How Does Conventional Footwear Negatively Impact Foot Function?

It is no surprise that optimal foot health is so frequently misunderstood. All our lives we have been taught that our feet must be supported and cushioned to be problem free. Did you know that long-term support and cushioning are not recommended in any other area of musculoskeletal medicine to rehabilitate or improve function? Extended periods of artificial support and a chronic lack of direct stimulation are proven to cause maladaptation, reduce strength and flexibility, increase stiffness and pain, and promote dependence in the target areas, all with negative consequences for the entire body.

Almost all conventional footwear interferes with healthy natural foot function to some degree. This is particularly true of shoes that restrict the raising of the toes and arches, provide extra "support and cushioning,” or incorporate excessive motion-control features. Over time, the neuromuscular function throughout the feet, legs, hips, and back maladapt as the feet conform to these restrictive and less stimulating footwear environments. This maladaptation is a leading cause of most foot-related problems.

Conventional footwear inhibits natural healthy foot and leg function

Integral to our body's functional capabilities are the neuro networks that both collect sensory information (touch, pressure, pain, and spatial positioning) and send signals to trigger muscle activations. These neuro networks also adapt to challenges imposed by usage and environmental influences.

The "coordination" of our limb and body movements is determined by proprioceptive sense or "proprioception." Proprioception is the way in which the body's neuro networks work synergistically to process information relating to the coordination of the spatial positioning of the limbs (and their related parts individually and collectively) relative to the body's core as we go about our activities.

Proprioception is involved in the body's muscular reflex actions, such as the body's innate protective reflexes and conditioned reflexes.

Proprioceptive-related protective reflex mechanisms are responsible for the bone alignment and muscular stabilization throughout the feet, legs, hips, and back that is required to safely manage the stresses and forces generated during
all types of activity. In an unrestrictive environment, this ideal alignment promotes a balance of strength and flexibility, which effectively reduces the stress and strain throughout.

The proprioceptive and touch, pressure, and pain neuro networks, and protective reflex neuro networks throughout the feet, legs, hips, and back are synergistically related; what affects one neuromuscular network has a corresponding effect on the other neuromuscular networks. When the functional mechanics positively adapt or maladapt through repetition and become reflexive, all areas are equally affected.

Optimal Foot Function Dynamics / Requirements

During optimal foot function, while a foot is on the ground, the neuro networks pick up sensory information relating to subtle variances in terrain, force-related intensities (to the sole of the foot and at the joints throughout the feet, legs, hips, and back), and proprioceptive spatial orientation relative to the activity.

The body's protective reflex mechanisms use this sensory information to trigger "protective" muscle activations throughout the other foot, leg and hip, while that limb is off the ground, in anticipation of ground contact force and alignment requirements. This dynamic occurs step after step. These protective reflex muscle activations cause a dynamic and synergistic raising of the arches and great toes (the windlass effect). The greater the activity-related forces, the higher the arches and toes rise upward.

The Effect of Cushioning Footwear on Foot and Leg Function

The cushioning effect of conventional footwear dampens the sensory stimulus to the soles of the feet, which triggers an insufficient protective reflex response throughout the feet, legs, and hips. The result is poor ground force management, instability, inefficient propulsion, and degenerative stress. Over time, maladaptive musculoskeletal mechanics are conditioned and become reflexive.

The Effect of Supportive and Restrictive Footwear on Foot and Leg Function

Enclosed footwear with rigid soles and tight toe boxes, which are restrictive over the arch (tight lacing), act like a cast or splint on the feet. By limiting the dynamic and natural action of raising the arch and toes, which is what the protective reflexes attempt to trigger, instability throughout the feet, legs, and hips; poor ground force management; inefficient propulsion, and degenerative stresses result.

Maladaptation, functional instability, poor skeletal alignment, and damaging degenerative stresses increase relative to the degree of cushioning, support, and restrictiveness of the footwear.

Eventually, maladaptive function becomes the “dysfunctional norm" and the feet and lower limbs lose their ability to effectively respond to ever-changing environmental forces by becoming mechanically weaker and less efficient. The maladaptive musculoskeletal mechanics become reflexive to the extent that the protective reflexes are trained to stop firing.

The resultant maladapted function and related degenerative stresses cause or contribute to the majority of foot-related pathologies, not only in the feet, but also in the legs, hips, and back. Common symptoms include: pain, stiffness, swelling in joints and other supporting structures of the body (muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones), muscle atrophy, muscle hypertrophy (overuse), tissue damage, fibrosis/scar tissue, and loss of bone density.

This dysfunctional maladaptive norm can only be reversed by:

a. altering or eliminating the footwear environment that facilitated the maladaptive proprioceptive muscle function, and
b. employing rehabilitative therapies (exercise/conditioning) that retrain optimal proprioceptive muscle activity and promote “healthy” stressors.

BioPodsTM Insoles and Footwear Encourage Optimal Foot Function

BioPods insoles and footwear are designed to encourage healthy protective reflex function and work in harmony with the natural dynamic movement of the feet rather than attempt to artificially support, cushion, control, or restrict. When using BioPods insoles and footwear, your shoes should be loosely laced to allow room for adequate foot flexion.

BioPods insoles and footwear provide a safe “spring-like” variable stimulus under the center of your arches that continually engages and optimizes your body’s protective reflexes in the feet, legs, hips, and back when walking, running, or during other weight-bearing movement.

Regular variable stimulus challenges the body's natural proprioceptive and protective reflex mechanisms and causes them to adapt towards healthier function. Even though the stimulus is at the sole of the foot, it affects proprioceptive and reflex function in the feet, legs, hips, and back.

Soft Tissue Adaptation Phase

When using BioPods insoles and footwear for the first time, the body's neuromuscular systems will undergo a soft tissue adaptation phase as the feet, legs, hips, and back respond to the BioPods stimulus. As with any neuromuscular muscle training, the soft tissue adaptation phase takes approximately 6-8 weeks for most individuals, but can take longer for those sufferers noted below. During this period, it is normal to experience transitory twinges or tightness in various areas at different times. It is during this period that latent historical scar tissue or fibrosis may become noticeable in the form of soreness. Seek advice from medical professionals who specialize in soft tissue mobilization, as noted below, if soreness persists.

Please Note:

BioPods insoles and footwear do not treat already damaged tissue, such as scar tissue or fibrosis that has been caused by trauma or maladaptation-related degenerative stresses from poor foot mechanics and function. Damaged tissues can be treated by a medical professional with complementary conventional mobilization therapies such as ultrasound, deep tissue massage, A.R.T. (Active Release Technique), or Graston Technique, as appropriate.

RECOMMENDATION for sufferers of chronic myofascial pain, fibromyalgia, plantar fibrosis, or multiple trigger points:

It may take longer to adapt to the BioPods stimulus. It is possible that enough inelastic scar tissue or fibrosis has developed to cause transient pain or “sticking points” that will reveal themselves during the soft tissue adaptation phase. In these instances, a medical professional can apply a regime of complementary soft tissue mobilization therapies such as ultrasound, deep tissue massage, A.R.T. (Active Release Technique), Graston Technique, etc., to break down the scar tissue or fibrosis and restore elasticity to the soft tissues for full mobility.