How Shoes Cripple Our Feet

The History of Foot Trouble

1 - Discovering the Cause of Foot Trouble

Difficulties in Treating Foot Troubles without Knowing the Cause - Thousands of Theories - Barefooted and Healthy - A Little Boy Supplies the Answer - The Major Cause of Foot Trouble

Most Americans have poor feet and are unaware of it. Because of poor feet, countless Americans have posture distortions, are easily fatigued and become prone to degenerative illnesses.

I have discovered that it is easy, instead, to have strong healthy feet. I am going to tell you how, so you and your family will have good feet.

Difficulties in Treating Foot Troubles without Knowing the Cause

In 1933 1 graduated from Temple University School of Chiropody, trained as a foot specialist. I had been taught to relieve those who suffered from foot trouble; to pare their corns, calluses and ingrown toenails, and to bandage and pad their feet if they complained of soreness. But such treatment never cured anyone. Foot specialists could not prevent foot trouble, because its causes were not known.

This sad situation dissatisfied me and drove me to pursue my studies further. I read more books on the subject; I attended scientific meetings; I talked to leaders in the medical profession, but still I gained very little that would bring more permanent relief to my patients.

From 1935 to 1943 I was a member of the Lancaster Pennsylvania General Hospital Staff. In the clinic and in my office, most of the people who visited me had fallen arches to some degree. Treating their arches through massage and bandaging brought temporary relief to some but could cure none. Then, as now, commercial companies found it lucrative to supply arch supports for fallen arches. Unfortunately these supports rarely worked satisfactorily. People hoping to cure their trouble with such devices would go to one shoe store and doctor after another and end with a number of arch supports in their bureau drawers, all useless.

I asked an older physician on the hospital staff what he thought could be done to cure foot trouble. "Foot troubles are chronic conditions people have had for a long time," he advised. "You'll waste your time trying to find their cause and cure. Be content just to give people all the relief you possibly can."

Thousands of Theories

I talked with patients on every occasion, asking what they had done about their foot troubles. They found no cures. In more than 3,000 conversations with my patients I heard them describe every usual and unusual means of treating feet. Some had even put copper plates in their heels to get rid of static electricity, or slept with their feet pointing towards the North Pole to draw out tension magnetically.

Foot pains were not the only things for which people sought a cure. Foot trouble seemed to bring about fatigue and pain throughout the body. I was told, as chiropodists are told over and over again by weary patients, "When your feet hurt you hurt all over."

In the 1870's Father Sebastian Kneipp, an Austrian priest, became famous for a method of relieving fatigue -and its accompanying aches and pains. His treatment was to have people take off their shoes and walk barefooted in the morning dew. He ascribed the success of his treatments to the healing qualities of water.

In the early 1930's, Americans by the tens of thousands made pilgrimages to Canada for the "miraculous" foot manipulations of Dr. Mahlon Locke. There was such an interest in foot manipulation as a cure for fatigue that Temple University gave a course in it. I took the course and tried to improve my knowledge of foot manipulation by exchanging ideas with others. I still use foot manipulation on my patients with good results, but I realized even then that it could not cure foot trouble-nor reveal the causes.

Dr. Ralph W. Dye of Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania, in the late 1930's, introduced a new method of correcting foot disabilities by continuous adhesive bandaging. His method of bandaging forced the patient to walk from heel to toe instead of rolling off the inner side of the foot as do people with fallen arches. With this treatment, cold bloodless feet received warmth through greater muscular activity; toe numbness disappeared; nerve reflexes that had been absent became restored. The beneficial changes were not limited to the feet. Posture improved. In some cases excessively large hips became smaller with less strained walking. I could no longer doubt that poor feet contributed to poor posture and associated illnesses. To know the cause and prevention of foot trouble would be important. Soon after, I came upon conclusive evidence about the cause of foot troubles.

Barefooted and Healthy

While visiting shipyards during the Second World War, I noticed that the newly recruited female construction workers wore the same loose-fitting high-topped shoes as the men-and they worked with more ease of movement than I had ever seen in American women. It seemed that their feet actually thrived without the support I had been taught they needed. I accumulated more evidence to reinforce this observation. In Puerto Rico, as I traveled about the interior of the island where many of the people are habitually barefooted, I was amazed to find that they all had straight, undeformed toes, unlike the shoe-confined toes I had seen and treated in the United States.

