Award-Winning Study: Correct Toes’ Influence on Balance

Adam Kelly, a researcher currently about to begin work on his PhD in Exercise Physiology at the University of Miami, recently completed the first-ever study of Correct Toes and its effects on balance, specifically dynamic balance—the ability to maintain stability of the center of mass with movement.

Kelly became familiar with the Correct Toes product during his undergraduate education and knew that he would like to potentially study the device once he got to graduate school. His interest in the device along with his knowledge of the prevalence of foot deformities in our society (due to poor footwear choice, design, and fit) provided the motivation for this study and helped Kelly earn his master’s degree.

Read a synopsis of Kelly’s findings, below, or watch the video for a complete presentation of the effects of Correct Toes and minimalist footwear on dynamic balance.

Award-Winning Correct Toes Study

Correct Toes & Balance Study Synopsis:

Study Title: The Influence of a Foot-Toe Orthosis and Minimalist Shoe on Dynamic Balance and Hallux Valgus Angle

Lead Researcher: Adam Kelly, MS, ATC

Study Synopsis: This study sought to examine and compare the effects of a foot-toe orthosis (Correct Toes) and minimalist shoe (Lems Primal 2) on dynamic balance and the angle of the big toe, or hallux valgus angle. Balance alone is defined as the ability to maintain center of mass stability over a support base, whereas dynamic balance is the ability to maintain center of mass stability with movement—a more accurate and relevant measurement for everyday life. The researchers hypothesized that participants receiving the intervention (i.e., Correct Toes with Lems Primal 2 shoes or just Lems Primal 2 shoes alone) would experience improvements in dynamic balance and a reduction in hallux valgus angle. The researchers randomly assigned 65 young, healthy volunteers (aged 21 to 29 years) to one of three distinct groups (the two groups mentioned above and a control group) and then took immediate measurements and follow-up measurements after 4 weeks. What researchers found was that there were significant differences in dynamic balance scores in the follow-up measurements of the Correct Toes/Lems shoes group and the control group and the Lems shoes only group and control group. The effect on dynamic balance was “strong” in the Correct Toes/Lems shoes group and “moderate” in the Lems shoes only group. Researchers found that there were no significant differences in hallux valgus angle between the any of the groups after 4 weeks, though this is likely due to key limitations of the study (e.g., short study duration, young and healthy participants, etc.). This study was the first to show that a toe-spacing device such as Correct Toes and/or a minimalist shoe such as the Lems Primal 2 may cause an increase in dynamic balance (in 4 weeks of wear) in a young, healthy adult population.

Natural Strides Keeps Georgia’s Runners Feeling Peachy

Natural StridesNatural Strides is a progressive running store in Woodstock, Georgia, devoted to healthy and natural running. We recently interviewed Owner and Founder, Greg Scott. Here’s our discussion:

CT: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your store.

GS: I am a 38 year-old father of 2 and my life revolves around 3 main things: my wife Erin (who is an elite runner), my kids Troy and Belle (elementary aged and active), and our store (Running and Natural Movement Specialty). As such, my life is made up of all things running, movement, and health. Natural Strides opened 3 years ago in September 2011 as the first Natural Running Store in the Southeastern United States. That year I quit my job as a Special Education Teacher, which I loved, for something that I knew I would love much more. As a runner who had rewired my gait patterns and was transitioning into minimalist and natural footwear, I found that there were no Atlanta-area running stores who could cater to my needs. Online shopping was time-consuming and frustrating, leading to many ill-fitting shoes and returns. I knew there was a need for a brick & mortar location that could not just give footwear options to natural runners, but actually cater to them specifically, while providing traditional runners with education and another viewpoint to consider. So I took the plunge and it has been awesome.

Our focus as a store is to provide humans of all shapes, sizes, and goals with footwear and education on natural foot health. Ironically, as the owner of a shoe store I make it a point to encourage customers NOT to wear shoes whenever possible. When they need protection or style, we have options that provide that while still allowing for natural foot function. I am very proud to say that we do not and will not put customers in footwear that does not match their inherent foot shape: traditional, pointed-toe shoes have no place here and we are spreading the word about just how much damage can be done to the body by pointed and heel-lifted footwear. All of our shoes are level to the ground, wide in the toe box, light, and flexible. We offer a non-traditional gait analysis, which we do not use to fit people in shoes (that always seemed backward to me), but more to provide insight and our opinion on how they might move more efficiently. Both Erin and I are certified ChiRunning Instructors, and I am also a Certified Personal Trainer with ACSM. Erin is a part of the Altra Endurance Elite team, and is currently in training for the JFK 50 mile this fall. She manages our finances and her accomplishments as a natural and minimalist runner are a huge asset to our store. We also have excellent employees who walk the walk by running and living in natural, minimalist footwear.

CT: What are the most common foot complaints you hear from your customers?

GS: Plantar Fasciitis/Plantar Fasciosis is by far the number one complaint, and I estimate that 30 to 40 percent of people who come into our store for the first time are suffering from it. It is reaching epidemic proportions. With Dr. Ray’s help we have spread the word to thousands that this condition is preventable and treatable by natural means. Many of our customers, young and old alike, suffer from bunions and hammertoes as well. It is fun to work with these people by exposing them to some strengthening exercises and educating them on the natural shape of their foot as it should be. Correct Toes are the perfect complement to that process. We also have had many customers come in with neuromas, and have had several of them return to proudly say that their neuroma has completely disappeared and that they are pain free as a result of their foot-shaped shoes (imagine that), toe socks, and Correct Toes.

CT: What are customer’s initial reaction when they see or experience Correct Toes?

GS: Every customer that is fit for shoes here will see and experience Correct Toes, so we have seen every reaction possible. Most people are at first confused as to what it is, being that it is not something they are accustomed to seeing in running or shoe stores. But with a quick explanation, most get it and are intrigued. Once they wear the product and try on shoes with it on their foot, I would say that 75% of folks are pleased to have learned what their foot should look like and love the feeling of realignment. There are a few (usually women with a fashion mindset) who are not into it and not willing to give it a try at all, but we are happy to at least have “planted the seed” in their mind about natural foot health.  We have had people say “No way will I wear that,” and then decide later that they will buy a pair. Most often the reaction is very positive.

CT: What results have you seen in your customers by using a natural foot health approach?

GS: This is what makes our job very satisfying. In our 3 years doing this we have seen so many people come back and report life-changing benefits. It is really cool. Most often people are thrilled that their PF went away or are happy that their neuroma pain is gone, but we also have had a large number of folks see and feel the full body effects of setting their foundation right. Knee pain, hip pain, back pain, postural difficulties—all work their way out of their life when their feet become strong and aligned.

CT: Please feel free to share a customer or personal testimonial about recovery from a foot problem, using Correct Toes.

GS: Here are a couple of testimonials from our customers:

“Want healthy feet? Go talk to these guys; they know their stuff. My wife and I bought 4 pair of Lems minimalist shoes and Correct Toes. After 1 week I had no more plantar pain and started regaining feeling in my toes. This was a problem I have had for some time. My wife also noticed she had no more hip pain and could move her big toe. I am now a believer in the flat zero drop shoe with a big toe box. There isn’t any other shoe I would wear after being in these. I haven’t ran in 10 years but now feel like starting after walking in these shoes. Looking forward to new dress designs in this style in the future.”

“Greg, I recently bought a pair of Lems and a set of toe orthotics (Correct Toes) from your store in Woodstock. I also bought a pair of shoes for my 3 year-old grandson at the same time. He loves them! I just wanted you to know my “hammertoe” condition has improved significantly and my shoes feel wonderful, as do my feet and legs!! I am a very satisfied customer and have already been showing my shoes to all my friends here in Orlando. I am trying to steer them your way […] I will be up at the end of the year to purchase at least one more pair for me and I am bringing my wife to get fitted too!”

Thank you, Greg and Natural Strides, for your commitment to healthy running and optimal foot health!

Men's Health ImageDr. Ray McClanahan was recently interviewed for an online Men’s Health article. He and the rest of the Correct Toes team are grateful for the opportunity to pass on natural foot health knowledge to Men’s Health readers.

Unfortunately, the final version of the article did not accurately depict the interview with Dr. Ray or NWFA/Correct Toes’ message. We are dedicated to providing the best possible information on foot health, and so in this post we’d like to correct some errors in the article and provide clarification.

