Are Shoes Bad for You?

Updated on February 18, 2018
Sue Adams profile image

Dancer, choreologist (movement notator), author on fitness and health, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.

Shoes Deform Feet

Having danced on pointe shoes as a professional classical ballet dancer for over two decades, it has taken me several years of intense research and practice to get my own damaged feet back to near-normal again. Like ballet pointe shoes, most shoes on the market today are not designed for the natural shape of human feet. My findings are worth sharing with anyone who has children and/or suffers from feet damaged by fashion shoes (which is most of us). I shall also clear up some myths propagated by the shoe industry and point your feet towards better, alternative shoe makers.

Side Effects of Shoes

Like ballet pointe shoes or Chinese foot binding, Western shoes for men and women can seriously deform your feet because their design follows an unnatural shoe last shape. A good posture cannot be achieved unless the base-foundation—i.e., the feet and ankles—are strong and healthy. The type of shoes you wear directly affects the health of your entire body. When the foundation is crumbling, the entire building crumbles and eventually collapses.

Shoe lasts are not shaped for healthy feet.
Shoe lasts are not shaped for healthy feet.

Why do we Wear Shoes? Don't be a Push-Over

The original function of shoes is to protect the feet from rough ground and weather. The bigger and broader your base, the stronger and more grounded and balanced your stance will be. If your toes are squashed together and not allowed to spread out as they are designed to do for maximum support and balance, then the weight of your body is being shifted backwards mostly onto the heels in tight, narrow flat shoes. In high heels, the weight is shifted on the forefoot. In both cases, ill-fitting shoes not only cause permanent damage to the feet, they also make you prone to being very easily pushed over when you are are standing or walking. Don't be a push-over!

Deformities Caused by Shoes

Left: Hammertoe: contraction/bending of a toe through lack of space in a shoe.  Right: Bunion: sideways deviation of the big toe from wearing narrow shoes.
Left: Hammertoe: contraction/bending of a toe through lack of space in a shoe. Right: Bunion: sideways deviation of the big toe from wearing narrow shoes. | Source

In the Name of Culture

In the aristocratic circles of China old women used to break little girls’ toes, fold them under and bind them to prepare them for a “privileged” life at the palace, as one of the Emperor’s wives. Crippled for life, hardly walking, and certainly not being able to run away from the Emperor, these young girls were assured a future life of wealthy slavery.

Chinese Foot Binding

Like Chinese foot binding, narrow shoes cause permanent damage to the feet.
Like Chinese foot binding, narrow shoes cause permanent damage to the feet.


How much self-abuse is still being practiced today in the name of culture, fashion, image, fame or prestige? Corsets, wired bras, garters, hairpins, earrings, ties, belts, buttons, bags, piercings and tattoos, are used to appease the consumer's lack of a healthy self-image and deep-seated feelings of insecurity. Okay, I'll admit it's fun to dress up for a special occasion—but wearing high heels as a norm? High heels are, in a different way, as silly and damaging to your body as the kind of abuse women imposed upon themselves centuries ago, like waist tightening until they could no longer breathe and gracefully fainted at every occasion.

In the Name of Fashion

The circumference of the waist is, at a skeletal level, only as large as a single vertebra.
The circumference of the waist is, at a skeletal level, only as large as a single vertebra.

The Truth About High Heels

  • The body weight is carried too far forwards, placing the ankles, knees, hips and spine out of alignment. You are, in fact, shortening the length of the baring capacity in the foot.
  • Increases pressure on the forefoot.
  • Creates unnecessary tension in the calf muscles.
  • Shortens the Achilles tendon which hurts when walking without high heels.

High heels project an image of vulnerability. That image has got women where they are today: the weaker sex, at the mercy of a more able-bodied man who helps them wobble out of taxis, on their stilettos, clutching onto his arm and a handbag.

Side Effects of Wearing High Heels

  • Morton’s neuroma – a thickening of tissue around a nerve between the 3rd and 4th toes, which can cause pain.
  • Bunions – bony growth on outside of the big toe joint.
  • Hammertoes – toes are bent at the middle joint through lack of space.

Elevated Above the Rest

If you can do a proper "relevé" (rising up very high on the ball of the feet), then you don't need high heels. Just walk along normally on natural shoes or flip-flops and then, when you know you might be observed by some interested (and interesting) party, just pretend you want to grow taller to see something far away and bingo, you're up there on your perfect relevé, giving you the exact look high heels create without the pain or harm done to your feet. It's good practice too. I often do it, standing in queues at the airport, to rise above the crowd. Silly? So be it.

