Toe box definition
The toe box of the shoe is the area of the shoe that houses your toes, or the front section of the shoe. Some shoes have a wide, squared-off toe box and others can have a narrow, pointed toe box. Believe it or not, this area of the shoe affects more than just comfort. The structure of a shoe’s toe box can greatly influence foot health and even change the shape of some of the foot’s internal structures. If you thought squeezing your foot into that narrow, pointy shoe was worth it for a great look, you may want to think again.
What does shoe shape have to do with health?
It can be easy to tell when a shoe doesn’t fit quite right or it feels uncomfortable, which may discourage long-term wear. But a poorly shaped toe box can do more damage than just some soreness at the end of the day. A study published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research concluded that a narrow toe box can “significantly influence the amount of pressure applied to the forefoot”. This is important because added pressure to the forefoot can result in conditions such as bunions, mallet toes, and hammer toes. These conditions can cause pain and, if they get bad enough, can require surgery to correct.
A bunion refers to the bony bump that can form at the outside bottom on your big toe when that toe has turned inward toward your other toes. It is not only a painful condition but it can make finding shoes that don’t irritate it difficult. If you are wearing shoes that have a small or pointed toe box, it's easy to see how this could encourage the big toe to go in that direction. Bunions are especially common among women who wear high heels because the heels add to the pressure on the front of the foot along with the stylishly pointed toe box found in many women’s shoes. The combination is a bad one for foot health, especially if that style of shoe is worn on a daily basis and for long periods of time, such as a full work day.
Hammer toes and mallet toes are toes that have a deformity on the first or second knuckle so that the toe points downward and the knuckle sticks up. This can cause the toes to rub against the top of the shoe and, again, can make it difficult to find shoes that fit without pain. Hammer toes and mallet toes can require surgery to correct, keeping you off your feet for a long recovery.
How to choose a shoe with a good toe box
When you are shopping for shoes, it is important to shop for qualities beyond style. The shape of the toe box should resemble the shape of your foot. In other words, avoid choosing shoes with a pointed toe box, or one that is too squared-off. When you put your foot in the shoe, your toes should have room to move around a bit. They should not rub against the top of the shoe or be squeezed by the shoe. The shoe should not move the toes out of their natural positions. This often means avoiding high heels as the high heel can push toes into uncomfortable positions in the toe box.
It is important to be mindful of how we treat our feet and the shape of our shoes. The old saying that pain is beauty just does not apply here. Even the most amazing looking shoes are not worth a trip to the surgeon. When it comes to shoes, aim for comfort and your feet will thank you.