Rocker Soles: Pros, Cons, and the 6 Types

Rocker soles are an integral component of any modern walking or running shoe. While there are many features to look for in a “walking shoe,” we’re going to be examining specifically the rocker sole. What is a rocker sole? Well, there are six variations to consider, but essentially, the common feature is that they add a “rocking” element to footwear, facilitating a lower-effort movement when walking.

  1. Toe-only rocker: Reduces pressure on toes and inhibits motion at the metatarsalphalangeal and intephalangeal joints.
  2. Rocker bar: Added to the middle of the bottom of the shoe for an easy roll-through.
  3. Mild rocker: Small rocking feature built-in to most walking/running shoes.
  4. Heel-to-toe rocker: Angled at both the heel and the toe, a significant rocking feature to allow for an easy roll-through all the way through the sole.
  5. Negative heel rocker: Maintains the foot in dorsiflexion to off-load the forefoot.
  6. Double rocker: A rocker on the heel, and a rocker on the toes, with a gap in the middle to provide arch support.

Rocker soled shoes took a prominent role in the mainstream during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and have since been mostly relegated to orthopaedic use-cases. They have traditionally been advertised as having great health benefits for toning muscles, aiding fitness, and improving gait. Is this fact or fiction?

The rocker soles idea is that by tapering the front part of the sole there is less resistance when the heel comes off the ground and the foot goes into toe-off more easily. This is more noticeable for runners because of the increased forces of running, and most modern running shoes have some kind of rocker element built-in. Over time, these sport shoe companies have also added rockers to the heel to decelerate the foot at heel strike.

Supposed Benefits of Rocker Soles: Worth the hype?

Over the last decade, the toning rocker has been hyped. In this type of shoe, the heel is quite soft with a firm portion under the mid-foot and cushioning under the forefoot. As the heel strikes the ground the soft material under it creates instability which activates stability muscles in the leg. As the forefoot descends the harder middle part of the sole stabilizes the foot and gives a firm base for toe off. In walking or standing this feels like a flat spot on the sole of the shoe. As the foot goes into toe off the softer front part of the sole will activate muscles necessary for propulsion.

Walking or exercising in these wobbly shoes is supposed to produce better balance, muscle tone, strength, and fitness. This sounds like a great idea and has generated a host of imitators which contain this so-called benefit. For normal, relatively healthy structures these types of shoes may work as advertised. For people who have issues with their balance or joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments the benefits are questionable and may cause problems.

Orthopaedic Issues: Can Rocker Soles Be a Benefit?

For orthopaedic issues, we have used rocker soles for many years. Added to a conventional shoe as a modification, rockers can help problems like limited or fused ankles, stiff toe range, forefoot pressure and pain and certain conditions of diabetic and arthritic feet. Rocker soles tend to stiffen the footwear so that the shoe absorbs more stress and the foot less. In extreme cases, we might put a stiff plate in the sole to increase the effectiveness of the rocker. In the fitting room, we try to match the need with a commercially available shoe. There are many shoes with different types of rockers. Most of these can be further modified if necessary.

In Conclusion, Should You Rock A Pair of Rocker Soles?

The best advice I can give is – be cautious. If you would like to see how a rocker soled shoe works, make sure that the store will allow you to try them. Often you can’t tell whether the shoes will be comfortable until you have had them for a few hours. If you are unsure or have other postural problems, you should get advice from a professional who deals with postural and alignment issues. Canadian Certified Pedorthists are therapists who use footwear, custom orthotics, and footwear modifications to alleviate painful conditions of the lower limbs and to improve posture and gait.

More questions than answers? You can get more information on orthotics, footwear and pedorthic services at Thera-Ped Foot and Ankle Clinic by calling (506) 632-9397, or book an appointment today with our Canadian Certified Pedorthists.

Posted in , , , on August 7, 2023