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 are undergoing structural correction care at SpineCentral or any other ABC office around the world, it is very important that you wear shoes that allow your foot to move freely and to sense the floor. Wearing over supportive, cushioned, and restrictive shoes can lead to ongoing problems with your whole body structure and either slow down or limit the progress that you can make with your ABC treatment program.
If you have any questions or concerns about 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 and heavily 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.
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 backward. 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.
2. A flat sole is best but a small 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.
4. Avoid shoes with inbuilt arch support
Shoes such as “cross trainers” and many brands of sandals often have arch supports already molded into the shoe which cannot be removed. Wearing these shoes will stop your body from unlocking and unwinding by blocking normal foot mechanics.
5. Make sure that your shoes are wide enough to fit your toes in them
Your toes need to be able to spread and grip the floor as you walk. Many shoes have toe boxes that are too narrow to fit the font of your foot incorrectly. It is also important to make sure that your big toe does not jam up against the top of your shoe.
6. Make sure that your shoes are long enough.
A common mistake is buying shoes that are too small, squashing the big toe against the end of the shoe. Not only can this cause harm to 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. Use an “ABC Dot” under the arch of your “breakdown side” foot
If you are undergoing treatment with the ABC technique and you know your breakdown side, you can help support your breakdown side by 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 at your next session.)
The best approach is to be barefoot as often as possible. This is why we teach barefoot therapyat 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. Wearing these sorts of minimal shoes every day will ideally support your corrective care program and over time train your feet to become very strong, flexible, and robust.
The Barefoot Shoe List
The best companies that I have come across are Vivobarefoot, Xeroshoes, Tadeevo, and Balenka. They are great places to start as you can have pretty much all bases covered with their products. If you want to dive deeper down the rabbit hole and find the perfect minimal/barefoot substitution here are many more options for you:
vivobarefoot is an industry leader with shoes for all needs: sporty, casual, everyday, work, and everyday wear. ABC friendly.
revivo– reconditioned Vivobarefoot shoes at a reduced cost.
groundiesgreat for everyday smart and casual use. Fashionable. ABC friendly.
xeroshoes is a popular brand that has various casual styles, sandals, sporty and everyday options. ABC friendly.
tadeevo sporty, casual, everyday options. A very minimal design that encourages true barefoot walking.
skinners these are tight-fitting socks with a thick sole that acts like a tough additional layer of skin — affording a very effective barefoot experience with adequate protection for your feet.
balenka casual, everyday, perfect minimal design, very ABC friendly.
merrell – a range of minimal/barefoot options for sports, training, and everyday
rogercoco– womens, causal, everyday, smart – look out for the flat sole options that don’t have a heel (american store)
havaianas – their flip flops are excellent, comfortable, and flat soled, without any arch supports which makes them perfect
converse – the allstar range is flat, flexible, and without arch support making them a good everyday, casual, option.
If you need steel capped shoes it can be a challenge to find a suitable pair of boots or shoes that is wide enough in the toes box and flexible enough to still allow your foot to move. Here is one option that we’ve found which seems to tick all of the right boxes
sk-apparel– look for the lee cooper safety plimsoll
Often the best solution is to bring your current pair of safety boots in and have one of our structural correction specialists look at them and assess how they affect your posture. It may be possible to make a few changes to the insoles and heel support to have them better support your posture at work (see below).
The Children’s List
If your child is under 18 months don’t feel pressured into buying shoes for them yet. One or two pairs of socks, or even going fully barefoot (in the summertime) can often be the best solution at this age. Many shoe shops offer cheap, basic minimal footwear for kids. Remember they should be flat, flexible, and un-cushioned. If you would like a specialised brand for older children who are more active, here’s the list of good companies:
There are two major problems that can sometimes be corrected without needing to throw your shoes out and start again. The first thing is to take out any removable insoles which may be in your trainers, boots, or shoes. These often have built-in arch support, which while they may appear to only be a slight built-in arch, is still enough to stop your body’s normal mechanical function and interfere with your unwinding process and overall structural health.
If you find that the base of your shoe is now too uncomfortable, rubs or the shoe now does not fit correctly, then replace the contoured insoles with a flat pair which are easily purchasable online or at a good shoe shop. Something like this works well.
The second issue is called a negative heel. Run your finger along the inner sole of your shoe from the middle to the back. If you notice there is a dip, or indentation down where your heel bone goes, then you have a negative heel. The effect of standing in shoes with a negative heel is similar to sitting in a soft chair, it causes your posture to be tilted forwards, harming your alignment and impeding your unwinding process. If you suspect that your shoes have a negative heel, then you can correct it with a heel chip or a heel lift, which you can purchase at Spinecentral.
If you are in any doubt about the shoes you commonly wear, please bring them in with you and one of our chiropractors can assess the effect that they may be having and see what can be done to correct any problems.