Our feet evolved over the last ~ 5 million years to not only perform the task of the rear feet of animals that walk on four legs, but to also take on the tasks of the front feet, freeing these feet to become our hands. For almost the entire length of this five million year stretch, our feet evolved to support and move us over uneven terrain. The invention of the wheel (~6K years ago) co-developed with the construction of level, hard packed surfaces upon which it could operate efficiently. However, it was only by the mid 20th century that cement covered flat surfaces became the daily reality for the vast majority of our feet, with opportunities for our feet to engage their innate capacity to respond to rough terrain disappearing nearly completely.
Cement is unyielding stone. It is so hard that up to its breaking point pressure exerted upon it is fully opposed and acting as a mirror, it efficiently reflects pressure (acoustic) energy. Our response to having to walk upon such a surface has been to wear shoes with a great deal of insulation, with bold arch support, which isolates our feet from having to manage the reflected energy. In some ways insulation is an effective solution, but as with many of our solutions, it causes other problems.
The feet are complex assemblies of 26 bones, 33 joints, more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments and 200,000+ nerves. When this complex assembly is insulated from its many tasks, it’s performance degrades. It will continue to degrade to a point where it’s capacity to adapt is limited to the demands of walking in an insulated shoe on cement (or more commonly never develop much capacity beyond this limited function). When the foot reaches this state, it is ripe for dysfunction, and we see the issues so common in our culture – plantar fasciitis, hammertoes, bunions etc. However, these issues are much more insidious, as the foot is the foundation for our body, which cannot function more efficiently than the feet do in standing and walking, contributing to neck, back, hip, knee and myriad other somatic issues.
In my Manual Therapy sessions, I always start by working with the feet, as experience has shown that the rest of the body will resist releasing as long as the feet are tight. Any issue I work on, I do so in relation to foot function. Foot function issues are difficult to resolve exclusively in a Manual Therapy setting, and exercises and training for the feet are essential for those of us restricted to a modern environment. In other posts I discuss exercises and training, but here I want to offer some links to footwear that encourages the innate capacities of feet. The caviat with Paleo footwear is that if you are always on concrete, you will need to swap out the Paleo footwear for something with more support when your feet become irritated.
The ultimate Paleo footwear is bare feet. I highly encourage all my clients to walk barefoot in the house. The Paleo footwear for outside that comes closest to bare feet which I have found are this product:
I have not used these “shoes”, but like the look and probably will try them at some point. The idea of a chain mail stainless steel shoe seems pretty radical, but might just be a great idea.
The product which I use a lot is made by this company:
There is an excellent, concise overview of Paleo shoes here: