Podiatrists agree that having a spacious toe box, or front shoe area for the toes, is important. Most popular shoes are not shaped like feet and will not promote good health and movement. The toe box should be wider than the area for the ball of the foot, allowing the toes to move and adjust even when one is wearing the footwear. Without space for the toe, one can suffer bunions – swelling in the first toe’s joint – and nerve damage over time. Wearing shoes that squish the toes can permanently and painfully alter the shape of the foot, making it harder to find footwear in the future.
Robyn Hughes, ND has been an advocate for a more natural toe box shape for years. Hughes says that shoes with a narrowed, or tapered, toe box can cause blisters which may lead to infection. In addition, they can also cause other complications: corns, calluses, crooked toes, runner’s knee, shin splints, sesamoiditis (pain resulting from toe bone fractures), fungal / ingrown toenails, hammertoes, foot / leg tendon issues, plantar fasciosis (pain and swelling of the underfoot tissue that connects your heels to your toes), bunions and bunionettes.
Toe Box Taper
“[The] toe box taper is the principle underlying cause of these conditions, but few healthcare professionals educate their patients about the hazards of this common shoe design feature,” explains Hughes. Interestingly, she adds that the foot and back issues caused by poor shoe design are not present in cultures that spend more time sitting or barefoot. In fact, even our ancestors may have had better foot health. Without sufficient protection and support, our toes and feet contain bones that cannot cope with the constant intense shock hitting hard surfaces – such as city concrete – can produce.
While having a spacious toe box is important, it is also crucial to make sure there is not too much space. This can cause the foot to rub and bang against the shoe all day, causing pain and blisters. In addition, such shoes will also lack the stability and arch-support your foot needs to maintain optimal balance and functionality.