Please find below the original article and Dr. Ray’s follow-up comments. We hope this response will eliminate any confusion and provide you with the most helpful information. Dr. Ray’s principle goal, after all, is optimal foot health for all people.

Common Foot Pains for Men — 5 Ways to Keep Your Feet Happy

Don’t let foot pain stop your life. Stop your dogs from barking with these quick tips

By Brian Dalek, March 15, 2014

Your feet allow you to do amazing things: run a marathon, jump for the rim, carry you anywhere and everywhere. So it’s a shame that you don’t pay more attention to the 26 bones and 100-plus muscles, ligaments, and tendons in each one. Nearly 75 percent of people report at least one foot ailment a year—and that’s whether you’re an athlete or not, reports research from the American Podiatric Medical Association.

To get to the bottom of guys’ most common foot problems, we turned to Ray McClanahan, D.P.M., a podiatrist based in Portland, Oregon. He breaks down the 5 top foot ailments, and the best ways to relieve the pain. 

Pain: bottom of your heel 

This sharp, shooting pain is typically plantar fasciitis. It comes from inflammation of a band of connective tissue—called the fascia—that extends along the bottom of your heel to the ball of your foot. Studies show that more than 40 percent of people who see podiatrists deal with heel pain like plantar, says McClanahan. 

Dr. Ray: “Fascia” should say “plantar fascia,” and “plantar” should say “plantar fasciosis.”

A chronic case of fasciitis could turn into plantar fasciosis—where the tissues aren’t inflamed but actually degenerate due to repeated stress. You’ll feel the pain most after waking up or prolonged sitting.

Dr. Ray: The following statement from above is inaccurate: “A chronic case of fasciitis could turn into fasciosis.” For more information on this topic, please see our detailed description of plantar fasciosis and our video discussion.

It is true, however, that heel pain typically results from degeneration, and not inflammation.

Causes: Runners and athletes often get plantar fasciitis because of excessive training, especially if they pronate—a rolling in of the foot and ankle with each stride. But your shoes may also be a cause. Footwear with a tapered toe box forces your big toe in an extended position. This causes the muscle that controls your big toe—the hallucis—to pull your foot unnaturally, which restricts blood flow to the bottom of your foot, says McClanahan. Over time, this can lead to plantar fasciosis.

Dr. Ray: There are a several problems with the first sentence above. First, “fasciitis” is an inaccurate term. The “-itis” implies inflammation, which typically is not present in this condition. “Fasciosis” is the correct term. Second, pronation is not a cause of plantar fasciosis. Inappropriate footwear (i.e., footwear with heel elevation, toe spring, and toe box taper) is the main culprit. And third, excessive training is not, in and of itself, a principle cause of plantar fasciosis, but weight-bearing in footwear that holds your feet and toes in a deformed position is.

“The hallucis” should say “the abductor hallucis.” This is the muscle that moves the big toe away from the rest of the toes.

Pain relievers: Give yourself a massage by rolling a golf ball or frozen water bottle under your foot. This relieves the inflammation. You can also insert a metatarsal pad into your shoe, shortening the plantar fascia ligament and re-distributing pressure away from the troubled area. If your shoe has a tapered toe box, switch it for one that allows your feet to splay naturally, like the Altras.

Dr. Ray: Regarding the sentence: “This relieves the inflammation,” again, plantar fasciosis is not a condition of inflammation. The massage techniques described do indeed relieve pain, and they most likely do so by mobilizing the accumulated dead tissue in the plantar fascia, so that it can be removed by the bloodstream.

Pain: big toe

Blame the redness, soreness, and swelling on a bunion, a bony bump that forms at the base of your big toe. You’ll often notice a “bump” on the outside edge of the foot because of swelling. 

Causes: Heredity can play a factor. Chances are if your father has bunions, you’ll inherit his odd foot shape and get them, too. Wearing shoes with tight toe boxes can exacerbate the problem.

Dr. Ray: It’s a common (and understandable) misconception that bunions are inherited. However, I do not believe heredity plays a direct role in bunion formation. The main cause of bunions is footwear that forces your big toe toward your second toe. Unfortunately, this applies to any shoe that has a tapering toe box. Everyone has a unique foot shape and connective tissue integrity, and certain foot shapes are more likely to be negatively impacted by tapering toe boxes than others. But the biggest problem remains the footwear, not the foot shape. For more information, please see our detailed Bunion Information article and our video discussion.

