How Bad Footwear Affects Your Feet

We are going to focus on yet another aspect of the correct fit for running shoes, with the next topic being the toe box! That begs the questions what is the toe box? As can be seen in the picture below, the toe box is the portion of the shoe that holds the toes and forefoot. The toe box plays an integral role in the fit of a shoe and also in how the foot functions while running. Let’s take a look at the main reasons in depth.

1. Compromised Mechanics of the Foot

As you walk or run, your foot is loaded with force from the ground and your body weight. In order to disperse this force across the foot, the foot gets wider. A narrow shoe will restrict this natural splay of the foot and can also result in blisters, deformities, and injuries.

2. Decreased Durability of Shoe 

A narrow toed shoe is not just bad for your feet, but also for the durability of the shoe. Narrow or short shoes will cause increased pressures on the upper of the shoe which can result in a variety of holes and shoe defects. You can see in the picture below how the side of the foot “bursts” out the side of the shoe as it attempts to splay. Asics is one of the biggest offenders of having a narrow toe box.


3. Decreased Stability, Strength, and Support 

When the foot and toes are not allowed to splay out the way they naturally do, we lose a lot stability strength and support. Think of it this way, if we were to do a push up contest, how would you want your hands? Would you want them all scrunched up on top of each other and taking up a very small surface area? Or, would you prefer to spread them out to cover a larger surface area with nice splay all around? Of course you would prefer the latter, it is stronger, more stable, and more supportive of the weight you are putting on your hands. The same goes for your feet. The wider the better.

4. Injuries associated with narrow toe boxes. 

Placing your foot in a narrow toe box shoe can cause a variety of injuries, deformities, and foot conditions. We’ll go over some of those conditions:

a. Bunions – A narrow, restricting toe box can force the big toe over towards the other toes and result in inflammation of the big toe joint. This is a painful condition and causes crowding of the other toes which can lead to more issues. 

Bunions are painful and certain not good looking. (

Bunions are painful and certain not good looking. (

b.  Hammer Toes – A narrow toe box can force the foot into an unnatural position in which the toes are cramped. Over time, the muscles of the toes can shorten and result in the deformity seen below where the shape of the toe resembles a hammer. 



c. Arthritic Toes Wearing tight fitting footwear places extra stresses on the joints of the foot which can lead to painful arthritis (swelling of the joints). Pain and stiffness in the toe joints are typical symptoms of arthritic toes.

d. Metatarsalgia This condition is associated with pain and inflammation around the joints in the ball of the foot. Narrow or short footwear places extra pressure on these joints resulting in the condition.



e. Black Toenails 

If a shoe is too short, the toes will jam up against the top of the shoe. This blunt trauma can result in black toenails as seen below. Black toenails can also fall off and sometimes fail to regrow.



Let’s take a look at the best choices and worst choices for running footwear as far as the toe box is concerned.


1. Altra Footwear



2. Mizuno Evo Series Footwear

3. Newton Running Shoes

4. Pearl Izumi

5. New Balance Minimus Series

6. Vibram Five Fingers

7. Skechers

8. Skora



2. Brooks

3. Nike

How to fix your feet if they have become deformed?

A combination of getting proper fitting footwear and using correct toes (below) will go a long way. The more you can walk around barefoot and unrestricted the better. This will help your foot to regain previous strength/form and allows for some of the damage from narrow footwear to be undone.


How should a shoe fit in the toe box?

You should be able to “play the piano with your toes” in the toe box of your shoes. You want enough room for your toes to move around and also want a shoe that accommodates the splay of the foot. In the front of the shoe, you want about a thumbs width of space to allow for swelling of the foot as your run and to prevent black toenails.

What does a healthy foot look like?



Notice the space between all the toes and how wide the foot is. These sets of feet are very healthy, strong, and stable.

What does a foot look like that has been deformed due to footwear?

Shoe deforms1Shoe Deforms

Don’t let this happen to you! Get footwear that actually fits!

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