Anatomy Of A Shoe – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Important to the understanding of footwear and footwear function is the understanding of construction, or in this case – footwear anatomy. What follows is basic shoe anatomy. Instead of listing all parts of the shoe (welting, foxing etc), I have instead tried to convey a general overview, especially as it relates to the foot and more specifically, foot pain.

The anatomy of a shoe can easily be divided into two parts; the top 1/2 of the shoe is the Upper and the bottom 1/2 of the shoe is the Lower. These images show the main parts of the upper.

  • Toe Box – Area overlying the toes. Think of this area in terms of depth. The deeper the toe box, the more room your toes have. This is important if you have hammertoes or other top of the toe irritation or pain.
  • Vamp – This part of the shoe covers your arch. This section is a bridge between the toe box and the opening of the shoe or topline. You want the vamp of your shoe to fit snug. Too loose and heel slippage occurs, too tight and numbness in the toes can occur.
  • Counter – The back part of the upper which wraps around either side of the heel. The counter can be soft (collapsible) or stiff (non-collapsible). Stiff counters are usually better if your foot pronates a lot or your foot collapses immediately after heel strike.

The lower is what your foot rests on and includes the insole, shank, midsole, outsole and heel.

  • Insole – The insole is the foundation of the shoe. The upper is wrapped around the insole, the metal shank is riveted on the underside of the insole and outsoles, midsoles and heels are added as well.
  • In running shoes, this is oftentimes referred to as the lasting method. Cardboard lasted uses a cardboard insole, whereas slip-lasted uses cloth. A combination last combines both cardboard and cloth.
  • The softer the insole, the less torsional stability (lengthwise twist) the shoe will have. The firmer the insole (cardboard) the more structure and stability the shoe will have. Pronators or people whose feet collapse excessively, typically want a cardboard last.
  • Midsole and Outsole – Used to give a shoe more cushion and shock absorption. Running shoes almost always have a thick midsole. I’ve talked about EVA midsoles in other posts, suffice it to say the firmer the midsole, the stiffer and longer lasting the shoe. Soft midsoles on the other hand help with shock absorption, but wear out more quickly. Here are some related posts on running shoe midsoles

  • Sock Liner – Usually removable and rests on the insole. Many people confuse the sock liner with the insole. The sock liner serves a cushioning function, whereas the insole provides a structural one
If you are having foot pain, it will help to match your anatomy to your shoes anatomy or at least think about how a shoe is made, before you buy next time.
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2 responses to “Anatomy Of A Shoe – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

  1. Love your blog. Thank you!

  2. Hi! I’ve just purchased a few pairs of Vibram Five Fingers shoes and would love to know your thoughts on the assertion of (near) barefoot running resulting in much stronger feet and ankles, and fewer overall injuries. The anecdotal information I’ve seen on blogs, Runner’s World shoe review, and the Nike Free shoe makes logical sense, and I’m not sure why more athletes haven’t incorporated this into races. One racer from my previous location (Anton Krupika, winner of the Leadville 100 Trail Run) often ran barefoot. I’m interested in stronger feet and ankles and improved marathon times to get back to Boston for my 3rd try at a personal best. Thanks! Tricia

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