We are often asked about rocker soles and whether they are ‘right for me’. Certainly, rocker-soled shoes have been advertised as having great health benefits for toning muscles and aiding fitness, but is this fact or fiction?
Rocker soles have been around for a long time as a feature in certain shoes, especially sports and running shoes. The 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. This is more noticeable for runners because of the increased forces of running. Over the years, sport shoe companies also added rockers to the heel, helping to decelerate the foot at heel strike.
More recently, the toning rocker has been publicized. 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. When 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, 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.
For orthopedic issues, we have used rocker soles for many years. Added to a conventional shoe as a modification, a rocker sole can help with 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 distinct types of rocker soles. Most of these can be further modified if necessary.
The best advice I can give is to be cautious. If you would like to try a rocker-soled shoe, make sure that the store will let you try them. Often you cannot tell whether the shoes will be comfortable until you have had them on 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, foot orthotics and footwear modifications to alleviate painful conditions of the lower limbs and improve posture and gait.