Are Shoes Really Good for Your Feet?

 

We often are asked about sweating or sounding out of breath using a TrekDesk treadmill desk. We answer simply that the average walking speed is 3 miles an hour and you don’t sweat or get out of breath walking down the hall of your office so you won’t sweat using a TrekDesk at 1 mph. Rarely do we get a question about what shoes should be worn when walking on a TrekDesk. The information we discovered when researching this topic will make anyone think twice about the shoes they wear for any purpose.

 

Evolution has been busy trying to perfect the human foot over millions of years and according to experts it still has a long way to go since it is adapting an appendage that for all intents and purposes used to be a fin. That said Leonardo DaVinci once referred to the human foot as a miracle of engineering. Comprised of 25% of the bones in the human body, the foot is complex to say the least.

 

U.S. consumers spend more than $20 billion annually on footwear that in most cases puts them at risk for foot, knee, spine and hip injuries due to poor designs. The simple fact of the matter is that we would be better off if we walked barefoot. Sound incredible or impractical? Let’s take a closer look.

 

Shoes change the natural course of walking and force the body into unnatural stresses. We are not just talking about stiletto high heels or steel toed boots here either. Researchers from Johannesburg, South Africa published a study titled “Shod Versus Unshod: The Emergence of Forefoot Pathology in Modern Humans?” that analyzed the health of modern human feet in comparison with skeletal remains from 2,000 years ago. Their comparison analysis included modern subjects from Sotho, Zulu and European groups.

 

The researchers found that our ancestors had much healthier feet. The modern day Zulus were the next healthiest since they often go barefoot while the European study participants fared the worse. According to lead researcher Dr. Bernard Zipfel even the American Podiatric Medical Association, which encourages the use of orthotics and specialized shoes does not yet understand the pitfalls of modern footwear, “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,” he lamented.

 

But wait, there is more evidence. “Natural gait is bio-mechanically impossible for any shoe-wearing person,” documented Dr. William A. Rossi published 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.” Translation? Lose the shoes.

 

 

Walking without foot protection is incredible to most and impossible for nearly all of us due to social restrictions and expectations. The real culprit isn’t the shoe as much as it si the design of the shoe. Arch supports, padding, heels and recent technological advancements in footwear should be abandoned for a more simplistic design that allows the foot to interact with the ground as it was meant to. In essence, less is better.

 

This ideology has been embraced already in large numbers of runners as chronicled in the book by Christopher MacDougle- Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. Centering on the running feats of the Tarahumara Indians who are known to run hundreds of miles without rest and without injury wearing nothing more than a thin sandal to protect their feet. MacDougle lambasts Nike for designing ultra sophisticated, expensive running shoes which not only do not enhance running performance but actually lead to running injuries. Many of the top running coaches in Universities across the U.S. know espouse the minimalist virtues of barefoot running as a result.

 

MacDougle wasn’t the first to point this out either. In a paper published in the 1991 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise this topic was addressed. Titled “Athletic Footwear: Unsafe Due to Perceptual Illusions,” “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).” A later study found that runners in expensive cushioned running shoes were 2x as likely to suffer running injuries than those who were hard soled shoes! So much for the elitism of modern running shoe design. A 1997 study out of McGill University in Montreal found that the more padding a running shoe has the more force a runner experiences when hitting the ground. How could this be?

 

The similarities to studies in running parallel those found among walkers as well. Barefoot walkers experience a 12% reduction in stress to the knees as compared to walking in padded shoes according to Chicago’s Rush Medical College. Study authors believe that barefoot walking is superior due to the body’s neuromechanical feedback mechanisms that connect the foot to the brain. Shoes blunt this connection and cause us to walk and run improperly.

 

 

The concept of barefoot walking has spurred a movement to spread this message further. You can learn more at www.barefooters.org

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