Watch the following video, which illustrates the full movement range and potential in a human foot.

What your Foot is Capable of - Football, by Juliette Kando

The Shoe Test

When you go out to buy your next pair of shoes consider the following: Before trying to squeeze your foot into a new shoe, hold the sole of the left shoe against the sole of your bare right foot (or vice versa). Now judge for yourself if the new shoe’s surface area would take the shape of your whole foot. Spread the toes - the toe part of any shoe should be wider than the ball area. A well fitting shoe has enough room for the toes to spread while weight bearing in walking, jumping and running. Such a shoe is hard to find.

Buy Shoes that Fit

Place the naked sole of your left foot against the right sole of a shoe to see if it can fit without it being squashed.
Place the naked sole of your left foot against the right sole of a shoe to see if it can fit without it being squashed.

The Shoe Industry

Shoes will hurt until you “break them in." Sorry, you are not “breaking in” a shoe. If a shoe hurts when you first try it on, it is the shoe that is breaking your foot with severe long-term damage in the form of bunions, hammertoes and poor stability.

Here is Another Myth

A shoe salesman will tell you that good shoes have to "support" the feet, or your feet will "spread." Ask yourself: Why? Your feet do not need support if they are allowed to do their job unimpaired. The only reason the shoe industry condones such nonsensical information is to make people's feet so uncomfortable that they need to keep buying more new shoes. Wake up!

Children's Shoes

Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway: When buying shoes for children the above considerations should be taken even more seriously.

From the Experts

Elegance and Style

If most mass produced shoes are still not made for comfortable walking, then people resent walking. Yet everyone seems to be into elegance and style. What they fail to understand is that elegance and style is not made in a shoe but is the result of how well you can carry your body with grace, fluency, good timing, and an appropriate physical response to what is going on around you. So it figures that nothing you put on your body for the sake of elegance and style will work unless your body itself is elegant and stylish to begin with. True elegance and style can only be achieved with physical intelligence. Elegance and style are in your body, not in your shoes.

Building You Up from Scratch

As soon as you start wearing better shoes you should, within a fortnight or so, have changed the way you use your feet to create a good foundation for better posture and balance. "Are Shoes Bad For You?" is the 3rd article in a progressive series of over 30 episodes I have written so far on physical intelligence, body awareness, and weight loss to build you up from scratch. You can find them on my profile.

Happy Walking!

Please feel free to ask questions and share your views in the discussion below.

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image

        Dinu 2 years ago

        I don't like shoes. I like to walk barefoot only (anytime and anywhere) !

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 6 years ago from Andalusia

        Hi Giulia,

        Weather permitting, Flip Flops are the best shoes to wear if any. On cold or rainy days I would recommend Uggs.

      • profile image

        Giulia 6 years ago

        Hi I have found this hub while searching for info about shoes which are good for someone like me who has problems with spider and varicose veins on their legs. My mother has always told me that flat shoes (like ballerinas or chucks) are bad for my veins and that I should wear shoes with a bit of heel in them. But now that I have searched a bit on google I have found that actually flat shoes are recommended. Do you know what type of shoes would be best for me?

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 6 years ago from Andalusia

        Like I said above, if shoes hurt, don't wear them. Remember the myth?

        "Shoes will hurt until you break them in". Sorry, you are not "breaking in" a shoe, if a shoe hurts, it is the shoe that is, slowly but surely, breaking in your foot with severe reprisals in the form of bunions, hammertoes and poor stability. Go back to your old shoes Adrianne.

      • profile image

        adrianne 6 years ago

        So i usually wear slipper boots,pretty much everywear i go.but i decided to get boots that have a rubber sole and arent slippers since my slipper boots are getting worn out from work.but i wore the new boots today and now my feet hurt so i was wondering are the slippers actually better since im just walking on foamand a very thin sole?

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 6 years ago from Andalusia

        Tell me about point shoes Alec. I have danced for many years on my toes in a professional dance company. Although standing on the very top of your toes gives you a powerful "being up there, king of the castle" feeling, it definitely deforms your feet (creates bunions) because the toes are all squashed together into a narrow point. Remedial exercises as shown in my other foot hubs mentioned above can remedy the condition to a certain extend.

      • profile image

        Alec 6 years ago

        I really enjoyed reading this article. I have been dancing ballet for many years doing pointe work. However it is recommended that you have the facility to do pointe before you do pointe work. For example pointe shoes deform your feet if they have not stopped growing but if your feet are done growing it will not do this. However pointe work creates blisters, I have bled in my pointe shoes. Also this is not to say though that pointe is the best thing for you, if not properly done it can cause moderate to severe injuries.

