THE INS AND OUTS OF FOOTWEAR DESIGN

Here we point out what is ideal, what to veer away from and what to steer toward when it comes to footwear choices.

“If I were to develop the optimal shoe it would not constrain the motion of any of the 33 joints of the foot, nor the toes independent or gripping action; it would encourage activation of the innate musculature of the foot, would be self-regenerating and would adapt to use by getting thicker and stronger rather than getting weaker or wearing away, and it would be wired directly into the user’s nervous system .

 

Barefoot Ted

Ok now that Barefoot Ted has confirmed what we now know: that nothing will ever compare to our own feet, we'd like to point out some common design elements to veer away from and which to steer toward, especially as it relates to footwear for everyday use. Need more information or science to support? Check out the REFERENCES page.

 

VEER AWAY FROM...

 

  • COMPLEX CONSTRUCTION

  • MULTI-LAYERED (midsole, outsole, insole)

  • STIFF

  • HEEL-WEDGED

  • TOE-TAPERED

  • CROSS-ROCKERED

  • TOE-SPRUNG

  • CURVE-LASTED

  • MIDFOOT SQUEEZING

  • ARCH SUPPORTING

A few supporting images go in more detail below...

THE SHOE LAST

 

...is the solid form which a shoe is built around. Two problems:

 

1. The foot is not one shape!

2. Shoe lasts usually look nothing like feet.

Footwear companies use many different last shapes which is why different models fit differently. They design new lasts all the time...and are very aware they look nothing like feet yet choose fashion, marketing and manufacturing over doing the right thing.

TIPS:

1. Choose non-lasted shoe construction options. Example: Soft Star Shoes.

2. Ask the manufacturer to see the shoe lasts they use.

THE CROSS ROCKER...

 

is a little known, often obscure, yet very standard footwear design element which originated from and is utilized solely due to reasons of fashion and manufacturing.

Instead of the forefoot being able to widen and splay, the sole of the shoe is rocked upward on either side severely limiting natural breadth and motion of the of foot.

MIDFOOT SQUEEZE...

 

a completely non-technical term that we just made up but needs to be brought to light.

a design element that suits symmetry, giving an hourglass shape to the shoe versus the natural foot shape which is not symmetrical.

 

The lateral sole of the foot (line following the 5th metatarsal bone) is designed to continue in a straight line from heel to toe as we roll along it while walk and  as you can see from the footprint versus the footwear prints on the right. This happens because a footwear designer is sitting at a computer creating art and making decisions about shoe shape that have nothing to do with foot function.

"The 5th metatarsal acts as a steadier of the foot in the stance phase as well as a pedal that unlocks the calcaneal-cuboid joint to allow the hindfoot to fully pronate (OMG, I said the P word! 😳). Most footwear interferes with this critical mechanism. One reason for the symmetrical shape of footwear, aside from designer priority of fashion over function, is that the equipment used to mass produce shoes cannot work with asymmetrical shapes. 3D printing may solve this problem. But so long as consumers continue to value vanity over function there will be no impetus for shoe companies to change." - David MacPhail, Skimoves

TOE SPRING...

 

is designed to allow shoes to compensate for their inherent lack of flexibility

holds the toes in an elevated position during standing and much of the gait cycle, contrary to the way the foot functions without a shoe

 

may adversely affect the muscles on the underside of the foot and plantar fascia, can result in poor diminished pronation control, and can alter the shock absorption capacity of the foot.

via Somastruct here.

Additional reading on our website:

Toe Spring = Toes Stuck

 

STEER TOWARD...

that which allow for minimal interference and maximal use of the foot's natural functions including but not limited to the splay of the toes, the posture and mobility of the 33 joints and the sole's sensory reception.

 

SIMPLE CONSTRUCTION

less materials - less layers - less glue

FLEXIBLE

allowing the toes to dorsiflex and plantar flex with minimal inhibition

DYNAMIC MATERIALS

with elastic, stretchy properties

FLAT THIN SOLES

from heel to toe

WIDEST AT THE TOES

either truly wide or stretchy enough to allow for toes to maximally, naturally splay when in motion

SUSTAINABLY SOURCED, REUSEABLE MATERIALS

and

REPAIRABLE

 

But don't just take it from us, enjoy the following quips and quotes dating back to 1860 that speak to both shoe design flaws and future recommendations.

