Wiggle room

In yesterday's post, I mentioned the importance of wearing shoes that give your toes lots of room to spread out. The front part of your shoe is called the toe box.

Ideally, it matches the shape of the front of your foot. More often than not, they're much more tapered than that and your toes are squished together to fit into it.

When you wear shoes with a toe box that doesn't match the shape of your foot, over time, the shape of your foot will adapt.

  • Your toes will be closer together, even when they're not in shoes.
  • Your big toe may shift so that it's angled towards your other toes rather than pointing forward.
  • Your little toe may curl under and angle towards your other toes rather than pointing forward.
  • You may notice your toes no longer lie flat, but instead curl under a bit.

All of these can be signs that your toes have been forced to adapt to a shoes with a toe box that doesn't fit your foot.

It may not seem like a big deal now, but a lifetime spent wearing shoes with a narrow toe box comes with a price.

I had a vibrant and active client in her 80s who's toes were so distorted, after a lifetime of pointy-toed shoes, that her big toes crossed at a diagonal over the rest of her toes. She'd had surgery on one foot to correct it, but there was no visible difference between the foot she'd had surgery on and the foot she hadn't. Unfortunately, the state of her feet were really interfering with the activities she loved to do.

Feet in the wild

Chances are you've never seen feet that have lived outside of shoe "casts" and had lots of opportunity to move over a wide variety of natural surfaces. 

You can see what they look like here. They remind me of hobbit feet a bit. Look how much space there is between the toes!

Finding shoes to fit them would be quite tricky but I'm guessing those feet have an amazing amount of muscular strength and mobility  after a lifetime without interference from shoes.

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Modern day feet

In this photo look at the difference between the space between my toes compared to my 4 year old daughter's.

I grew up primarily in sneakers, did ballet for 9 years and wore dress shoes on occasion. For the past 2 years I've worn shoes that have lots of room in the toe box.

My daughter spends most of her time barefoot during the summer and for the past 2 years has been in shoes with lots of room in the toe box, like these or these.

Look at how much more space she has between her toes compared to me.

Believe it or not, our feet have the potential to be as dextrous as our hands.

WHY foot mobility matters

It's totally understandable if you have no dreams of being able to crochet with your feet but there are other reasons you need foot mobility.

Stiff, immobile feet interferes with balance.

They also require other joints, like the ankles, knees and hips to work more. When the feet don't move well, other joints have to make up for it and pick up the slack.

And while it may seem like no big deal that you can't move and spread your toes, that means the muscles in your feet aren't being worked regularly.

Here's a short physiology lesson for you:

  • cells, the building blocks of your body, depend on 2 main things to stay healthy: oxygen and waste removal
  • oxygen gets to your cells via blood flow - as in the more blood you have flowing to an area, the more oxygen those cells receive
  • removal of day-to-day cellular waste depends on lymph flow, lymph is another fluid you have circulating throughout your body only this fluid depends on muscles contracting and lengthening to help it circulate
  • the health of your muscles depends on electricity being conducted through them by your nerves
  • bottom line - cellular health depends on flow of electricity, blood and lymph.

If your muscles aren't moving, or are moving minimally, you have decreased oxygen and waste removal in those areas which compromises the health of the cells and the health of the tissues.

Fortunately most of us have enough circulation and waste removal going on to prevent really serious problems like gangrene but before you ever get to gangrene, here are some signs that the health of your feet is compromised:

  • cold feet
  • bunions
  • hammer toes
  • plantar fasciitis
  • slow healing fractures or wounds
  • stress fractures
  • numbness

The end result of mobile feet? You'll start increase your brain to foot connection, improve your foot mobility and strengthen the muscles in your feet. In the process you'll improve blood circulation and lymph flow through your feet. Enjoy!