My metatarsals just want to be free.

Fifth metatarsus on the middle left.

OK, this is getting nerdy.

I used to be a bit ashamed of my wide feet. Most shoes squeeze the outside of my foot. The little toe sticks out, sometimes making a whole in the fabric, like the first (and last) time I bought All Stars. Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about feet and running gait, and I’ve started looking at people’s feet. Turns out almost everyone’s got the same problem. Simply put we buy shoes that cripple our feet. Not a lot, but a little.

Now, minimal running shoes often sport a wide toe box. That means there is space for the toes to move freely. Problem solved. So why does it still feel like some shoes are squeezing my little toe?

It seems the little toe that we see is just the tip of the iceberg. The fifth metatarsal is a bone running along the outside of your foot, protruding just in front of the ankle. (See the anatomical drawing above for visual reference.) Which brings me to my pet peeve in running shoes; the dreaded “outside arch”. Right at the point where the fifth metatarsal protrudes, a lot of shoe makers have chosen to make the sole narrower and higher. Not wider, like you should think. My impression is that this pushes the bone in and up, creating too much pronation, messing up my gait.

Notice the difference in shape here. A quick Google search tells me this is a pretty common foot shape.

The foot in the illustration is not mine, but basically it’s the same shape. Many people have narrower feet, but according to my totally unscientific research (a quick google search) most feet have the fifth metatarsal sticking out at the same place. The image of a foot below is one of the first that show up in an image search for “sole foot”.

I feel a bit guilty for using the Merrell Trail Glove as an example. After all people have run ultra-marathons in them without experiencing any pain. I have never even run a marathon. It’s not the worst example in any way. It’s a soft shoe, so it gives a bit. Traditional running shoes have the same feature, often to a much worse degree, since they are stiff and “supportive”.

Again, with the Nike Free, this is not the worst example of a weird arch. Quite the opposite. It just shows that this shoe shape is industry standard.

But the trail glove gives a very clear visual reference for the “outside arch”. If you have narrow feet, this may not be a problem. But if you fifth metatarsal hurts when running in shoes, you could give this a thought. A wide toe box doesn’t automatically mean your foot is free.

PS: Although the Merrell shoe did not fit me, it might be the right one for you. Click the Image for a review of the shoe from birthdayshoes.com.

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