If movement is life, which I truly believe,

then we are denying our children life! 

Jeff Moreno, DPT, Founder Move2Thrive

First, it’s important to distinguish between “normal” and “natural.”

Normal is defined as an accepted standard, a mean or average. For example, everyone occasionally catches a cold, hence the common cold is “normal,” though it is neither healthy nor natural. Conversely, natural means the pristine, ideal state, the ideal of form and function stemming from nature itself.

Hence the difference between normal and natural is essentially the difference between what is and what can or ought to be.

 

Dr. William Rossi

Prior to now we haven't looked at the foot for what it is:

a living, adapting and sensing complex system.

Contrary to popular belief, the toes are the widest part of the foot, not the ball of the foot. Unfortunately, since fashion dictates shoe design instead of foot biomechanics, shoes are designed with tapered toeboxes, narrower than the ball of the foot.

 

Footwear Essentials - Dr. Mark Cucuzella

Habitually barefoot walkers have wider feet, which results in lower peak pressures, favourable in injury prevention and therefore most probably in athletic performance. We suggest that frequent barefoot walking...can help to preserve natural foot function. When the substrate does not allow for barefoot locomotion, footwear should be worn that protects the foot from injury, but that is unrestrictive, enabling the foot to function as much as possible as in the unshod condition.

 

The Effects of Habitual Footwear Use: Foot Shape + Function in Native Barefoot Walkers 

K. D’Aouˆt, T.C. Pataky,D. De Clercq and P. Aerts. Footwear Science. 2009.

 

In this matter of foot health we are not confronted with some profound and complex problem of astrophysics or esoteric technology. Nor does it involve heavy financial investment for research. It is, instead, a visible problem with a simple and viable solution, which can have a major impact on both child and adult foot health.

 

Dr. William Rossi

 

Shoe Design Flaws

Footwear Essentials - Dr. Mark Cucuzzella

 

Heel Elevation

 

Mistakenly, almost every shoe available today has some sort of heel height, this is especially harmful in athletic shoes.

 

Toe Spring (sole curvature upwards)

 

From the ball of the foot to the toes shoes curve upwards, incorrectly lifting the toes off the ground.

 

Tapered Toebox (narrow toe area)

 

Nearly every shoe narrows from the ball of the foot to the toes (symmetrically), however the shape of the foot is widest at the toes and off center from the big toe.

 

Curved Last (i.e. "crooked" last)

 

The midfoot area of the sole is cutout denying use of the 5th metatarsal ray, which is naturally a weight-bearing bone.

 

Other design flaws to be aware of:

 

Motion control, arch support, plush cushioning, thick soles, shank stiffeners, and medial posting devices (footwear essentials)

 ANY shoe with an elevated heel, even a one-inch heel, automatically places the foot at a functional disadvantage.

 

Dr. William Rossi

The first law of all science is objectivity. But in the important matter of the foot/shoe relationship the approach has tended to be much more subjective than objective.

Dr. William Rossi

A shoe, ideally, should be an anatomical and functional replica of the [natural] foot. And this can be considered a biomechanical law: The less a shoe does TO a foot, the better FOR the foot. To what degree possible, a shoe should stay out of the foot’s way.

 

Dr. William Rossi

By the time the average shoe-wearing child has reached the tender age of seven or eight, his or her feet clearly reveal a visible loss of anatomical and functional normality. The medical practitioners are quick to attribute this to the wearing of “improper” or “ill-fitting” or out-grown shoes — not realizing that there is no other kind because...

(99 percent) of juvenile footwear, regardless of price or brand, is “improper” and “ill-fitting."

 

Dr. William Rossi

ON CHILDREN'S FOOTWEAR

Almost all lasts for footwear, including sneakers, are “crooked” in contrast to the straight-axis alignment of the foot, heel-to-toes.

