It is important to spread your toes fully (use your hands if necessary) whilst doing this as your foot may be "shoe shaped" & therefore fit within the bounds and may give a false impression.
The toes & foot have the ability to spread within the shoe, there is sufficient space of 0.5-1cm from the toes to the tip of the shoe. The shoe or insole is widest from the side of the first to the fifth toe. As you walk your should also notice that the shoe bends where your toes meet your foot (toe-joints).
The first & fifth toes do not fit correctly in the shoe & as a result are pointed towards the other toes. The shoe and/or footbed is symmetrically pointed at the forefoot, getting narrower from the toe-joints / metatarsal heads to the tip of the shoe.
If your current shoes have a fair amount of cushioning then the next assessment is an important one for you.
⇨ Begin by pushing your hands into your shoes, just as you would with your feet, palms down.
⇨ With the tips of your fingers begin to feel around the area of your metatarsal joints or where the 'ball' of the foot lyes, this is the large surface area of your forefoot.
⇨ If you locate areas of wear then begin to investigate further by feeling with your fingers from side to side.
What you are looking for:
When wearing shoes that are too narrow for you it forces your forefoot to deform to conform to the volume within. A combination of the shoe being manafutured this way & the natural break down of the material will create a concave shape, similar to how the bottom of a boat looks, lower in the middle.
The problem this causes:
Over time your feet adapt to this shape and over just a matter of years your feet will have a high pressure points in this area, often also present where you have callouses. My Foot Function Clinics observe that 9/10 of their students and clients suffer with this deformity. As this leads to common pathologies such as Morton's neuroma, Metatarsalgia and more, it is a highly overlooked and crucial area to consider.
We seem to be talking about toe-spring a lot but why is it so important to consider? Let's first check if your shoes have this.
⇨ Place your shoe on a flat surface within eye level and look to see if the front of the shoe is making contact with the surface.
⇨ For many shoes it may be close so simply put a gentle amount of pressure on top of the toe-box to see if the rest of the shoes lifts up (it should not)
⇨ For some shoes it is obvious that you will never achieve this as the "spring" is very high.
⇨ You can double check this by putting the shoes on & checking in a mirror.
Why this exists:
The toe-spring has been engineered to encourage or mimic natural heel-to-toe gait, this is necessary as the outsoles of conventional shoes are too rigid for us to walk with properly. This was invented to accommodate the rigid and weakened shoe-shaped feet of modern humans at the end of the 60's. As running boomed as a past time activity, many sought medical help for foot-related injuries. Scientist and Biomechanics researchers concluded that we needed to elevate the toe-box and the heel to compensate for the dysfunctional feet of people, caused by the use of improper shoe-wear.
Why this is bad for us:
The toes are hugely important when it comes to stability. They act as an anchor in standing & rudder in locomotion. When your feet are in shoes that have a toe-spring the toes are unable to make contact with the ground as they are in affect forced upwards, decreasing your surface area to distribute force over and stabilise posture, leading to further dysfunction through deformity & muscular atrophy of your feet through disuse. The toe's should naturally bend during toe-off phase of walking, activating the muscles of the foot and steering the rear-foot. A rigid toe-spring inhibits this and leads to over-loading of the metatarsal heads, inability to steer the foot, mobility restrictions and weakening of the toes.
Arguably not the most important, but seems to receive the most attention. The important questions to ask here are why, and for who?
⇨ Those who require an elevated heel are often recommended from doctors due to restrictions in ankle mobility and injuries to the achilles.
⇨ As the majority of shoes have this, it has become a norm, stemming from the use of heels by horse riders to fix the feet into their stirrups. It is however far from functional for everyday use.
⇨ We often have our children wearing shoes with a similar design, leading to early maladaptation of the ankle joint and calf complex in most modern populations.
⇨ With training, like running, switching directly from an elevated heel to a flat shoe will cause higher loads on your calves, feet & ankles.
⇨ If you are considering to change, considerer starting slow & never simply replace your shoes.
Areas to consider:
The "barefoot" approach seemed to get a bad reputation due to the high level of injuries. This was due to many individuals simply changing their shoes & repeating their daily habits, wether this was running, playing sports, walking to and from work or other daily activities. Removing the heel requires your joints, muscles & tendons to adjust, this takes time an regular exercises. Remember that you can't grow muscles or do the splits over-night.
For most young and healthy people the risk is relatively low. The older you are and the longer you've spent time in elevated heels, the slower you should transition.
When changing your shoes you should begin wearing your new shoes for 10-20% of the time for the first few weeks or only using them on low impact activities such as standing or walking. Lissten to how your body responds. If you feel resistance from you body then step back a little or do not progress at all until the pain subsides. If you feel confident to continue progressing then begin using your shoes for daily walks. As each week goes by, increase your distance or time by 5-10%. After just a few months you are ready to wear your new shoes regularly. Use this approach with training & running as well, the risk of injury is limited & you will achieve your goal much quicker, although it feels slower. This is due to not facing many or any set backs.
Please note, we understand that many of you will be just fine changing your shoes directly, where as others will need more time. As you are all unique we recommend you take your time, and the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. The end result is an incredible feeling as you'll be able to engage in more activities with greater confidence and less risk.
Just looking at our shoes (if worn enough) provides a lot of information.
⇨ Do you have holes on the upper material, near the big toe or the sides of the toes?
⇨ If your remove the footbed, do you see holes or worn out areas?
⇨ Has the area at the heel started to wear, is it on the side or inside of the heel?
What this tells us:
Simply put, specific points of wear on the shoe shows us high levels of pressure against the material. This may be obvious but why is this being caused in this specific areas? A common misconception is that shoes should have a tight or snug fit. This is true for the rear-foot, but not the heel. The whole foot increases in size through temperature change & activities such as running, when this happens it places pressure on our feet. A functional foot and shoe should allow even pressure distribution. A shoe-shaped foot and shoe will lead to uneven wear and tear, commonly at the heel and certain parts of the forefoot. Most conventional shoes are poorly shaped, but we also wear shoes too small for aesthetic reasons. A study done in a German school in 1934 showed that 8/10 children were wearing their shoes too small. Similarly, a study performed in 1912 showed that 2,400 soldiers out of 3,000 were wearing boots 1-3 full sizes too small for them. This is still the common trend today.
But aren't holes normal?:
No, in fact people wearing functional footwear (footwear which allows the foot to function as nature intended) will commonly cause even wear and tear of the shoe which almost looks like a footprint. Dysfunctional wear and tear patterns are commonly at the middle of the forefoot and either the inside or outside of the heel.
Have somebody take a picture of you standing from behind so you can see how you distribute your weight on your shoes and where the most notable signs of wear appear.
⇨ Is the wear even or can you see more wear on the inside or outside?
⇨ Does this affect your leg & knee position as you stand or walk? Do they seem to fall in the direction of the wear?
⇨ Do you experience pain or excess pressure within this area?
Due to the softness of the material used in conventional shoes, such as training shoes, you will experience the uneven break down of the material in specific areas. It may be due to the way you walk, stand or even the sports you take part in. If you can relate to this section then changing your shoes may dramatically improve this. This may fix some of the problems but corrective exercises & improving your activity level is equally as important.