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 6 years ago from Andalusia

        Hello Lisa,

        The exercises for flat feet can be found in the hub:

        But they are also good for over extended arches.

        Scroll down to No.2 Foot Placement and No.3. Toe Alignment.

        Keep up the good work and you'll soon be pain free.

      • profile image

        Lisa 6 years ago

        Thanks Sue! I don't have flat feet, high arches though. the exercises for flat feet, are they in the Feet You Walk On hub? I started doing those exercises yesterday along with ankle rolls, today is day two. Gotta try!!

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 6 years ago from Andalusia

        Hello Lisa,

        I don't agree with your doctor. Like I said in the Hub, wearing supportive inner soles only weakens your natural arch.

        Sometimes pain occurs because of a change in habits. For example, women who always wear high heels get shin pain when they suddenly wear flat shoes because the muscle at the front of the lower leg is shorter in flat shoes (has to contract more). Once they are used to flat shoes, the pain goes away. Or again, when you first wear flip-flops, it takes a couple of weeks for the feet to get used to them. Some people categorically say: "Oh, I can´t wear flip-flops, they hurt!". But if you persist, even if you develop blisters at first between the big toe and the second toe, once the delicate skin there has hardened, flip-flops become comfortable. In hot weather flip-flops are the only footwear I recommend. I am presently spending a few months in Boracay Island in the Philippines and all the locals wear flip-flops here, nothing else.

        Continue walking on bare feet or just thick socks indoors if it's cold. Keep doing the exercises above daily, especially those that cure flat feet (you can do them while waiting for the kettle to boil). Also read my other hubs:

        to get a better understanding of your feet.

        Good luck, let me know how you are getting on,


      • profile image

        Lisa 6 years ago

        found your hub, very interesting! I have been trying to move into more "minamalist" shoes, started out with Nike Frees, then moved in to the totally flat shoes. Now I have a raging case of Plantar fascia pain! Been told by the doctor NEVER go barefoot again, only wear shoes with hard insole. So... not doing that, and looking for advice. Starting with your exercises here. Hoping it helps!

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 6 years ago from Andalusia

        Hi Erin,

        I wonder where you picked up this piece of mis-information: "flip-flops are in no way good for your feet, as they can cause hammertoe."

        Think about it. A hammer toe is caused by pressure against the toe from the front part of a shoe. Flip-flops don't have a front part, there is no pressure what-so-ever on the toes from flip-flops.

      • profile image

        Erin 6 years ago

        Although I agree with your article for the most part, I would like to point out that flip-flops are in no way good for your feet, as they can cause hammertoe. And for anyone who really wants to keep wearing heels, opt for lower, thick heels, platforms, or wedges, rather than five-inch stilettos. And make sure they have an ankle strap!

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 6 years ago from Andalusia

        WOW! CT5,

        I'm so sorry. You are a living victim of the horrendous shoe-wear industry, and not the only one. Thank you very much for sharing your story. I'm sure it will prevent others suffering your fate. Frequent foot-baths and self-massaging your feet are 2 helpful hints I can send you. But you probably already do so.

        Stay cool,


      • profile image

        CT 6 years ago

        Thank for the info. I have caused lasting side effects from trying to wear shoes that were fashionalbe. Because of this, I had a bunionectomy on one foot to see the results. The surgergy caused more pain and numerous surgeries only made the problelm worst. Each step I take, there pain. As a result, I am permanent disabled and has to very careful what types of shoes I wear and be very conscience of weight gained. I share my story with others in hoping they will not have to experience what I've so far. Thanks again for sharing.

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 8 years ago from Andalusia

        How right you are Adam. There was this friend of ours who was an accomplished gymnast. She came to visit us in the countryside and promptly twisted her ankle on her first walk across the hills. I was surprised, her being a gymnast and all but the I realised that because she was living in London her feet weren't used to walking or running on uneven ground. Many of the little muscles in her feet and ankles that keep us in balance at various degrees of tilt in relation to bumpy territory must have been dormant in her case.

        I never wear shoes if I can help it and we live rural, close to the beach, mostly outdoors thank god.