 

This has long been one of the chief causes of anatomical and functional foot deformity that begins in childhood and continues throughout all the adult years. Why this obstinate continuation of crooked-last shoes that are so obviously anti-foot health? Tradition again. Shoes have been made on crooked lasts for centuries, so the manufacturers, along with the shoe retailers, continue to remain blissfully ignorant of this visible conflict between foot and shoe and hence resist or refuse change.

 

Dr. William Rossi

It’s as though the parents, shoe people and doctors can’t wait to begin the primitive process of footwrapping, little different than the old Chinese footbinding customs.

The foot, especially in the young, is very plastic. Continued pressure can give it almost any shape.

 

Conslusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of the Feet

of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing Peoples.

American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery.

Dr. Phil Hoffman. 1905.

On a two-inch heel, were the body a rigid column and forced to tilt forward, the angle would be reduced to seventy degrees, and to fifty-five degrees on a three-inch heel. Thus, for the body to maintain an erect position, a whole series of joint adjustments (ankle, knee, hip, spine, head) are required to regain and retain the erect stance. If these adjustments are sustained over prolonged periods, or by habitual use of higher heels, as is not uncommon, the strains and stresses become chronic, causing or contributing to aches of legs, back and shoulders, fatigue, etc.

 

Dr. William Rossi

Q. So why is toe spring built into the last and shoe?

 

A. To compensate for lack or absence of shoe flexibility at the ball.

 

With toe spring, the toes of the foot are constantly angled upward five to twenty degrees, depending upon the amount of shoe toe spring. Functionally, they are “forced out of business,” denied much or all of their natural ground-grasping action and exercise so essential to exercising of the whole foot because...

18 of the foot’s 19 tendons are attached to the toes."

 

Dr. William Rossi

On taking a step, the foot normally flexes approximately 54 degrees at the ball on the bare foot. But most shoes flex 30 to 80 percent less than normal at the ball.

 

Dr. William Rossi

The common mistake here is the assumption or diagnosis that it is the foot that is at fault, and hence the solution is to “rebalance” the foot. But far more usually it is the shoe that is at fault for any of the reasons already cited.

 

Dr. William Rossi

"Complex systems are weakened, even killed, when deprived of stressors."

Nassim Taleb

The shoe ought to protect the foot, but it has no business to distort its shape.

 

Shoemakers should be aware of this, and try to make the covering of the foot a suitable one. The best of them, however, are grievously ill-qualified for this task...

 

The answer is simple: The sole ought to be cut exactly as if the great toe were in its proper position.

 

Why the Shoe Pinches. Georg Hermann von Meyer. 1861.

Why don't we give nature a chance? 

 

Michael Sandler, Run Bare

It seems to me a most ridiculous thing that all these years we have been wearing shoes quite different from the shape of our feet because everybody else does.

 

Natureform Shoes. The Parent's Review. Mrs. Scott. 1900.

Why this obstinate continuation of crooked-last shoes that are so obviously anti-foot health? Tradition again. Shoes have been made on crooked lasts for centuries, so the manufacturers, along with the shoe retailers, continue to remain blissfully ignorant of this visible conflict between foot and shoe and hence resist or refuse change.

 

Children's Footwear: Launching site for Adult Foot-Ills.

Podiatry Managment. Dr. William Rossi.

The bootmaker, ignorant of the relative use and importance of the different parts of the foot, has steadily persisted for centuries, and at this day usually persists, in so shaping the shoe that the great toe is forced upon the other toes more or less out of its right line with the heel. The necessary consequence is that the full strength of the natural lever, the toe, for raising the body is destroyed; the effort has to be made at a disadvantage and with pressure, and the act of walking loses some of its grace and much of its ease.

 

Natural Shape of the Foot - How Boots and Shoes Ought to Be Made.

Scientific American. 1862.

A secure, stable superstructure cannot be erected on a design-defective base or foundation.

 

Why Shoes Make Normal Gait Impossible. Podiatry Management. Dr. William Rossi. 1999.

