Your Feet in Wide vs. Narrow Shoes: Great Visual From Altra Running!

Altra Running posted a photo on their Facebook page showing an X-Ray image comparing foot shape in an Altra shoe vs. a narrow shoe with a pointed toebox (i.e., what most people typically wear all day). The difference is striking:

Altra Shoe X-Ray

I contacted Altra to confirm that these were real X-Rays, and was told that they were, and that it’s the same person’s foot in two different shoes.

One of the things that many people who migrate into more anatomically shaped footwear report is that their feet seem to widen over time. Personally, I used to be a solid size 10 in nearly every shoe that I wore. Lately, however, I find myself bumping up more and more frequently into size 10.5 shoes to accommodate my forefoot. Has it really widened? Not sure and I don’t have measurements, but I’ve been in roomy shoes almost exclusively for several years now, and I don’t doubt in the least that footwear can influence foot shape through bony and soft tissue adaptation.

Personally, I’ve come to value flat footwear with a roomy toebox for all day use at home in the office (when I can’t be barefoot). Somewhat ironically, since experimenting with running shoes is what led me to this preference, the only time I can now tolerate a somewhat snug shoe is when I’m running. For example, I like a racing/speedwork shoe to fit a bit snug (not tight or toe squeezing, but to hug my foot closely) and to be a bit stiff. For the rest of my runs I like to mix things up, but generally prefer a roomier fit. For all day, flat and wide all the way.

Curious, if you’ve made the switch to wider shoes, have you noticed a change in foot shape?

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.



Comments

  1. the altra shoe foot isn’t properly fit, he needs a thumb width from his longest toe, his big toe, which isn’t at thumb width, just up a half size maybe

  2. Peter Sendelius says:

    Old shoes doesn’t fit. Now even toe box Merrell Trail Glove is to tight. They were roomy last.year but to tight this.year. I am using Vivobarefoot 100% when I need shoes.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Perhaps this is all a massive conspiracy to make us all buy new, wider shoes :)
      Sent from my iPad

    • Richard Ayotte says:

      Have you tried the Trail Glove Wide? It’s the only running shoe that fits me properly.

      • +1. Trail Glove wide is the only running shoe that fits me too. Just wish Merrell would make some of its other shoes in wide so I had some cushioning for rougher trails.
        If it is a shoe company conspiracy to get us to buy new wider shoes, I wish they’d actually make some wider shoes!!

  3. Hello Pete,
    My foot shape also changed: about 2 years ago I remember my big toe touch my second toe all the time. Now they are clearly separated.
    here is a study about foot shape in India you might find interesting. But I think you already heard about it.
    link to webh01.ua.ac.be

  4. Adam Bengston says:

    Same here, I have gone from 10.5 in most shoes to now 11 in most shoes. This has happened over a period of 2 years now.

  5. Sune Rafn says:

    I really love walking around in the lower and wider shoes, but find it really hard to find a good shoe for the winter that i can still use as everyday shoe.

  6. I’ve gone from a size 10 which I thought was already a 1/2 size bigger then what I needed to a 10.5 & my feet are loving it.

  7. Robert Osfield says:

    Great x-rays, look closely and you can see it’s not only the toes that are in a different position but the gaps between the bones are compressed/absent in the narrow shoe. This might mean that that the joint itself is compressed, or perhaps just that the bones are tilted a little in the squashed foot.

    Another observation is that even with the Altra the toe bones aren’t perfectly aligned, this might be that even the Altra’s aren’t wide enough or that the foot is still somewhat deformed from history or wearing too narrow shoes.

    For my own foot history, I’ve always had relatively wide feet, but put up with tight fitting footwear. These days I simply can’t tolerate any constriction or arch, my guess it’s partly psychological in that I’ve learned that it’s not healthy for the feet, but I’m sure also my foot has widened and nervous system is now attuned better to read signals from my feet. Curiously I’m away to walk barefoot on uneven or cold ground more than I used to so the neurological adaptations aren’t all one way – my feet are more sensitive but also more robust and accepting.

  8. My ecco bioms don’t fit any more (the yak ones). That was a lot of money to pass on to goodwill.

  9. Whotrustedus says:

    Same comments as many others. i’ve moved up at 1/2 size in the past 2 years. Like Peter S, my trail gloves don’t fit anymore.

    here is a question: since i’ve moved to shoes with a wider toe box, the middle toe on both feet are feeling tender near the tip. there is no abrasion or shoe contact going on. might the wider toe box be forcing my middle toes to be doing some work that they didn’t have to do before when my toes were scrunched together? or am i overthinking?

  10. My middle toes are stronger, perhaps because they have room to exist

  11. It’s amazing how the foot can increase in width if given the opportunity, regardless of whether you go barefoot or minimalist. By length, my feet are a 9.5, according to every measuring technique I’ve tried over the 15 years. In 1998, I broke my pinky toe on my right foot, a nasty spiral fracture that basically shattered a bone. It healed a little funny (apparently you can’t “set” a broken toe bone, not the pinky toe anyway). I had to start getting wider shoes. At first, I went to 10W or 10.5 regulars, but in the last five years, I’ve been wearing 10.5W or 11 regulars. This was done to accommodate the right pinky toe, but now, even my left foot doesn’t fit in a 10 regular shoe anymore, which is what I was wearing before I broke my toe. And a 10W or 10.5 regular is too snug. I only started barefoot running this summer, and now even my current sizes are too narrow. Yay me!

