A Podiatrist Explains How Shoes Impact Your Foot Health


Massachusetts-based podiatrist Dr. Alissa Kuizinas (and Xero Shoes Partner) has more than a medical perspective on footwear.

She struggled with foot discomfort for years. With each step she took, her big toe would jam against the inside of her shoes – “even with my ‘good shoes’ on,” she recalls.

The $133 billion shoe industry has footwear specialized for every situation. Workout shoes. Hiking boots. Running shoes. Even walking shoes. And the solution to foot problems? The typical suggestion is more cushion, more support, and a more rigid structure to immobilize your foot.

But is that the right approach to shoes?

Your Foot Issues Might Be a Shoe Problem

“Traditional medicine would recommend that I wear custom orthotics, limit my activity and wear stiff-soled shoes until the pain becomes bad enough to require surgery,” Dr. Kuizinas says. “I knew there had to be a better solution.”

The deeper this foot doctor delved, the more she found that her feet weren’t the problem. It was her shoes!

“Even though shoe companies spend millions of dollars on technology and design development, the shoes they produce and sell are doing a major disservice to human feet,” she explains. “From cushioning to heel-toe drops, stiff soles to narrow toe boxes, nearly every aspect of a modern shoe has a negative impact on foot movement. It leads to an epidemic of dysfunctional, weak, and malfunctioning feet. And most of us aren’t even aware this is happening!”

Get Out of the Way of Your Feet

“The primary purpose of shoes is to protect our feet from the elements and from different surfaces,” Dr. Kuizinas says. “They’re for when we are out in the world walking on a slippery or wet surface. Ultimately, shoes are really there JUST for that purpose. They don’t need to be bulky and restrictive, or supporting our feet. Our feet are designed to support themselves!

Think of any muscle in your body. If you use it, work it, and challenge it, what happens? It gets stronger. And if you don’t use it, or even worse, immobilize it, it gets weaker.

The same is true of the muscles in your feet.

Your Feet Are Made to Be Strong

Your feet are made to support the entire weight of your body. They’re meant to be strong. For them to maintain that strength, they need to work. And that means your shoes shouldn’t be doing their work for them.

So… why not just walk barefoot all the time? Research supports the idea of slight “protection” being beneficial. A study comparing outdoor barefoot walking with minimalist footwear found that the shoes improved walking form in both younger and older adults, and reduced risk of falling.

Dr. Kuizinas recommends a ‘as little shoe as possible’ approach to footwear, putting the focus on building resilient, capable feet.
“Rather than building up the shoe to try to externally support the foot and limit motion, minimalist shoes get out of the way of our feet,” she says. “They allow feet to function naturally, to move and bend. The transition to minimalist shoes involves stripping down the unnecessary and harmful components of modern shoes so that feet can be feet again!”

When working with clients today, Dr. Kuizinas shies away from the term “minimalist shoes.” Instead, she likes to talk about “functional shoes” or “natural shoes.”

“Natural footwear is really on the leading edge of shoe technology,” she says. “By stripping away the unnecessary and downright harmful features of shoes, we allow feet to function effortlessly as they were designed to!”

And when we do that, we give our feet the chance to grow strong and capable… the core of good foot health.

How to Find a “Functional” Shoe that Supports Good Foot Health

Dr. Kuizinas has a three-point checklist of what she looks for in a functional shoe, which not-so-coincidentally match up with the three major functions of the human foot during walking.

“The foot has three jobs: to be a ‘mobile adaptor’ or shock absorber when it first hits the ground, to be a rigid lever during push-off, and to be a sensor of the environment,” she explains. “As long as it can do these three things, it will function well.”
Here’s how she says those functions should be reflected in the shoes you wear:

Wide Toe Box: “Functional sneakers should have a wide, foot-shaped toe box. They’re broad enough to allow our big toe to sit in a proper alignment.”

Flat & Flexible Soles: “Our feet contain 26 bones and 33 joints. And joints are designed to move! A flexible sole allows for natural foot movement. By contrast, stiff and rigid shoes with elevated heels prevent the joints from fully moving through their range of motion and limit the foot.”

Minimal cushion and support: “A functional shoe should be only as cushioned as you really need. Overly cushioned shoes dampen your perception of what’s going on with your feet, and your ability to walk well.”

If you follow these simple standards, you’ll find shoes that support your foot health by not doing so much to support your feet!

Be Patient and Build Up to Barefoot

Both from her personal experience and in her professional practice, Dr. Kuizinas recommends being patient when it comes to transitioning to full-time “functional” footwear.

In the early days, she recommended a one-two approach of wearing functional shoes primarily for low-impact activities like walking and running errands, while also going barefoot around the house to help build resilience in the feet and ankles.

“As your foot function improves, you’ll be able to tolerate less arch supportive shoes for greater amounts of time,” she explains.
In not too much time, you’ll find yourself able to enjoy walking, running, hiking, and anything else you love to do more… because you’ll feel steadier and more stable on your feet.

Click Here to Find the Best Barefoot Shoe For You.