You are not going to want to hear this.
Your feet hurt because of the shoes you wear.
Hold on a second! I can hear you saying. I wear practical, supportive footwear. I don’t even wear high heels! It is *not* my shoes.
I know. Your shoes may seem like a smart choice. But…it’s probably still your shoes.
Alright, the shoe thing is a bit of an oversimplification. Your feet probably hurt for a number of reasons. One is that our culture has created a flattened world so that our ankles, calves and feet are conditioned to walking only on artificially flat and hard terrain. This has consequences for our feet and our whole bodies, as our feet are deprived of the different kinds of movement and conditioning they would get if they had to walk on different textured and varied ground. And don’t even get me started on how much we sit. So partially your feet hurt because they don’t move enough, in enough different ways.
But, the second reason that your feet might hurt, is most likely your shoes. Even if you think you’ve made good footwear decisions! Most shoes are too narrow for our toes, and don’t have enough flexible movement in the sole to give our feet the movement they need. Most shoes also have a heel, including running shoes. Any rise in the heel, even a small one, can have dire consequences for your knees, hips and spine. A change in your alignment at the base of your body ripples upwards.
Aaaarrrrgh! You might be saying. I don’t want to replace my shoes! Some of them are so cool, and it’s expensive to replace them.
This is true. Being able to change your footwear for the health of your feet (including spending the time doing research on strengthening and conditioning your feet) is definitely a privilege of time and money. A lot of preventative health care stuff is unfortunately often only pursued by those who can afford it.
I’ve been there. I walked around with my feet hurting for years, before I was willing to look at the connection between my foot pain and my shoe and movement choices. Little did I know that the problems in my feet and footwear were also causing my low back and neck to hurt as well. I was hugely surprised when a few months into working on my feet and slowly transitioning my footwear, my feet started to feel much better, and the relentless low back pain I had for years began to ease up too! As a yoga teacher, I thought that my yoga practice was enough to give me healthy feet, but at that time there was a lot of strength and conditioning missing from my practice, plus the external factor of shoes that were squishing and tightening my feet. In the long run, changing my footwear was a lot less expensive than all those trips to the chiropractor I was making for my low back!
If you’re interested in learning about why your feet might hurt, and what you can do about it to work with the health of your feet and whole body in the long term, try the following list, in this order. Don’t just skip to the buying-new-shoes part, even though that’s kinda the most fun. You could end up with more foot pain if your feet aren’t yet ready for minimal shoes.
Step 1: Get better information. Don’t believe what Nike or the guy selling you $300 orthotics tells you.
- Katy Bowman’s website www.nutritiousmovement.com and all her books, especially her two books about feet (Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief, and Whole Body Barefoot).
- www.thefootcollective.com is a group of foot-focused Physiotherapists. http://sock-doc.com/foot-injuries/ is a foot-focused chiropractor.
- Podiatrist, Dr. Ray McClanahan’s site (tonnes of great articles and videos) https://nwfootankle.com/about
Step 2: Progressively strengthen & condition your feet to move better. Don’t skip this step! If you just swap your footwear but you don’t condition your feet, you could end up worse off. Classes and teachers at QSY can help you with this. You could especially check out my retreat and courses on “Dynamic Aging,” where there is a big focus on strengthening and moving the feet!
Step 3: Stretch and realign your toes gradually with toe spreaders (we sell several options at QSY).
Step 4: Gradually transition to footwear that allows your feet to move! Here are 4 things to look for when choosing shoes (from Katy Bowman):
1. Shoe has a neutral heel and toe. Being flat or “zero drop” from toe to heel allows all joints in and above the foot to work from a neutral, natural baseline, and allows for full range of motion in the whole body. Most shoes, even running shoes or sneakers, have some elevation of the heels, and this causes issues to whole body alignment, affecting ankles, knees, hips, spine, and head position. Also avoid toe spring, or elevation under the toes.
2. Has a flexible, thin sole. This allows the tissues and joints of the foot to feel the ground and respond by articulating, innervating, contracting, releasing. If you’re walking in an urban environment flexible is more important than thin. More padding may be necessary if you’re walking on concrete.
3. Has a spacious toe box where toes can move freely and spread fully. It’s very important that there is space for the big toe to align straight out from the ball of foot, rather than the toe box being tapered at the big toe. The wide toe box takes some getting used to style wise, but your toes will LOVE the freedom.
4. Is fully attached to the foot. The upper fully connects to the foot so there no need to grip the toes or the front of the shin to keep the shoe on while moving (no flip-flops or clogs).
Feet are such a big part of our lives, but often overlooked. At Queen Street Yoga feet are a key part of our yoga practice. We would love to help you have pain-free toesies, so come try your feet (hehe) at one of our drop-in classes or pre-registered courses. Our teachers love to talk about feet, so don’t be hesitant to ask about toe spreaders, foot exercises, and footwear. We all get a kick (lol) out of talking about feet!
Leena Miller Cressman is the director of Queen Street Yoga. Right now she’s in love with practicing the Tensegrity Repair Series, handstands and doing gentle twists over her bolster. You’ll also find her cruising around on her rusty but trusty bike, and tending to her community garden plot full of arugula, kale, and basil.