With the proliferation of genealogy companies offering us a chance to discover more about our heritage through DNA analysis, our fascination with ancestry is growing.
MIT Technology Review reported that nearly 26 million Americans took at-home ancestry tests last year. Curiosity about the heritage in our DNA has lots of people asking questions about how ancestry shows up in the rest of the body.
Is there, for example, any truth to the idea that we can tell something about our ancestry by looking at our feet?
Ancestry websites contain archaic-looking charts with foot types labeled “Greek,” “Egyptian,” “Roman,” “Celtic,” and “Germanic.”
The charts suggest that the angle of your toes reveal the region from which your ancestors originated. Other websites declare that the shape of your feet can determine your personality type.
Does science support this idea? The answer is a clear no.
There’s no evidence to prove that ancestry determines the shape of your foot.
Human feet are highly individual. Your right foot and your left foot aren’t even identical. The angle of your toe descent or the length of your second toe doesn’t reveal either your heritage or your personality traits.
Keeping reading to learn more about differences in feet shape, and what the shape of your feet can reveal. Namely, the way you walk or run, and your potential risk for certain foot and leg conditions.
One of the most noticeable ways in which feet differ from person to person is the arch. What most of us call the arch — the medial longitudinal arch — is one of three arches in the foot:
- The medial longitudinal arch runs from the end of your heel to the ball of your foot, right down the center of your foot.
- The lateral longitudinal arch runs along the outside edge of your foot.
- The anterior transverse arch runs from side to side, just behind the ball of your foot.
The three arches work together to help your foot absorb shock and adapt to differences in terrain as you walk or run.
Your arch provides a lot of support for your body as you move through the day.
If your arch is either very high or flat, it could cause extra stress on your muscles and joints, especially if you’re involved in high-impact or endurance sports activities, or if you stand on your feet for long periods.
That’s because the height of your arch affects the way your foot moves. If your arch is too high or not high enough, it’s more likely that you’ll overuse certain parts of your foot, and overuse can lead to injuries.
Arches are usually characterized as either low or flat (pes planus), medium, or high (pes cavus).
To figure out which type of arch you have, doctors at the Mayo Clinic say you can try this simple test. Wet the bottom of your foot, then step on a piece of cardboard or construction paper.
If the wet print shows the entire bottom of your foot, it’s likely that you have low or flat arches. If you see about half of the middle section of your arch on the paper, you probably have arches that are medium, or more typical, in height.
And if you see just the imprint of your toes, your heel, and the ball of your foot on the paper, you probably have very high arches.
Pronation and supination refer to the side-to-side motions your foot carries out as you move. Pronation refers to an inward roll. If you look down at your foot as you take a step forward, you’ll see your ankle dip toward the inside arch just after your heel strikes the ground.
A certain amount of pronation is normal. When you take a step, your foot absorbs the shock by rolling slightly inward and downward.
Your arch flattens briefly, then your weight rolls to the outside of your foot and up toward the ball as you move forward. Then, you push off using your toes, with your big toe and second toe exerting most of the force.
A tiny amount of supination is also a normal part of walking or running. As you push forward, your foot naturally rolls toward its outside edge so it can redistribute the push-off pressure to your toes.
Too much of a good thing
Low arches commonly cause overpronation, while high arches typically cause oversupination. If your arch is very high, your foot might not pronate enough, which may mean too much of the push-off is being done by your small toes.
A 1994 study found that runners with very high arches absorb foot-pounding shocks poorly compared to runners with lower arches. Those biomechanical tendencies can eventually injure the ankle, iliotibial band, or Achilles tendons. The extra stress can also cause plantar fasciitis.
The shape of your foot — particularly your arch type — can cause you to develop certain conditions. These conditions usually develop as you age, or as physical activities put repeated stress on the bones and soft tissues in your feet.
A bunion is a bony bump on the inside of your foot near the base of the big toe. Bunions are quite common. Around
Hammer toe is the common name for severe bends in your second, third, fourth, or fifth toes. It’s a condition that usually develops as you age, and it can make finding comfortable shoes a real challenge.
Research indicates that both very high arches and flat feet both increase the odds that you’ll develop hammer toes. Both foot shapes make the muscles in your feet work in off-balance ways, which can change the forces at work on your toes over time.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the soft tissues that stretch from your toe to your heel. It usually causes sharp pains near your heel.
This condition has been
Shin splints cause pain that runs from your knee to your ankle on the front side of your leg, alongside your shinbone. Most of the time, shin splints happen in people who are active in stop-and-start athletic activities, like tennis or soccer.
If your foot chronically oversupinates or overpronates because of the structure of your foot, you may be more likely to injure your ankle, according to a
Hip, knee, or foot pain
Feet support and propel you throughout the day, whether you’re waiting tables, marching in protests, or booting the ball past the goalie on a soccer pitch.
One of the things feet can’t do is reveal your heritage or personality. There’s no evidence that the shape of your foot indicates what part of the world your ancestors walked through, and no research that proves foot shape is connected to personality traits.
The shape of your foot can influence the way you move, however.
It’s important to pay attention to your arch type and any tendency you may have to pronate or supinate as you walk or run. Those biomechanics can lead to injury or to painful conditions, like bunions, hammer toes, shin splints, or plantar fasciitis.
If you notice anything unusual in your gait, or if you feel persistent pain in your feet, knees, or hips, talk to a physical therapist or podiatrist to determine if the shape of your foot is at the root of the problem.