 

"Human behavior is interwoven deeply with nature's rhythms. The natural world underlies all of human perception and interaction: cultural imperatives, economic systems, religious traditions and other governance  organizations.  Human form overlays primordial pulse and flow. 

When these patterns skew from nature, people and societies become ill and entire species are threatened or vanish."  

Randy Eady


If the boot is not made to fit the foot, the foot must be made to fit it, and in doing this the foot is distorted.

 

Lewis' New Gymnastice and Boston Journal of Physical Culture. 1861.

If one looks at the windows of shoe shops one sees a very attractive display of beautifully shaped shoes and boots in tempting colours, but unfortunately the articles of footwear displayed, though attractive to the eye, bear no resemblance to the natural human foot.

 

Bad Feet. Heal Thyself. J Ellis Barker. 1934.

...fashion ought to take the cut of the shoe from the form of the foot and not cramp the form of the foot to suit the cut of the shoe. The first thing, he says, is to consider the great toe, which does most of our walking for us. A line from the point of this toe to the middle of its root would, he says, if continued, pass the middle of the heel; but as boots and shoe's are made, the tendency is to twist the toe out of this line. 

 

The mechanics, mechanical anatomy, and mechanical distortions of the bony structure of the human foot.

J.C. Plumeb, MD

1860.

Woodward illustrates the point perfectly, describing an incident in a restaurant where he was dining sans shoes. "A four-year-old noticed my bare feet and, taking the matter into her own hands, took off her own shoes and socks," he says. "On seeing this, the girl's mother warned: 'Put your shoes on - because if you don't, your feet will spread. And then you won't be able to wear shoes at all.'"

 

Why Barefoot is Best for Children. The Guardian. Sam Murphy. 2009.

The lasts over which the footwear of civilization is shaped are rarely modeled in the spirit of truth that would make them conform to the contour of a normal foot. The whim of society and the manufacturers' enterprise alone regulate their shape. Society, apparently, agrees that the human foot as formed by nature is coarse, vulgar and unsightly, and this its width, especially at the toes, is entirely too great. It regards the small, especially the narrow foot, as the beautiful one. The dictum of fashion has greater influence than reason. ...what [society] so commonly does admire is the dainty little shoe that hides its own handiwork—the distorted, cramped, calloused and repulsive foot.

Here beauty is less than skin deep...

 

Conslusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of the Feet of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing Peoples.

American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery. Dr. Phil Hoffman. 1905.

 

Conslusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of the Feet of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing Peoples.

American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery. Dr. Phil Hoffman. 1905.

Figure A.

Photograph of Plaster Cast of Foot of Bagobo Boy that had Worn Shoes a few Months

 

Figure B.

Adult Bagobo that had Never Worn Shoes

 

 

I tell you what is ugly, only it's covered up: and that is a foot with corns or bunions on it, chilblains or ingrowing toenails, or hammer toes. I shudder to think what some pretty shoes would reveal if they were taken off. We should not be so much in love with Cinderella then! I think it ugly, too, to see a woman walk all wrong from the hips and stand all on one side when she is still, or back on her heels instead of the ball of the foot, and I want my girls to grow into graceful women who can run and dance and skate beautifully, so that it may be a pleasure to see them take active exercise, and not an ungraceful exhibition such as one does occasionally see with the modern maiden.

 

Natureform Shoes. The Parent's Review. Mrs. Scott. 1900.

Shoes as they are usually worn, not only deform but interfere with the functions of the foot by restricting the movements of its many small joints.

 

Their action is more or less that of a splint.

 

Conslusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of the Feet of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing Peoples.

American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery.

Dr. Phil Hoffman. 1905.

The feet of the civilized are a disgrace. The majority have abnormal or crippled feet. Most feet one sees are anaemic, soft, ill-shaped, and are ornamented with sunken arches, swollen or displaced ankles, enlarged toe joints, bunions, corns and callouses. Worse of all are the toes.

 

Bad Feet. Heal Thyself. J Ellis Barker. 1934.

