Anatomy of a Shoe: Heel Counter
The signature feature of a quality shoe is a dependable heel counter. This critical part of the shoe is basically what stops your shoes from behaving like flip flops. It's the back part of what's called the shoe upper that keeps your heel from slipping out of the shoe. Without a structurally sound heel counter, shoes will never properly conform to the shape of your foot creating the custom fit you love in your favorite pair. This is also a structurally important part of the shoe. It gets a lot of wear, and there's usually a seam or two back there. This essentially means that a quality constructed pair of leather footwear designed to last will have to have a break-in period. It just doesn't have to be painful. The use of a vertical insole will allow the substantive heel counter of a great pair of shoes to conform to your foot, breaking in naturally, while preventing it from digging into the back of your heels. It does this by sitting in the Achilles nook, between the abrasive top edge of the heel counter and the Achilles tendon area of your foot. There it can absorb, redirect, and resist those forces away from the sensitive back-of-heel area. Unlike other techniques for easing the pain of breaking-in shoes, like freezing water bags and hot water baths, that weaken and damage the shoe, the use of a vertical insole allows for a natural break-in that lets nice leather shoes take the unique shape of your feet without taking a toll on them.
The topline of shoe uppers is another cause of posterior foot pain and injury. It is the top edge that wraps around the uppermost part of the shoe—from tongue to heel and back. This part of shoes makes direct contact with the Achilles tendon area as well as sometimes underneath the ankles. Like the heel counter, the topline is an important part of a good shoe's construction and it's a necessarily rigid component when shoes are fresh out the box. An Achilles Shield insole between the injury-causing topline and the back of the heel will help prevent heel injury caused by new footwear abrasively rubbing against that part of the foot on the down stride of every step. The vertical part of the Achilles Shield is also designed with just enough width to push the topline away from the lateral, under ankle areas without adding unnecessary volume.
To maintain their traditional look, dress shoes and high heels tend to have a minimalistic design. This usually means very little, if any, cushioning in the footbed. Lately, some shoe manufacturers have begun to add elements of comfort to the footbed, although they are usually thin, inadequate and wear out quickly. Most of the force of each step is received by the heel of the foot, where your foot strikes the ground. The high-performance materials at the base of vertical insoles with high compression recovery properties absorb this impact without the need for bulkier insoles that take up too much room in your shoe.
All of these components of footwear work together in well-made shoes to provide years of classy, reliable wear.