What Support Means in Footwear

Bobux' Advisory Podiatrist Tracey Byrne gives us some insights into what a 'supportive' shoe means with our current understandings of foot health. The findings of her and her fellow contributors may surprise you!  

Did you know the average adult takes in excess of 18,000 steps a day- and it’s even more for children! Most feet walk around 70,000 miles a lifetime- that’s four times around the Earth!

Every time your foot hits the ground when walking it’s the equivalent of twice your body weight. Running increases this up to three times your body weight. With every mile we walk, we shift approximately one hundred tonnes- which is equivalent to the weight of the blue whale- just to make our own body weight move forward!!



The human body is phenomenal- and our feet bear the brunt of a lot of this work. Up until recently foot “support” was considered something that had to be adjusted, changed and medicated with footwear. Arch supports, stiff sides, a sturdy heel were all recommended and were considered to be essential for our feet. However new research which has appeared over the last couple of decades suggests that these forms of intervention were doing a lot more HARM than good!

What does support actually mean? A foot builds its own support using the information it receives though the nerves in the foot. It builds muscle and strength according to the situations it finds itself in. The less connection with the ground a foot has the less strength it builds. The strength of the connection with the ground dictates the amount of information the muscles and the nerves receive.

Research has shown that children wearing rigid shoes are more likely to have developmental issues because their feet are not able to get the information they need to build the correct muscle and strength. When toddlers are learning to walk with bare feet, they use the information from the nerves in their feet to understand the surface they are walking on, and hold their heads up. If they have restrictive heavy shoes on, they are more likely to look down- unable to receive enough sensory information from the ground- lose balance and fall over. This can seriously slow a child’s development and hinder their confidence when learning to walk.

foot structure

Studies have proven that children with the healthiest and most supple feet are those who habitually go barefoot. When a child must wear a shoe, it should be lightweight, flexible- with a wide toe area, and above all SHOULD NOT have arch supports and stiff sides, which were once deemed necessary to give foot support. It is best to leave children in softer soled shoes, before moving them onto a shoe with a thicker sole.

Shoe soles that are over 6mm thick prevent 80-90% of children’s foot flexibility. This can change their step frequency and result in lasting issues such as bunions, misshaped and inflexible toes. A shoe which has a raised heel height- trainers included- can entirely alter the wearer’s body posture, which can lead to serious neck, back and hip problems.

A recent investigation showed that 93% of children’s shoes are shorter than they should be! This means parents are inadvertently risking their children’s long term health and shunting their foot growth by purchasing those shoes that do not fit correctly. National surveys have reported an increasing number of children seeing doctors for hip, back, ankle and knee problems due to a poor choice of shoes. However, this cannot be solely blamed on parents. They are receiving the wrong fitting and size advice from retailers!

squashed foot

Too add to this issue another survey has revealed that over 90% of High Street shoes available for sale were found to be shorter than indicated by up to 3 sizes! It is so important to try shoes on and make sure they are the correct fit, before purchasing. It is assumed that manufacturers keep their shoes true to size- however this is not the reality!!

We need our feet! Foot health is so important; the muscle strength of the foot plays such a vital role in every single day of our lives, from the moment we are learning to walk, to walking confidently and beyond.


Tracy Byrne, Dr. Simon J. Wickler, Benna M. Nigg, Dr. Norman Espinosa, Annette Thompson, Dr. Lynn Staheli, Phil Hoffman

By @bobux