 

I suppose we have all admired a baby's foot. It is a perfect form of beauty until we spoil the natural formation with a shoe: then, alas! the foot becomes rather an unsightly member in most people, who console themselves by wearing pretty shoes instead of having beautiful feet. What has been done to done to cause this?

 

You have to put the child's feet into shoes made in the shape of a foot belonging to an animal of no known species; his feet have had to grow to fit the shoes, instead of the shoes being made for the feet.

 

Natureform Shoes. The Parent's Review. Mrs. Scott. 1900.

The line of direction, and distance from the heel, of the ball or joint of the great toe, should be carefully considered, for “upon it the weight of the body turns at every step.”

 

Lewis' New Gymnastice and Boston Journal of Physical Culture. 1861.
 

Conslusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of the Feet of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing Peoples.

American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery. Dr. Phil Hoffman. 1905.

The shoe-wearing foot has been anatomically conditioned from infancy to acquire the faulty shape to adapt to the faulty shoe. This contradicts the rule: you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. But you can. You simply shave the corners or edges of the square peg until they are rounded, and the once square peg fits neatly into the round hole. this is precisely what happens to all shoe-wearing feet. 

So we arrive at the deceptive illusion that all once-square-pegged feet are “normal” because they fit into the round hole.

 

Children's Footwear: Launching site for Adult Foot-Ills.

Podiatry Managment. Dr. William Rossi.

2002

Solid lines show normal foot outlines.

 

Dotted lines show outlines of same feet manually compressed without pain.

Does all this suggest that the only means of retaining the natural state of gait is to go barefoot? Unfortunately, yes. That is, until the “ideal” shoe, devoid of all the faults of design, construction, and performance of traditional footwear, is made available. But, throughout all history to the present, nobody has yet designed such a shoe…

 

Why Shoes Make Normal Gait Impossible. Podiatry Management. Dr. William Rossi. 1999.

Range of Painless Compression of Feet in Barefooted Peoples:

Most children's shoes ought to come with a government health warning," believes Byrne. "They are like awful little bricks - too stiff, too rigid, with no flexibility at the sole and too much heel raise. This is of particular concern with toddlers learning to walk, because it causes them to bounce and tip forward," she says.

 

Woodward agrees. "I have in my hand a Nike Air shoe for a three-year-old - quite an expensive item, I would guess. From the heel to the toe there is no 'bend' or 'give' in the sole. Completely rigid, this shoe will restrict movement of the forefoot to zero. Kids this age should be turning cartwheels, skipping, climbing trees, running around. A shoe like this would seriously restrict such playful physicality - make it less fun, less enjoyable."

 

Why Barefoot is Best for Children. The Guardian. Sam Murphy. 2009

VOGUE MAGAZINE vs DR. ROSSI on PLATFORM SHOES...

“It’s no sin to call a shoe clumsy, these days it’s a compliment. If you haven’t already worn a platform or wedge sole, do have a pair of two for autumn with this new thick look”.

 

Vogue Magazine. 1938. From A Brief History of the Platform Shoe.

The platform shoe dates back to the sixth century BC, introduced by Aeschylus, the Greek dramatist, who used it for his actors on stage. The higher the platform the more important the actor and his role.  Hence platforms began as status shoes. All platform shoes are functionally foot-deforming, especially if frequently worn. A natural gait is impossible with them, and the foot itself acts more hoof-like than the flexible organ it naturally is.

 

Fashion and Foot Deformation. Podiatry Management. Dr. William Rossi. 2001

The shape of the shoe has too much influence on health and comfort to be left to the dictates of fashion.

 

Why the Shoe Pinches. Georg Hermann von Meyer. 1861

 

It took four million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of gait, a remarkable feat of bioengineering. Yet, in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot. We have converted a beautiful thoroughbred into a plodding plowhorse.

 

Why Shoes Make Normal Gait Impossible. Podiatry Management.

Dr. William Rossi. 1999.

And all of this has occurred under the presumed

“health guardianship” of the foot-related medical specialists:

the podiatrists, orthopedists and pediatricians.

 

Children's Footwear: Launching site for Adult Foot-Ills.

Podiatry Managment. Dr. William Rossi.

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