Breaking Out of Foot Prison


Ever wonder why we make shoe-shaped shoes and not foot-shaped shoes?

Like, really…think about that. What if containers for things came in a size smaller than the object itself.  Why don’t we wear tiny, little, tight mittens all the time? I make this argument completely from a structural standpoint.  I understand the world we live in puts beauty and the stilettoes on a pedestal just as performance puts the cushy, running shoe on its pedestal.  But at what cost?

“All things are poisonous, for there is nothing without poisonous qualities. It is only the dose which makes the thing poison.” – Paracelsus

Breathing in an environment with too high a concentration of oxygen can actually be deadly just like drinking too much water in a given period of time can be dangerous to humans as well.  The idea here is that anything at too far an extreme is probably not exactly what the thing was intended for.  To understand the “at what cost”, we have to understand basic functionality of joints. Regarding the characteristic of movement there are three categories of joints: synarthrosis, amphiarthrosis and diarthrosis. The diarthrosis joints are our moving joints and probably the ones we think of most when it comes to fitness and health.  It’s hard to train the suture joints of the skull…

High performance? Yes. Can you do finger things well? No...
The anvil strike is repeated via a hammer path that is never repeated

The toes, the bones in the mid-foot, and the ankle are all supposed to MOVE! We, humans, regardless of where you think we came from, walk on two feet.  That is the foundational “how we get around”.  With every step we take the body is receiving information from the environment through all senses, especially the touch sense.  When the foot feels a bump in the road, a crack or a tree root, it has to be capable enough to relay that information back EFFECTIVLEY so that you can make the necessary adjustments to continue moving well and without injury.

And that is just to walk effectively.  But, we do so much more than that! We swim, run, jump, climb, etc. The movement list could go on forever at an increasing complexity.  These things are not found as cards we can just play from our brain.  We do not have a card for “jump” in our brain that lasts forever and is as good the first time we use it as the 100th.  We only have tasks and challenges at hand.  The human is the best compensator in the world! Whether you have a less than optimal foot or knee, it will find a way to pick up that $100 bill off the ground regardless of potential injury to that knee or foot.  So, what do we need to do? Provide the body with as many options to compensate as possible!

Nikolai Bernstein made very interesting observations in 1930 with blacksmiths striking an anvil.  Although the final strike on the anvil was repeated, the path the hammer took via the arm contained movement variability enough to make no two swings the same.  This was termed “repetition without repetition” (Bernstein, 1930) and is now a topic of further study today (Mattos et al. 2011; Zhang et al. 2008; Todorov and Jordan 2002.)

Dr. Chivers of Functional Range System says, “If there are structural and/or physiological limitations in the joints involved in the skill, the process of motor learning CANNOT (skill acquisition) happen to the fullest extent.  It’s that simple.”

So, what does swinging a hammer have to do with you and wearing foot prisons?  Look back at the X-Ray photo and ask yourself if you are providing your feet with their maximum potential degrees of freedom to help them do things like walk, run, jump, kick, etc. to their max potential.  Or, are you limiting them and limiting their usefulness? Are you limiting your ability to learn all things that your feet are involved in? Are you creating an environment where the presence of pain and dysfunction makes a lot of sense for it to be there?

Optimal humans live in an information rich environment and have the capability to process that information into usefulness.  For that to happen, at bare minimum, joints need the degrees of freedom to hand the movement demands of the task at hand plus a little buffer room to handle randomness.  

Can you say you are doing those necessary things? If not, why are you surprised by perhaps low balance, pain, and injury…


Bernstein NA. A new method of mirror cyclographie and its application towards the study of labor movements during work on a workbench. Hygiene, Safety and Pathology of Labor. 1930;56:3–9. 3–

Mattos DJ, Latash ML, Park E, Kuhl J, Scholz JP J Neurophysiol. 2011 Sep; 106(3):1424-36.

 Zhang W, Scholz JP, Zatsiorsky VM, Latash MLJ Neurophysiol. 2008 Feb; 99(2):500-13.

 Todorov E, Jordan MINat Neurosci. 2002 Nov; 5

The Foot Collective.

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