Walking, running, or exercising with poorly-fitting shoes applies pressure to the joint. 

Pain relievers: Acute pain can be handled with ice and anti-inflammatories. If it’s a progressive problem, wear shoes with a wide toe box and try a toe-spacer device like Correct Toes that helps to re-align your toes. 

Dr. Ray: I do not generally recommend either ice or anti-inflammatories for this condition. Wide toe box shoes in combination with Correct Toes is indeed helpful for many longstanding and progressive foot and toe problems.

You can also try a bunion stretch. Here’s how to do it: With one hand, pull your big toe away from your other toes. With your other hand, apply a deep tissue massage with your thumb on the tissues between your first and second metatarsals.

Dr. Ray: Please check out our video demonstration of this stretch.

Pain: between your toes or on the ball of your foot

If you have a stinging sensation on the bottom of your foot, as if you’re stepping on a pebble, you may have a neuroma—an enlarged growth of nerves. This is essentially a pinched nerve in your foot, and usually occurs between the third and fourth metatarsal. This spot represents the confluence of two plantar nerves joining together, and with a larger volume it’s more likely to be pinched/squeezed.

The cause: Neuromas occur from ill-fitting shoes, repeated stress, or trauma to the feet.

Pain relievers: Go with a well-cushioned shoe that has a lower heel and level platform. A metatarsal pad can help relieve pressure on the nerve, as well. “If that doesn’t work, you can ask your doctor about cortisone,” says McClanahan. This destroys the scar tissue around the affected nerve.

A simple toe extensor stretch may help, too. Do this: While seated in a chair, keep one foot flat on the floor and bring the other foot underneath the chair. Your heel should be off the floor. Now curl your toes toward the ball of your foot, and push the top side of your toes into the floor. Hold this for 20 to 30 seconds. You should feel a stretch of the extensor muscles on top of the foot. (Click here to watch McClanahan demonstrate the toe extensor stretch.)
 
Pain: ankle top

When walking or running, the quick pinch you feel just below where your shoelaces are tied could be your peroneal nerve—a nerve that runs down your leg and through your foot.

The cause: You may aggravate your peroneal if you tie your shoelaces wrong or your shoe’s tongue hits your ankle.

Pain reliever: Release the pressure from the nerve. “Skip the last two or three shoelace eyelets or cut off the top inch of the tongue,” says McClanahan. If this doesn’t help or it’s more than a fleeting shock of pain, see a podiatrist.

Pain: Achilles

This shooting pain above the heel and below the calf muscle is commonly tendonitis. Over time, your ankle feels less flexible.

The cause: Overuse can cause inflammation and swelling of the Achilles tendon, a strong tendon that connects your calf muscles to your heels. If you’re new to more minimal shoes, research shows that transitioning too quickly to a lower profile shoe can put strain on calf muscles. In turn, this puts a larger burden on the Achilles with each step.

Pain relievers: First and foremost, you need to rest. Ice your Achilles for 15 to 20 minutes throughout the day, and take anti-inflammatory medication like Ibuprofen. You can also use a heel lift—a shoe insert that helps absorb shock—to take pressure off your Achilles. 

Dr. Ray: This treatment information for Achilles tendinitis is inaccurate. Our Achilles Tendinitis article contains our best recommendations for addressing this condition.

If you want to prevent this pain from starting in the first place, increase Achilles and calf flexibility, says McClanahan. That includes a slow transition into minimal shoes if you’re a runner, and stretching the Achilles.

Do this: Stand on the balls of your feet on a stair or a curb. Keeping your legs straight and the balls of your feet on the stair, release your heels toward the floor. Pause for 10 deep breaths. To increase the intensity of the stretch, keep one foot flat and lower the other heel. Then switch legs.  Do this a couple times a week or more if you’re noticing tightness.

Dr. Ray: Please visit our website – NWFootAnkle.com – for extensive information on foot problems and natural foot health!