When I returned to my practice, I continued to use manipulation and bandaging methods in treating fallen arches, but there were decided disadvantages to this treatment.

For example, irritations resulted from using adhesive tape on sensitive skins for the many months required for effective treatment. I tried newly developed treatments such as molded shoes and balanced appliances, but people were frequently dissatisfied with the measure of relief they obtained-and they certainly were never cured. It became clear that seeking temporary relief from foot trouble was no way to solve the problem. What was needed was treatment or prevention based on knowledge of the causes. But what were the causes?

In medical libraries I read a number of studies which, together with what I had seen, proved to me that habitually barefooted people do not acquire our foot troubles. In the following years, I traveled through Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Haiti. Besides having sturdy toes and muscular feet, the people who were constantly barefooted did not have fallen arches. They had uniformly excellent posture -- and none with whom I spoke ever experienced being chronically tired. It was evident to me that some feature of shoes was causing foot trouble. But what was it?


A Little Boy Supplies the Answer

I found the answer back in the United States, by working with a boy two-and-a-half years old. His toes were being forced together in narrow shoes and he walked with his feet pointed outward in the typical posture of a child with fallen arches. He tired easily, always wanted to be carried, and fell frequently when walking. I asked the boy's mother why she bought shoes which pushed the child's toes together in the shape of the toe of the shoe? This made his toes so weak he could hardly bend them. "You should buy shoes that are wide enough for him," I told her.

"I tried," she answered. "I took him to the best shoe store in town, and they gave him the widest pair of shoes in the store."

They were 6-EE. Although he did not have an extremely wide foot, the shoes pressed against the sides of the toes. The mother went back to the shoe store and asked for the widest pair of shoes that could be ordered -size 6-EEE.

These were just wide enough for the boy's feet to lie flat without being squeezed, but there was no room to spread the toes, and with foot growth the shoes would again jam the toes together. The heavy stiff leather and shoe shank did not allow the rest of the foot to move freely. Remembering the healthy feet and strong toes of the people who were constantly barefooted, I suggested the child wear no shoes for the rest of the summer.

I had ample opportunity to watch the boy's feet as he walked about that summer. I could not help wondering what, during his first two years of life, had ruined his feet, turned them outward, and caused him to walk with a fallen-arched gait. For months I watched every movement of his toes, each twist of his ankles, the way he lifted his feet, the manner in which his foot first made contact with the ground.

Then an amazing thing happened. He finally stopped leaning on his arches; he started to walk straighter and more normally. At last I began to understand the cause of fallen arches and the origin of foot trouble. With his toes continually pressed together in his shoes, his body had to improvise a brace-instead of leaning on his weakened, squeezed-together toes, the inner sides of his feet were turned outward for balance. I realized then why people persist in leaning on their strained inner arches, which were never meant to support continuous leaning, and why they have to push off painfully from their arches instead of their toes, at the end of each step.

Going barefoot had made this boy's toe area broader and stronger. When he stood, his stronger toes were now able to spread out, giving him a broad forward area on which to support his weight. Now he used his toes in standing and walking-he would even stand on his toes frequently while playing. His fallen arches were cured. With better foot balance, he rarely fell. He no longer begged to be carried, and he seemed tireless in his activities.


The Major Cause of Foot Trouble

That was ten years ago. I have since examined thousands of children's and adults' feet, both in the United States and in foreign countries, determined to learn to what extent shoes can disable naturally healthy feet. I have conducted numerous tests in accredited hospitals and published my observations in widely distributed medical journals, presenting my views for the scrutiny and criticism of other doctors. There is now no question in my mind but that THE MAJOR CAUSE OF FOOT TROUBLE IS THE TYPE OF SHOES WE WEAR.

There is nothing astonishing about this theory. What is astonishing however, is that while the cause of foot trouble is so evident a child could understand it, few persons know about it. Most people continue to acquire permanently and unnecessarily deformed feet simply because of the evolution of a fashion which started a hundred years ago.

Introduction: A New Approach to Foot Health


The History of Foot Trouble