Strengthening vs. Supporting: The Competing Logic of Foot Health

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Written by Correct Toes Employee Zeus Smith

There are two competing logics at the heart of this debate. One holds that when the foot is in pain, we must alleviate that pain with support: heel cups for heel pain, arch support for collapsed arches and extra padding for a sore foot. The other is more uncommon, though more and more people are seeing the benefits: a foot in pain needs to be carefully and diligently strengthened. This focus of strengthening comes with the understanding that using cushions, cups, and supports may be okay to start, but they should eventually be removed so that our feet can be planted firmly on the ground. Doing this allows the natural musculature of the foot to develop and mature. Working at Northwest Foot and Ankle has taught me that while these two ideas may appear to contradict one another, in the end, they work together for the health of our feet.

These ideas are best termed as logics, rather than schools of thought, because they both so easily tap into what can be called “common sense.” If you get a cut, you put a band-aid on it. If you’re too weak to lift something, you work on becoming stronger. And yet, as clear cut as these issues look on the surface, these logics become more muddled when applied to feet.

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Orthotics are often worn for years, with many people spending that time believing they can only wear a heavily cushioned shoe. Some are even told to never take off their shoes. In fact, much like band-aids these methods should rightfully be considered temporary. Imagine if a cast was worn over a broken bone for life. For the first couple months it would be perfect, accelerating recovery and insuring that the problem area is strong enough to heal correctly. However, after those first few months, the muscles would begin to atrophy. After a short period of time the very thing that was helping the healing process would start to hinder it.

Ultimately, the key is to understand the purpose of each logic and its place in the recovery process. Transitioning slowly and smoothly from unhealthy footwear into successively flatter, wider, and more flexible footwear gives foot muscles the necessary time to strengthen and toughen, eventually supporting greater foot function across the board. The logic of supporting your pain is a temporary step, meant to help you manage your pain until you can move to the logic of strength. It’s a long path to healthy feet and for many people, a path they could not pursue without help. As long as you recognize when it’s time to move on to the next stage of strengthening your feet and transition on toward natural, foot-healthy shoes, these two competing logics reveal that they are actually not competitive at all. Rather, they are cooperative steps on the path towards healthy, strong feet.

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