Meet Golden Harper, Co-Founder of Altra Footwear

Golden Harper, Founder of Altra

We’d like to introduce you to Golden Harper, the founder of Altra Footwear—foot-shaped athletic shoes that encourage foot and toe health. We recently interviewed Golden about his company, his journey as a entrepreneur, and his experience with Correct Toes. Here is our discussion:

Q1. It’s no secret. We’re big fans of Altra footwear, and we feel very fortunate to work with you. For our readers, please tell us a bit about yourself and Altra.

A1. I grew up running and ran my first marathon at age 10, and was lucky enough to set a World Best for the marathon for 12 years old—2 hours and 45 minutes. I also broke the national record for the 5k in cross country in high school and had a successful collegiate running career. After college, I got hooked on fastpacking, peak bagging, and running ultra distances. I grew up working in my family running store, Runner’s Corner, and majored in exercise science where I did all my research papers on running technique and running injuries.

Altra makes shoes that are built to put the foot and body in their natural position. The company was started with the sole purpose of helping runners to fix their running injuries and run with better form. There might have been a little personal motivation too…we wanted to go out and run ultra distances without our feet and our joints killing us afterwards!

Q2. Prior to the inception of Altra, we implored several shoe companies, both small and large, to design a shoe that’s completely flat, widest at the ends of the toes, lightweight, and flexible — in other words, a shoe that respects natural foot anatomy. We wanted such a shoe to be available for the sake of our patients (and ourselves!). While many individuals within these companies understood the merits of our request, their companies didn’t believe in the marketability of such a shoe. In light of these circumstances, we’re curious about what inspired you to start a footwear company, especially one as unique and unconventional as Altra?

A2. Altra was started because I was managing Runner’s Corner and found that the shoes we were selling to everyone made them run far differently—worse—than when they ran in spikes, flats, or barefoot. I figured out the only real difference was that the traditional running shoes had an elevated heel that also made the back of the shoe heavier. At first, I was heating shoes up in my toaster oven and then peeling off the midsole and outsole and putting in a flat piece of foam and then gluing the outsole back on. Our high-speed video analysis confirmed that people ran so much better—like they did without shoes on.

Eventually, we started working with a local shoe maker to modify existing popular running shoes. We pretty much sold them to customers that we couldn’t fix any other way as kind of a last ditch effort to fix their problems. It worked way more effectively than we could have ever imagined and we sold around 1,000 pairs that first year, much of them off of word-of-mouth from people who had been healed by them. My cousin, Jeremy, is one of those who had been healed by the natural shoes and better form, and he made the connections that ended up hooking us up with some of the best biomechanists and shoe engineers and developers in the world. Icon Health & Fitness eventually came on board and gave us the backing and resources to take our Healthy Running philosophy to the world. 

ImageQ3. What feedback have you received from your customers about wearing Altra shoes and Correct Toes, and about the general natural foot health approach?

A3. That it works! For years at Runner’s Corner, we had been making people size up and wide-lace their shoes to try and get some of the benefits, but things like Correct Toes and shoes like Altra took that to a whole new level of effectiveness. About the only time I don’t see the natural foot health approach work is when people aren’t willing to put in the work. Aside from that, it’s almost like magic. People’s problems start to melt away when they can get their feet in to a natural position and retrain their body how to work as it was originally intended to work.

Q4. Nowadays, there are many running footwear models that label themselves as ‘foot-healthy’, ‘foot-strengthening’, and ‘joint-healthy’. And yet their shoes have heel elevation and excessive cushioning, and the toe box is still narrow and tapered, which as we well know, does not allow for natural toe splay. Why do you suppose these footwear companies are so resistant to a zero-drop platform and anatomically-shaped toe box?

A4. Shareholders? Different is scary? The designers at one major shoe company told me they were making “more marketable versions” of our shoes, and the guys at another said that in five years they would be where we are now, but they needed time to transition their customer base. Aside from that, they’ve all spent 30 years marketing the benefits of heel cushioning, etc.

ImageQ5. Please feel free to share a customer or personal testimonial about Altras and Correct Toes, or a customer’s story about a recovery from a foot problem.

A5. One of my favorites is my buddy, Brian, went on a month-long road trip selling Altras around the country and wore Correct Toes while driving the whole time…when he came home his foot looked way better! It was a huge testament to me, and I was already a believer! Aside from that, I’ve known tons of people who have used the Altra and Correct Toes combination to fix bunions, neuromas, plantar fasciosis, and more.

