A negative, or reduced heel, is one that allows the heel of the
wearer's foot to rest below the fore and midfoot. Most conventional
shoes, there are few exceptions, have a sole and a heel. Modern soling
methods have amalgamated these pieces, however there are still shoes
where these components are separate. Specific examples would include
Birkenstock sandals, better men's dress shoes and women's heels. A reduced or negative heel will lie lower that the remainder of the shoe. It
stretches the Achilles' tendon, elevates the forefoot and transfers
pressure off the metatarsal heads so it runs down the longer bone shafts.
The company that manufactures Earth Shoes is probably most closely
associated with the negative heel in the retail market. Various claims
are made regarding the efficacy and benefits of the negative heel,
rather than focus on those, the question a buyer should be asking
themselves is: will this shoe be good for my foot? Fit drives comfort. A
well fitting shoe is nothing more than a match of the shape of a foot
to the shape of a shoe with individual support needs being met. Any time
you change what you put beneath your foot, you need to give your body
time to adapt to that change. Certain individuals, such as those with
Equinus, limited dorsiflexion, shortened or taut Achilles' tendons,
will probably not find the negative heel comfortable and may actually
harm themselves by over stretching their plantar fascia, Achilles'
tendon or both.
How does one know whether a reduced or negative heel is right for
their foot? Be wary of sales people who extoll the virtues of the
negative heel. People with
abnormal forefoot pressure, hallux limitus or hallux rigidus, turf
toe, Morton's neuroma, and people with wider feet may find the
negative heel reduces some of their foot pain. Ideally someone will have
a professional recommend the heel reduction shoe modification or suggest an Earth shoe
to address a specific issue. Earth shoes are manufactured with a 3.7
degree incline. Your shoe modification will also have a specific degree
of reduction, if a practitioner wanted to stretch a tight tendon by
degrees they could start their patient off with a one or two degree
incline and proceed from there.
If your foot is not in pain but you are curious about the purported
health benefits of the negative heel you want to first: determine what
type of a foot you have and what you are expecting to accomplish with
this type of footwear, secondly: read up on what reviewers have said
about the shoes and pay attention to the credentials of the reviewer
while searching for any possible bias, thirdly: go to a store, get
fitted for a pair and realize that these types of shoes have a break in
period which should consist of wearing your new shoes for short periods
of time that gradually lengthens.
A wonderful way to injure your foot is to sell yourself on a
particular footwear modality while disregarding fitter or practitioner
instructions. Fitters are unable to see inside your shoes however they
can almost always (or should be able to) tell when a shoe does not fit.
The following sentence applies mainly to Earth shoes as shoe
modifications can be performed on a variety of shoes. Earth shoes are
shallow in terms of depth; therefore they work best for people who have a
trim foot. If you have a high instep, a high volume foot, or you have trouble with edema and swelling:
Earth shoes are probably not going to work well for you. Compression of
nerves in your foot can lead to numbness, pain, tingling, and possible
damage. Pay attention to any red marks on your feet that remain visible
after you take your shoes and socks off as those can be a sign of ill
If you have a foot related condition that a practitioner believes may
respond well to a heel reduction remember that pedorthics is often
limited to what people present with and the degree of correction
necessary to restore full function may not be practical or desirable.
Another thing to keep in the back of your mind is that since the
negative heel reduces forefoot pressure Earth shoes may be a good idea
if you have broken or injured toes. They will not work in every case as
the shoe is shallow and may not accomodate swollen digits, but I have
sold Earth shoes to people who wore that as the only shoe their foot
could tolerate while their foot healed. Note - if your gait is unstable,
or the incline is so great that your circulation is compromised the
negative heel is not for you.
Currently Earth shoes and their negative heel are involved in a
controversy regarding treatment of plantar fasciitis. Probably one of
the most common foot ailments, practitioners disagree about the most
effective way to treat this condition. It is easier to avoid it than to
treat it since few people are willing to stay off of their feet while
the plantar fascia rests. Good foot health requires an understanding of
your particular foot type and your ability to meet the needs of your
feet. Biomechanically the negative heel can change your gait and posture
but, will those changes be for the better or will they hurt your foot?
This is why it is imperative to identify whether or not your foot is a
good candidate for this type of technology.
Readers should note that while Earth is known for the negative heel,
Earth also produces a traditional discount line for retail giant
Wal-Mart. They even have a line of 'positively' heeled shoes marketed
under the Earthies name. Education ought to be the goal of any
practitioner, there is a way to balance the bones of the foot so the
foot has a stable base while in an elevated position, unfortunately,
Earthies have not outfitted their line with a heel that promotes proper
foot alignment. In fact, the Earthies line remains in direct opposition
to their negative heel footwear by promoting ball of the foot pressure.
As far as the discount line goes a single word of advice can be given to
anyone purchasing shoes at Wal-Mart: Stop.
Shoe modifications such as heel reduction are an affordable way to
address certain foot conditions. Earth shoes with the negative heel are
also a fiscally conservative option if they work for your foot. Earth
has done some interesting things with their footwear, true to its name,
the company has won several awards for its positive impact on the
environment. The negative heel or reduced heel will work for some
limited percentage of individuals, it may be appropriate temporary
footwear if your toes or the ball of your foot needs relief, most
wearers can expect lengthening of the Achilles' tendon. Good shoe
modifications will be virtually undetectable to the untrained eye but
not all shoes will accomodate a heel reduction. As far as Earth shoes go
this is not technically a review, however it is this author's opinion
that Earth's negative heel should be placed at the introductory or entry
level in terms of good supportive shoes.