Anatomy of Your Shoes

Like your feet, your shoes are made up of many parts. Shoe anatomy fits to your toe and foot anatomy and can provide a comfortable cushion to your feet. Or shoe anatomy can work against foot anatomy, which can lead to foot problems.

Shoes are composed of a toe box, vamp, and quarter on top, and the sole, shank, and heel underneath. These parts work together to form a fit between your foot and the shoe. The size of each of these parts varies between shoe styles, giving your feet and legs different looks.

When a shoe has a low heel, with a wide toe box, high vamp and quarter, and sturdy shank, your foot gets great support. Running shoes are a good example.

Flats, or ballet shoes, have a short vamp, an unsturdy half shank, and a low quarter. There is little to no heel, and little cushion or arch support for your feet, but the toe box allows some movement. Contrary to what many people believe, impact on heels and feet is much higher with flats.

Pumps and stilettos are similar but vary by heel size and width. These shoes have low-cut vamps, sturdy shanks, and heels that range from low to high, with narrow, tapered toe boxes. The height of the heel, low quarter and vamp, and narrow toe box alter your body’s kinematics, or movements, making your toes work harder within a confined space to keep your balance.

Long-term effects can cause hammertoe, claw toe, bunions, and other painful foot and toe problems. Early stages of these conditions can be treated non-surgically, but long-term abuse of your toes may mean foot surgery is in your future.