Q6. Will you offer us a sneak-peak of what’s coming from Altra?

A6. Our goal has always been to be approachable without compromising natural foot positioning. Our shoes will always be Zero Drop and Foot-Shaped. Currently, we’re working on how to get our message out to a younger population, so creating products for them is one thing we’re working on. Another is we’re trying to figure out how to make a super-minimal foot-strengthening shoe and market it in a way that it can be used a couple times a week for every runner, whether they like minimalism or not.

However, we also want to be approachable and make shoes for people that would never be interested in a “minimal” shoe. This is why we make what I call “gateway drugs”—shoes that have cushioning and support that are for those that don’t understand or want anything to do with minimal shoes. With these shoes, we will be capturing a customer base that never would have tried the natural foot health philosophy. We get them to wear one of our more cushioned, supportive shoes and then help them to understand that they likely don’t need that stuff. I’ve always had the philosophy that someone is much better off in a highly cushioned shoe that is Zero Drop and with a foot-shaped toe box than they are with a really cushioned shoe that has an elevated heel and a tapered toe box. At least they’ll get the benefits of natural toe splay, foot positioning, and better running form than they would get otherwise.

Q7. Please feel free to share anything else you’d like our readers to know about.

A7. I’d just like to share that Dr. Ray and the Correct Toes team are the real deal, and this stuff really works. Most everyone reading this already knows that, but it’s up to them to get this information out there. So if you’re reading this, share it with people you care about so they can benefit too! Also, please don’t feel like Altra is abandoning you just because we are making shoes that have cushioning—we are all believers in the body and its natural ability. We just want to share that with as many people as possible, and not discriminate against those that happen to like cushion or want to run 100 miles on rocky terrain without their feet hurting.

Thank you, Golden, for sharing your experience, and for your invaluable role in helping people to enjoy their favorite athletic activities — with strength and health, and without pain!

Boots, Anyone?

We are looking for foot-healthy and fashionable boot options for women.The NWFA/Correct Toes team is seeking input from our readers about BOOTS! Specifically, women’s “fashion” boots (i.e., boots that are suitable for casual-to-semi-formal occasions). We would love to know if anyone has found a fashionable boot that meets our foot health criteria? If so, we would love to hear from you. Please leave your comment below so that we can follow up on your recommendation. Thank you!

The Definition of a Healthy Shoe

A truly foot-healthy shoe incorporates several key design features.We all spend a lot of time on our feet, in shoes, so understanding what constitutes healthy footwear is absolutely crucial for building and maintaining optimal foot, toe, and joint health. Indeed, the health of our feet has profound implications on our entire bodies and lives. But what are the key differences between a truly foot-healthy shoe and the industry standard? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

A typical “conventional” shoe possesses a quartet of injurious design features, including heel elevation, toe spring, toe taper, and sole stiffness. These design features are usually incorporated (to varying degrees) into almost every type of footwear, from fashion shoes to boots to casual shoes to athletic shoes.

The athletic shoe category can be the particularly deceiving because people tend to think of athletic shoes as comfortable and healthy; but by and large, they are neither of these things. When one looks closely at most athletic footwear, the negative design features present in other shoe categories are still evident and still cause foot and toe problems.

So, what does a foot-healthy shoe look like? A truly foot-healthy shoe is completely flat from heel to toe to provide real stability for your foot and enable natural arch support. A foot-healthy shoe possesses a sole that can easily be bent or twisted, allowing your foot to become strong on its own. And (perhaps most importantly) a foot-healthy toe has a toe box that is widest at the ends of the toes, not at the ball of the foot. A toe box that is widest at the ends of the toes allows for natural toe splay (enabled, ideally, by Correct Toes in individuals with toe deformities caused by a lifetime of tapering toe box footwear).

A foot-healthy shoe is also devoid of “motion control technology,” or anything that attempts to “improve upon” or “control” the already inherently brilliant design of the human foot. Da Vinci said it best: “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” The job of footwear is simply to respect the foot and stay out of its way as much as possible.

