Presenting the modern men’s dress shoe. With the exception of exaggerated high heels, the men’s shoe parts are as harmful as women’s dress shoes.
TOE BOX: The toe box is the portion of your shoes that cover your forefoot (ball of foot and toes). It is generally made from very stiff material and looks the shoe in figure 1. The most popular of these shoes have a crowding effect on your toes (see figure 2). This shape will eventually force you to form bunions, flat feet, and hammer toes (to name just a few).
SHANK: The shank is a strip of curved metal that is placed between the outsole and the insole. Its purpose is to support the arch of your foot. Without this piece of metal, your foot would have to support itself (as it should). Wearing an arch support all day long will restrict the intrinsic muscles of your foot and make them weak. A variety of foot problems develop when the muscles are too weak to provide support.
INSOLE: the insole that comes with a shoe is intended to provide some cushion to your feet. Insoles that are store bought can also be added and provide extra cushion. You don’t need a lot of extra cushion if you have healthy strong feet. The extra cushion can also make you think it’s okay to strike the ground with your heel first, and heel striking is harmful for your joints (no matter how much cushion there is).
COUNTER: The heel counter is a stiff piece of plastic or other material used to prevent “over-pronation” and to keep your foot from slipping out of your shoe. If you have healthy feet, your foot should naturally prevent you from over-pronating. Most shoes have a stiff counter that can not only prevent your foot from moving naturally, but cause blisters even after just a little bit of walking. If you must wear shoes, be sure to look for a very flexible counter (since it’s a requirement to keeping your shoes from falling off your feet.)
VAMP: the vamp is a strip of leather (or some other material) just below the laces. It goes over the forefoot to keep your foot from sliding into your toebox. When combined with a high heel, your foot will be forced to slide forward into the shoe, and the vamp will hold it back, thereby constricting its movement and circulation.
OUTSOLE(S): The bottom layer of your shoe. There are typically two or more outsoles. They can be made from cork or leather, but they are generally very stiff. In the average men’s shoe, they will prevent your foot from moving or feeling the ground. If you’re out on the city streets, you don’t want to feel too much ground, but you don’t want to have an outsole that prevents your foot from moving at all.
TOE SPRING: The toe spring is the curvature created by the outsole below the toe box. It’s the shoe part that gives your toes a little ‘lift’. The intention of this lift is to allow you to walk more naturally without having to bend your foot, because if you are wearing a very stiff shoe, you won’t be bending your foot. The inability to bend your foot as you walk will force you to lift your legs higher (or swing them outward) so you don’t drag your toes on the ground. Toe spring forces your toes into a higher position than the rest of your foot. When this happens, all the tendons, muscle and fascia underneath your foot are stretched out, while everything on top of your foot is shortened. There are many problems this can pose for your feet such as hammer toes. The tendons that go all the way to the tips of your toes are pulled back when your toes are elevated (like little puppets on a string), and this can eventually lead to hammer toes.
HEEL: A piece of material at the heel of the shoe. There are many purposes humanity has ascribed to the heel. It can provide added height and prevent the shoe from wearing down, or prevent the shoe from sliding too far forward into the stirrup of a horse’s saddle. It may also act as a shock-absorber. The most common claim is that it relieves stress on the Achilles and/or plantar fascia, but in reality, all it does is shorten these tissues and cause you more problems. If you do not have a medical reason for an elevated heel, you should not be wearing one. Most shoes have some degree of heel (including athletic shoes and men’s shoes). When you’re out buying shoes, look for the “drop” measurement. The “drop” is the difference in height between the heel and the forefoot. That means you can actually have platform shoes that are 5 or 6 inches high with zero drop. I wouldn’t recommend such shoes, but shoe drop has nothing to do with the height of the outsole. A “zero drop” shoe is what you’ll want to look for. Unfortunately, you’ll have a hard time finding something without a heel.
In conclusion, industry needs to change the form of shoe parts, and make a wider variety of healthier options available for everyone. Money talks. Let’s make an effort to buy from companies that recognize our feet for how they were designed.