      • profile image

        Adam, of Sennin-So Shiatsu 8 years ago

        Have you done any research into what shoes, socks, and flat ground (man made leveled ground) all combined do to the circulation moving through the feet. In my practice I use a rare style of Shiatsu to regulate the flow of your circulation through the body, especially through the feet where lactic acid, shoes, socks, and the prohibited movement of the foot all add to a slowing of circulation. Shoes in general do not have any REAL health qualities because every shoe prohibits natural movement and flatten ground does not allow the small muscles in the feet to work to balance our body properly. The muscle contractions in our feet is one of the biggest contributors to moving fluid back up the leg through the veins. There is a reason that people suffer from Varicose veins, spider veins, leg tension, and form blood clots in the legs and not in the arms. The secondary pumping mechanism in the feet is prohibited from acting normally, while the secondary pumping mechanism in the hand (webbing of the thumb) works without contest.

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 8 years ago from Andalusia

        They think it makes them look sexy. Perhaps men could change their minds?

      • jim10 profile image

        jim10 8 years ago from ma

        Great Hub. I read about the shoe binding in China a few years back and was quite disturbed. I never could figure out women wearing such uncomfortable shoes like high heels.

      • Princessa profile image

        Wendy Iturrizaga 8 years ago from France

        Very interesting Sue. I have always tried to go back to my heels ASAP and I have never really stuck for too long with the ballerinas. Interesting info, if I ever have to go back to wearing flat shoes.

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 8 years ago from Andalusia

        The pain you feel when walking on flat shoes is because you are using different muscles. If you could stick to it for longer periods than wearing heels the pain would go away.

      • Princessa profile image

        Wendy Iturrizaga 8 years ago from France

        I am a high heel fanatic, despite all the drawbacks that it involves. For medical reasons I had to stop wearing them several times and always had sore feet wearing flat shoes so I have always been back to my high heels. I guess I am far too used to wearing them. However, I do agree on the importance of choosing appropiate shoes for children.

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 8 years ago from Andalusia

        Thank you for your valuable input Karen. I think you should join HubPages and share your professional knowledge with the world. I'm going to see if I can add the Dansko clogs info to the hub right now.

      • profile image

        Karen Spencer 8 years ago

        Many excellent points. I would add that high heels cause back problems in addition to foot problems. Some people also recommend wearing Earth shoes - where the heel is positioned slightly lower than the toes. They have lots of new styles - from dressier to sports shoes. With regard to having feet that are two different sizes, there is an agency, I believe located in Arizona, that tries to match people up. If your feet are of medium width, sometimes playing with the shoe width can solve the problem as well. I know I've tried a lot of shoe solutions: I'm a PT so I'm on my feet a lot. One of my favorite type of shoe is Dansko clogs - they are great with jeans as well, and they have several styles/patterns.

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 8 years ago from Andalusia

        Thank you all for your interest. Marisa, It takes about two weeks to get used to flip-flops. I'm going to follow your advice Appletreedeals.

      • Appletreedeals profile image

        Appletreedeals 8 years ago from Salisbury, Maryland USA

        hope you don't mind another tip.

        get rid of all the links in your capsules


        1. you think they are absolutely critical to content


        2. they are to one of your hubs

        don't give people a reason to leave your hub before they get to the end.

        but you do need links for Google search, so add a links capsule at the very end of each hub. Put all your links there. 10 links seems to be the concensus as a good amount to feed Google search'

        You get the best of both worlds - the links Google wants to see, without putting them upfront where they will tempt people to leave your hub.

      • Rochelle Frank profile image

        Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

        My mom had a very high arch, and for much of her life wore great high heels with ease, she found them to be more comfortable than most "sensible shoes".

        I, on the other hand (or foot), went for comfort over fashion, early on. I am prone to sprained ankles, and live in an area where the terrain is uneven. I buy one or two pairs of expensive comfortable supportive shoes every year.

        Cute fashion is fun and great, but not worth the pain.

        >>> Great hub.

      • Marisa Wright profile image

        Kate Swanson 8 years ago from Sydney

        I can't wear flip-flops - I simply can't seem to grasp the concept of holding shoes on with my toes. Good Hub!

      • shai77 profile image

        Chen 8 years ago

        Loved your hub Just made a new fan :-)

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 8 years ago from Andalusia

        In that case I would invest in two pairs of shoes and discard those that don't fit, or as you say, swap with someone who has the opposite problem. But really, nothing beats flip-flops or bare feet. In cold weather I found the Australian Hugs the most comfortable.

      • profile image

        mega1 8 years ago

        Also, I have found that many people tend to have one foot larger than the other - sometimes as much as a whole shoe size - which means that one foot has to be cramped or the other foot has to be too small for the shoe! What to do- of course, find someone whose other foot is larger - etc. etc.> but excellent advise. Our feet being such an important part to our overall feeling of health and well-being. Possibly, because of my bunion, I have not been able to fall in love for such a long, long, time! hehe


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