Because we all spend enormous amounts of time on our feet in a weight-bearing situation (as well as enormous amounts of time in our shoes), the shape and orientation of our feet and toes within our shoes is crucial. Bad shoes (i.e., shoes with the negative design features already mentioned above) can lead to toe deformities and pain, discomfort, and frustration. It’s impossible to rehabilitate the foot to the way nature intended while wearing conventional footwear, as conventional footwear itself is the underlying cause of most foot problems and deformities.

Good shoes (i.e., shoes with the positive design features already mentioned above) allow our feet and body to function as nature intended. These shoes help reduce our likelihood of foot and ankle injuries, eliminate pain in our lower extremities, and allow us to get the most out of our years (especially our later years).

Our feet and toes were naturally designed to enable optimal balance, gait, comfort, and longevity. Unfortunately, the vast majority of footwear on the market includes problematic design features, so we all need to be extra diligent when shopping for footwear. Seek out shoes that respect nature’s brilliant design instead of dominating it.

Examples of foot-healthy shoes can be found in the Northwest Foot & Ankle Shoe List. You’ll notice two seals of approval next to many of these footwear options. One of these seals is our “Natural Foot Approved” seal, which means that the product does not possess heel elevation, toe spring, or a rigid sole, and allows for natural toe splay. The other seal is our “Correct Toes Approved” seal, which means that the product conforms to the above criteria and also works well with Correct Toes toe spacers.

Authors: Dr. Robyn Hughes & Dr. Ray McClanahan

Meet Andrew Rademacher, Founder of Lems Shoes

ImageWe’d like to introduce you to Andrew Rademacher, the creator of Lems Shoes—foot-shaped shoes that support natural foot and toe health. We recently interviewed Andrew about his company, his journey as a entrepreneur, and his experience with Correct Toes. Here is what we learned:

Q1. It’s no secret: We LOVE Lems shoes, and we feel very fortunate to work with you. For our readers, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and Lems.
A1. I founded Lems Shoes two years ago in Charlotte, North Carolina, while working as a clerk in a shoe store. Despite studying Landscape Design in college, my passion for shoes and the human foot urged me to take the leap into footwear and start my own company. Getting back to my roots, I decided to build the company and the brand in the town I grew up: Hermitage, Pennsylvania. Although Lems Shoes is currently just a two-man show, we have become a well-oiled machine in which I handle the manufacturing and design, while my colleague, Steve Perna, handles customer service and sales. I have discovered that building a company from scratch can have its ups and downs, yet as the years progress and the sales increase, it is exciting to be able to measure our progress and look forward to what the future has to offer.

Q2. Prior to the inception of Lems, we implored several shoe companies, both small and large, to design a shoe that’s completely flat, widest at the ends of the toes, lightweight, and flexible — in other words, a shoe that respects natural foot anatomy. While many individuals within these companies understood the merits of our request, their companies didn’t believe in the marketability of such a shoe. In light of these circumstances, we’re curious about what inspired you to start a footwear company, especially one as unique and unconventional as Lems?
A2. The idea to start Lems Shoes came to me four years ago while studying at Purdue University. While on the track team, I consistently laced up footwear the was not only uncomfortable, but looked nothing like the shape of my foot. Ideally, I wanted a shoe that had three characteristics: flat, flexible, and most importantly mirror the shape of my foot. My search led me to countless dead ends, including a custom-made moccasin that met most of my requirements, but which did not appeal to my tastes. After hours of research and inquiry, I came across The Barefoot Running Trend, which was full of many dissatisfied customers that were also searching for a flat, flexible, foot-shaped shoe. Although I found several companies that designed flat and flexible footwear, all of the options I found were much narrower than my foot appeared to be. It was evident that most companies disregarded the true shape of the foot and focused on a narrow toe box, squeezing the toes together inside of the shoe. A foot’s widest point is at the toe, therefore, a shoe’s widest point, should be at the toe as well. I felt it was time something needed to be done, and the shoe I was looking for needed to be created, therefore I took it upon myself to start my very own shoe company and Lems Shoes was born.

Q3. How were you introduced to Correct Toes?
A3. I discovered Correct Toes online as well as Correct Toes’ founder Dr. Ray McClanahan‘s recommended shoe list. All of the shoes Dr. McClanahan recommended were flat, flexible and had an acceptable but not ideal design. It was clear that Dr. McClanahan and I shared the dissatisfaction with the design of a tapered toe box and believed that shoes should be widest at the toes. Although the shoes on his recommended list were the best he could find, he still felt they needed significant improvements. After informing Dr. McClanahan of my ideas and interest to design my own shoes, he exclaimed, and I quote, “Andrew if you can make this shoe that you’re talking about, it will heal tens of thousands of feet and be the first solution to improperly fitting footwear.”

