The development of modern medicine and science, which once placed importance on modern, scientific healthcare over ancient, natural, holistic options, is now working with ancient healing practices and approaches to heal and nourish the mind, body, and soul. And the same is true of the feet. From the early days of earthing and reflexology, and from sagebrush sandals to technologically advanced insoles, feet have evolved, and so have the therapies and footwear that go with it.
As a 21st Century by-product of human evolution and century-long adoptions and adaptations of once-ancient foot care practices, the insole is more than just a footwear insert. Few people are aware of the fact that the modern-day shoe insole found its inspiration from ancient times. We explore the relationship between the foot, foot wellness, foot care, footwear, reflexology, sports, and custom insoles in the evolutionary timeline below.
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Early humans walked barefoot and practiced earthing, exposing their feet’ soles directly to the earth’s surface. As Civilizations began to develop, a need for footwear arose. While early humans’ feet were well adapted to various terrain and climate conditions, they weren’t fully protected from environmental hazards, such as sharp rocks or extreme temperatures. The introduction of footwear afforded them better protection against these elements.
7000/8000 BC – Among the earliest forms of footwear are Sagebrush bark sandals, now known as “Fort Rock Style” after the archeological location where they were first discovered. The primitive sandals were flat with a closed toe and twined sole.
4000 BC – With the ongoing development of civilization, thong sandals (predecessors of the modern flip-flop) were worn in Ancient Egypt as well as by the Hindus and the Greeks, while the Masai of Africa made sandals out of rawhide. The Greeks also began wearing symbolic footwear to reveal the wearer’s class or marital status. Around this time, the Ancient Egyptians began experimenting with pressure therapy, an ancient form of reflexology, and a similar healing method was applied in India and China as well.
As footwear advanced, biological changes of the human foot began to occur. Archaeologists studying the bones of the foot’s smaller toes (not including the big toe) have found that early humans had longer, thicker toes than we do today and have deduced that wearing shoes has affected the bone growth of our feet over time.
Middle Ages (5th to 15th Century) – Medieval shoes were more complex and offered wearers a better fit and increased foot protection. The homemade turnshoe construction method was popularized, where the shoe was essentially crafted inside-out and then turned right-side on completion. By ensuring the main seam would be inside the shoe, the shoe would last longer and prevent moisture leaking in. A double sole was also eventually added, further strengthening the shoe. Toggle flaps and drawstrings were also used to improve the shoe’s fit.
1400s – During the Middle Ages, the precursor to the modern high-heeled shoe was introduced. Pattens were removable wooden soles that could be worn with regular shoes but offered the wearer a slight elevation to help protect their shoes while walking through mud. In Turkey, this was taken a step further with the development of chopines, a women’s shoe had a platform sole that usually ranged between 7 to 8 inches (17 to 20 cm) in height. At around the same time, Crakows were also popularized in Europe. These were long-toed shoes, thought to have originated in Kraków, then the capital of Poland. To hold their long, pointed shape, the toes of these shoes were stuffed tightly with moss or horsehair. Innkeepers also introduced the first insoles, which were made from animal hair, to help ease the foot pain experienced by travelers.
1500s – High-heeled shoes began taking off as a form of fashion in the 16th century, when royalty chose elevated heels to help them appear taller and more grandiose. The trend was initiated by women such as Catherine de Medici or Mary I of England, but it was adopted by many men as well. In Europe, pressure therapy was born in the late 1500s. A method of Zone Therapy was used to help relieve pain by applying pressure to different zones of the body and the feet. Insoles also advanced, with leather pads added to the inside of shoes to improve their comfort.
1600s – By the 17th century, heels were exclusively worn by French aristocrats, with Louis XIV of France going so far as to outlaw the wearing of red heels for anyone other than himself and his royal court. At this point in history, the modern shoe, with a sewn-on sole, was made and worn.
1700s – Shoes were still made without consideration for the left or the right foot, although this gradually began to change towards the end of the 18th century. The introduction of the industrial era signaled the birth of commercialized shoemaking, which ushered in a demand for better made, more comfortable shoes. The introduction of electricity and better manufacturing equipment signaled the birth of the modern shoe, as we know it today.
1800s – As commercialized shoemaking began to expand, and the earliest athletic shoes – track spikes or leather shoes with metal cleats on the soles – were invented, with rubber-soled athletic shoes becoming popular towards the end of the century. The introduction of the sewing machine signaled the birth of shoe stitching, a method still used in shoemaking today. Reflexology and our understanding of the foot’s pressure points also expanded during this time, as German Physician Dr. Alfons Cornelius introduced “reflex massage” after discovering that applying pressure to the sensitive areas of the body could decrease pain and promote a healing process.
1900s – Gluing shoes was introduced in the early 20th century, through the AGO system, by an Italian chemist called Francesco Rampichini, allowing shoe soles to be glued rather than stitched on. The introduction of thermoplastics, which could be molded into shape, signaled the art of custom orthotics and the birth of modern insoles. During this time, in the USA, Dr. William Fitzgerald researched Zone Therapy and began using devices to apply pressure with the aim of anaesthetising small areas of the body during minor surgeries. His colleague, Dr. Joe Shelby Riley created the first accurate chart of the reflex areas found on the feet and hands and developed a manual technique to apply pressure rather than relying on tools. Dr. Riley’s colleague, Physiotherapist Eunice Ingham, went on to develop a therapeutic method called “thumb-walking” and added more detail of the reflexes of the feet and hands to the chart.
2000s – During the 2000s, awareness arose around the fact that newer shoe materials, such as rubbers and plastics, are not as eco-friendly and biodegradable as leather and other natural materials that had been traditionally used in the shoe manufacturing process. Towards the end of the 21st century, shoemakers began integrating biodegradable materials into their shoes, with Nike releasing a completely biodegradable shoe.
Modern Day – FitMyfoot, a technology company which helps people live healthy, pain-free, more active lives through foot wellness, created their version of the foot insole. Using a 3D printer and photos of customers taken from their phones, their award-winning Foot.Science app makes custom products to fit every unique foot. Their custom insoles and sandals are built on more than 12 million data points, validated in third party biomechanics labs, and rigorously tested across thousands of customers to ensure optimum comfort and function.
Be a part of history. Order your FitMyFoot custom footwear today for healthy feet in present time and for years to come.