But are they really? Does our super cushioned, super air-filled, memory-foam, gel-filled footwear actually do us any favours? And what about flat footwear – Ugg boots and flip flops are high on my ‘evil sh*t for feet’ list! They're just as bad. All the cushioning in our fancy pants trainers means that the proprioception in our feet is virtually none existent leading to inefficient movement patterns from the feet upwards.
I know it’s not practical to do a Zola Budd (who? Google her) and be bare foot all the time but our poor feet, particularly our toes, become quite rigid by being encased in some form of shoes most of the day. The toes can lose their range of motion (use it or lose it) and are often pushed inwards towards each other. Most shoes have elevated heels (even men's) and can be too narrow in the toe area. This can lead to problems like plantar fasciitis and also give us tight calves.
The more rigid our footwear, the more rigid our feet become. When the feet are unable to move in the way they were designed to then it affects the ankles, the Achilles tendon, calf muscles etc all the way up the body and into the hips.
It's particularly important to keep the big toe mobile as every time we walk we push off from it. In fact, we push off with all of our toes with each step and this disperses some of the pressure from the ball of the foot. However, this doesn't happen if your shoes are pushing your toes inwards and squashing them together.
So what can we do? In theory, being barefoot is our natural way of being but it's not very practical in today's world. Giving your feet a break from shoes from time to time is doable.
If you're not used to being barefoot very much then build it up gradually; your feet will need time to get used to moving in a different way. Maybe you can kick your shoes off at work, under the desk, and wiggle your toes a bit. Try to spread the toes out and then curl them up. I know that this can be cramp inducing but as I always say in class, 'if you get cramp then you need to use that muscle more'. It can be a sign of a weak muscle. Lift and lower the heels a few times. Walk barefoot around the house for a few minutes each day. When the feet have freedom to move then the muscles have the opportunity to become stronger.