ImageQ4. What feedback have you received from your customers about wearing Lems and Correct Toes, and about the general natural foot health approach?
A4. Some of our biggest fans have been referrals from Correct Toes and patients from Dr. McClanahan’s practice, Northwest Foot & Ankle. These customers understand the importance of spreading the toes and therefore appreciate the unique design of Lems Shoes. We have dozens of success stories from patients that, after switching to Correct Toes and Lems have been able to alleviate a lot of pain that stems from incorrect footwear. After making the switch, one particular customer even called the partnership between Correct Toes and Lems Shoes, a “match made in heaven”. We are humbled and honored to be able to collaborate with Correct Toes in order to cure the chronic foot problems for hundreds of patients that have all but given up hope.

ImageQ5. Nowadays, there are several footwear models on the market that label themselves ‘minimalist’ or ‘barefoot-like’, and yet the toe box is still narrow and tapered, which as we well know, does not allow for natural toe splay. Why do you suppose these footwear companies are so resistant to an anatomically-shaped toe box?
A5. Shoe companies stick to traditional design standards or fashion trends.  Large shoe companies believe, “if it is not broke, why fix it”; therefore they continue to make what has been selling. Unfortunately, narrow, tapered shoe lasts and toe boxes have sold in the past therefore they continue putting them on the market. A shoe with a natural-shaped last is seen as a risky experiment to these companies. It has not been done before, which means there is no proof that it will sell. With that being said, as research continues and foot pain spreads, companies are beginning to experiment by gradually making wider and more anatomical lasts. Although they are beginning to see the advantages of a wide toe box, their developments are extremely gradual and no company has gone to the extremes that Lems Shoes has. A natural, foot-shaped last was the only thing we knew so it only made sense that the shoe we designed had this distinct characteristic. Although risky, we designed our last from scratch, modeling it directly after the human foot instead of modeling it after another shoe company’s design. The risk paid off, our customers have fallen in love with the fit of their Lems, admitting that they have “never worn anything quite like it”.

Q6. Please feel free to share a customer or personal testimonial about Lems and Correct Toes, or a customer’s story about a recovery from a foot problem.
A6. With the willingness to do anything and everything to heal an excruciating bunion, one particular customer decided to purchase a pair of Lems.  After several weeks of wearing Lems Shoes paired with Correct Toes she exclaimed that the pain had completely gone away.  She was relieved that the size of the bunion had diminished and she was finally able to wear shoes again.  After her pain had ceased and she became a convert to our shoe, she called us to personally “thank us for making the most comfortable shoes ever! I’ll never wear another shoe ever again! Please do not change a thing.”

Q7. Will you offer us a sneak-peak of what’s coming from Lems?
A7. At the end of October we will be releasing the Boulder Boot in two new colors, Black and Gravel.  The Black is a vegan-friendly option, with an upper that is 100% nylon consisting of no leather or animal by-products. We are proud of the look and feel of the Boulder Boot and think it is one of those signature designs that has a classic and timeless feel. The Boulder Boot is extremely versatile and can be worn throughout the year.  It is completely collapsible and perfect for traveling or wearing around town. In January we will be releasing the Men’s Nine2Five in black, arguably the first semi-dress shoe that has a wide toe-box and can be utilized in an office or business setting. Finally we are excited to announce that in the Fall 2014 a completely waterproof version of the Boulder Boot will be released.

Q8. Please feel free to share anything else you’d like our readers to know about.
A8. First and foremost, we would like acknowledge Correct Toes, the world’s first toe spacer that can fit inside a shoe and teach natural toe splay! Together, we have enabled hundreds of people to feel how the foot is supposed to naturally function, an opportunity that most people have never experienced in their lifetime. Finally thank you, for giving us the opportunity to share the story of our small but growing company, Lems Shoes.

Thank you, Andrew, for sharing your experience, and for your invaluable role in healing foot ailments, world-wide!