  12. Anybody know another shoe that has a toe box like Altra’s? I tried a pair on at my local running store, and loved the feel of the upper. Unfortunately, zero drop just doesn’t work for me.

    • FernandoL. says:

      I think K-Swiss maybe a good choice for you; they are pretty roomy. The only problem is that they have either normal drop (10-12mm) or zero drop (the K-Swiss Blade foot run). You may also try a wide zero drop shoe and remove the insole replacing it with a footbed with a heel lift.

    • Pete Larson says:

      The adidas Gazelle/Motion have pretty roomy toeboxes, as do Newton shoes. Inov-8 Road-X series also worth a look. none quite as roomy as altra though.

      —-
      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
      -My book: Tread Lightly: link to ow.ly
      -Blog: http://www.runblogger.com
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    • Try the Shoefitr tool on the runningwarehouse website to compare Altra shoes to other shoe’s available there. I recently used it to decide if a shoe would fit me and what size to get and the result was perfect! (In my case I found out that a 11.5 size Inov-8 Bare-x 180 would have the same desired wide toe box as a size 12 Mizuno Wave Universe)

  13. Christopher Babb says:

    I recently convinced a friend to go minimal. He had always been a forefoot runner and complained about the big pointless heel for years. It was a natural progression but when we went to the running store to find a new pair of trainers his biggest complaint particularly about the Merrel Road Glove was how wide the toe box was. He understood the science of it but he just couldn’t get over it in the wider shoes. He ended up getting the New Balance MT10, still a wide toe box but that forefoot strap kept him from sliding around.
    I personally don’t know if the foot actually widens other than muscle expansion. I think a big part of it is as you begin to learn to use your entire foot again you just can’t stand being in a shoe that prohibits that any more. When I got my real minimal shoe from the internet (MO10′s) I almost felt like it was too big. I don’t feel that at all any more and I too have gone up half a size in many subsequent shoes. I can’t stand to wear shoes that I used to love.
    I was running in the original Lunarglides a few years ago and my biggest complaint at the time was that the toe box was far too wide for my narrow foot, now those are some of my favorite shoes to wear around by the house.
    I don’t feel that my midfoot and heel have changed which is why I haven’t been brave enough to get a wider shoe in the same size but my forefoot is definitely either physically wider or more aware of what is around it.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Good point on the awareness – might be just as much a lack of tolerance to narrow shoes once you get used to something wider, but I do suspect some anatomical change as well.

      —-
      Pete Larson’s Web Links:
      -My book: Tread Lightly: link to ow.ly
      -Blog: http://www.runblogger.com
      -Twitter: link to twitter.com
      -Facebook Page: link to facebook.com
      -Discussion Forum: http://www.runblogger.com/forum

      • I believe that there is a definite anatomical change in your feet. I purchased a pair of Unshoes Pah Tempe sandals at the start of my barefoot adventure (you have to send a tracing of your foot to have them made), but now, they no longer fit. My feet have become too wide for the strapping, and now it looks as though my feet are squeezed together, where when I first got them, they didn’t. My feet have definitely become wider over the last year.

  14. Feet are definitely getting bigger. I’ve gone up a size in most shoes in the last year.

  15. Yep, same here…went up .5-.75 foot size over 2 years of running in 4mm drop shoes with wider toebox…I tell the kids “i’m a growing boy”…(at age 50)….

  16. Andrew Skarzynski says:

    My Vasque hiking boots no longer fit nor do my Salomon Ultra running shoes. I am worried about my ski boots this year. One trip with the tele books were a little tight; my alpine boots are much more narrow causing me a bit of concern.

  17. Ashwyn Gray says:

    I’m so glad you contacted Altra about the validity of this image. When I first saw this, I thought it might be a manufactured image to illustrate a concept. So, the fact that these are genuine x-rays with the same foot in two different shoes is simply fantastic! ‘Course, I’m curious to know which shoe was used on the foot in the image on the right.

    Anyway, in answer to your question, I’ve always gravitated toward casual/work shoes with a roomy toe box. What’s been the bigger change for me, since switching to minimal running shoes, is the stack height and drop of my casual shoes. I find that I’m really sensitive to heel height now.

  18. Steve Peterson says:

    I’ve been running in NB’s, Vivo Barefoot, and Altra shoes for awhile and I do believe I’ve started to see some change to the shape of my feet. I’ve moved from a 9.5 to a 10 as well.

  19. You’re not the only one. I used to wear 9.5s with thick socks. Now I run in 10s with very thin socks. I recently threw out some old shoes from several years ago that don’t fit anymore.

  20. Stephen Lalley says:

    I went minimal a little over a year ago. When I put on my ski boots this year they were killing me! My foot changed shape. I had to get a new footbed and may end up with new boots.

  21. Tom Buckner says:

    I have gone from 11.5 to 12 over the last 1.5 years since changing running form. Old size is just too snug anymore. Haven’t really noticed change in foot shape, only size. But also haven’t been paying much attention the shape.

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