By Jörgen Johansson
Here are some things I picked from the article:
- The University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, published a study titled “Shod Versus Unshod: The Emergence of Forefoot Pathology in Modern Humans?” in the podiatry journal The Foot. The researchers concluded that, prior to the invention of shoes, people had healthier feet. Among the modern subjects, the Zulu population, which often goes barefoot, had the healthiest feet while the Europeans—i.e., the habitual shoe-wearers—had the unhealthiest. One of the lead researchers, Dr. Bernhard Zipfel, when commenting on his findings, lamented that the American Podiatric Medical Association does not “actively encourage outdoor barefoot walking for healthy individuals. This flies in the face of the increasing scientific evidence, including our study, that most of the commercially available footwear is not good for the feet.
- “Natural gait is biomechanically impossible for any shoe-wearing person,” wrote Dr. William A. Rossi in a 1999 article in Podiatry Management. “It took 4 million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of gait, a remarkable feat of bioengineering. Yet, in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot.”
- I know what you’re thinking: If shoes are so bad for me, what’s my alternative? Simple. Walk barefoot.Okay, now I know what you’re thinking: What’s my other alternative?
- For decades, the guiding principle of shoe design has been to compensate for the perceived deficiencies of the human foot. Since it hurts to strike your heel on the ground, nearly all shoes provide a structure to lift the heel. And because walking on hard surfaces can be painful, we wrap our feet in padding. Many people suffer from flat feet or fallen arches, so we wear shoes with built-in arch supports, to help hold our arches up.
- ...the shoe, by its nature, won’t allow your foot to work in the way it wants to. Normally your foot would roll very flexibly through each step, from the heel through the outside of your foot, then through the arch, before your toes give you a powerful propulsive push forward into the next step. But shoes aren’t designed to be very flexible. Sure, you can take a typical shoe in your hands and bend it in the middle, but that bend doesn’t fall where your foot wants to bend; in fact, if you bent your foot in that same place, your foot would snap in half. So to compensate for this lack of flexibility, shoes are built with toe springs to help rock you forward. You only need this help, of course, because you’re wearing shoes.
- Consider a paper titled “Athletic Footwear: Unsafe Due to Perceptual Illusions,” published in a 1991 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. “Wearers of expensive running shoes that are promoted as having additional features that protect (e.g., more cushioning, ‘pronation correction’) are injured significantly more frequently than runners wearing inexpensive shoes (costing less than $40).” According to another study, people in expensive cushioned running shoes were twice as likely to suffer an injury—31.9 injuries per 1,000 kilometers, as compared with 14.3—than were people who went running in hard-soled shoes.
- But (you might say) if you walk or run with no padding, it’s murder on your heels—which is precisely the point. Your heels hurt when you walk that way because you’re not supposed to walk that way. Wrapping your heels in padding so they don’t hurt is like stuffing a gag in someone’s mouth so they’ll stop screaming—you’re basically telling your heels to shut up.
- So the researchers at Rush tried something different: They had people walk in their walking shoes, then barefoot, and each time measured the stress on their knees. They found, to their surprise, that the impact on the knees was 12 percent less when people walked barefoot than it was when people wore the padded shoes.
- If bare feet are natural, why do we need shoes to “protect” the foot?—to a podiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery, who explained, “People who rely on the ‘caveman mentality’ are not taking into consideration that the average life span of a caveman was a heck of a lot shorter than the life span of a person today. The caveman didn’t live past age 30. Epidemiologically speaking, it’s been estimated that, by age 40, about 80 percent of the population has some muscular-skeletal foot or ankle problem. By age 50 to 55, that number can go up to 90 or 95 percent.” Ninety-five percent of us will develop foot or ankle problems? Yeesh. Those are discouraging numbers—but wait. Are we talking about 95 percent of the world population, or of North America? “Those are American figures,” he says. Which makes me think, North Americans have the most advanced shoes in the world, yet 90 percent of us still develop problems? We’ve long assumed this means we need better shoes. Maybe it means we don’t need shoes at all.
- What you can do, though, is stop taking walking for granted and start thinking of it like any other physical activity: as something you can learn to do better. Don’t think of your feet as fleshy blocks to be bound up or noisy animals that need to be muzzled.
- In one of the Rush Medical College knee-adduction experiments, barefoot walking yielded the lowest knee load, but a flat sneaker, like a pair of Pumas, also offered significantly less load than the overly padded walking shoes.