The Illusion of Comfort and the Evils of Compression

Free your feet. Don’t settle for anything less than complete liberation for them. They are built for a lifetime of pain-free walking and all they need is freedom. Don’t allow them to suffer the evils of compression. 

Comfort. This has been the buzzword of the shoe industry and consumers for almost 30 years, yet no one seems to know what “comfort” means. When we ask our clients what they mean when they use the word comfort, we find that they are always at a loss to give a coherent definition and end by saying that comfort probably means absence of pain. But think about it, to “have comfort” implies the presence of some feeling. But it is, in fact, the presence of “no good feeling, no bad feeling, only a state of "just being".

The problem with seeking out the illusion of comfort for the foot is that the usual comfortable shoe environment compresses the feet, which basically makes them to varying degrees, numb! That’s right. “Comfortable” is created by compressing the feet and reducing circulation. When ill-fitting footwear puts enough compression on the feet, they do not have full feeling in them and they go numb.

The human body usually works quite well. Remember though that our circulatory system is adapted for a time before shoes and that’s why humans can inappropriately allow their feet to be compressed. The foot is the farthest part of the body from the heart. Cardiovascular medicine tells us that the body’s extremities are already compromised in circulation so when a compressive shoe is worn, circulation is further compromised resulting in a further reduction of sensation. The message sent to the brain is that everything, at the level of the foot, is OK. What is really happening is that the brain has lost its perspective based on a lack of information. Specifically, any compression at all results in some reduction of sensation and extreme compression results in extreme reduction of sensation to the point of numbness. When the public says that their shoes are comfortable, they usually mean that their feet are, to varying degrees, numb. And this is usually because their feet are compressed.  

Although there is no standard way to talk about comfort for the foot, a lot of people seem to think that shoes and feet are, by nature, uncomfortable. Comfort continues to be a word used with little apparent meaning especially in regard to feet. It is ironic to note that “comfortable” clothes are usually considered loose fitting clothes. Why then does the public identify comfortable shoes as ones that are abusively tight, constrictive and numbing?

Try This Experiment

Sit in a chair. Hold an arm out to the side, parallel to the floor, fingers open and relaxed. Notice that the only sensation is the slight muscular tension necessary to hold that hand in air. Turn the head away from the hand, the hand is not really even perceptible. Wiggle the fingers a moment and stop. Notice that there is no good feeling, no bad feeling, only a state of no-feeling. Now try to talk about comfort in regard to that hand. It can’t be done. In fact, hands are not comfortable or uncomfortable; they are functional, they are simply there. We go about the day using our hands with little or no awareness of them. They simply do what they are asked to do. Feet should be similar. Whether the foot is active or at rest, this state of non-feeling is the real definition of foot health.

Now, with shoes on, put both feet flat on the floor and concentrate on the feeling. Is it the same total freedom feeling that the hand experienced moments ago? No good feeling, no bad feeling? Wiggling the toes, do the feet feel as free as the hand? Do the same things with shoes off. Does the feeling change?

When the brain does not receive a sufficient message in the form of pain to reject a tight shoe, damage to the foot is inevitable. The feet are being asked to perform their normal work in a compressive environment that is harmful to their health. Another layer to this phenomenon particular to the foot is that pain may begin many hours after the restrictive shoes have been removed. For this reason, women and men with bunions, metatarsalgia, neuromas, etc. often complain of the onset of extreme pain near bedtime – hours after the pressure on the foot has been released and circulation has resumed.