20.03.2020

ARE YOUR SHOES WRECKING YOUR FEET (AND YOUR HEALTH)?

You could have a problem underfoot. It may never have even crossed your mind – but it is affecting your health from the ground up. And it’s a problem that, just like sitting on chairs and being stuck on a screen, processed foods and sugary drinks, should probably come with a health warning. 

It’s your shoes. 

Healthy feet are the foundation of healthy, skillful movement 

Moving badly is one of the main reasons we get injured

If you’re injured - you can’t move

And not moving enough… well, this is literally killing us!

The BIG question: Are your shoes not just wrecking your feet, but your health?

Let’s break this down:

The foot of the problem: about 95% of people are born with healthy feet[i], but a lifetime of cramming them into normal shoes can create weak, shoe-shaped feet. By the time we grow up 77% of North Americans say they’ve suffered from debilitating foot pain[ii].

But a little foot pain is great for some businesses: the global orthotic insole market will be worth an estimated $3.5 billion USD this year alone[iii]. Orthotics may provide short-term relief from pain but in the long-term, compromised feet, and/or feet walking on orthotics are not moving naturally. This means further up the chain, the body attached to these feet isn’t going to be moving naturally either. It is compromised too.

Data suggests that up to 79% of recreational runners will at some point suffer a lower limb injury[iv] - which seems odd, given the amount of technology we are wrapping our feet in which is specifically designed to help us run more and better. A growing body of evidence even suggests that as the cushioning in a shoe increases, so does the proportion of runners who alter running mechanics[v][vi] in ways associated with injuries[vii][viii][ix].

One of the biggest shoe companies in the world recently released one pair of running shoes to increase efficiency and therefore speed, and another to reduce injury. This logic implies our natural feet are not good enough: they need help to run faster and then more tech to avoid injury? Perhaps the last 50 years of fancy sneaker innovation are trying to fix a problem they caused in the first place… (This is your lightbulb moment, by the way!) Millions of years of natural R&D have already designed a perfect bit of kit with all the technology we need to move naturally and injury free – your feet!

The majority of us city-dwelling humans have feet that are bent out of shape and collapsing in the face of our unnatural and cushioned shoes – so what happens when we add our sedentary lifestyles into this (toxic) mix?

If you're not moving, you are losing: Physical inactivity; commonly known as a sedentary lifestyle - is having a devastating effect on our health. Approximately 2 million premature deaths a year are attributed to a lack of physical inactivity[x]. The World Health Organisation has issued a stark warning, between 60 to 85% of people in the around the world lead sedentary lifestyles, and it is a key contributing factor to most of the top 10 leading causes of death in the developed world.

Being sedentary leads to obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, breast cancer, and depression. To top it off, roughly 80% of adolescents aren’t active enough either[xi].

The easy life: For the vast majority of able-bodied urbanites, modern living is just too easy. With our smart phones and watches, sedentary transport systems and our everyday needs at the touch of a button, we are having to work harder than ever to keep moving and healthy.

But don’t worry - it’s not all your fault. Blame it on the genes! For the majority of our existence we had to move to survive (hunt, defend and forage). Our survival depended on our ability to move, and this in turn depended on us using every calorie wisely. In other words, we’re also hard-wired to be as lazy as we can get away with. Deeply ingrained into our biology, this survival mechanism served us well, but now in the face of our cushioned, sugary comfortable lives – it’s working against us.

So if you haven’t already leapt up from your sofa, unstuffed your feet from your shoes and taken a bread knife to their soles then let’s do a final recap: from the ground up! Function (riding boots) infiltrated fashion (heels) which lead to dis-functional feet and ankles (like a shortened Achilles) which lead to necessity: padded, heeled trainers. It’s time to start thinking feet first when it comes to moving naturally.

The easy part is the shoes themselves: just think WTF ‘footwear’

WIDE (not thin) toe shape: We think your feet work best when they are foot-shaped - not shoe shaped. A wide toe box with room for your big toe - and the rest of your toes - to splay, grip and give you a necessary, wide foundation of support. 

THIN (not thick) cushioned soles: Cushioning might feel good - but feeling the ground makes you move better. Ultimately, this feels better too. Did you know that we have the same amount of nerve-endings in our feet as we do in our hands? Just like our hands - feet are made to feel!  The ultimate movement sensors, they connect our brain to what's going on underfoot. When we cushion the life out of this vital sensory loop, all that important information is muffled and lost. Padding and cushioning therefore also increases impact forces moving up the chain into our heels, shins, knees, hips, back, spine, neck…. (yes, that´s now pretty much your whole body). The chance of injury increases every time you move.

FLEXIBLE not rigid or supportive:

A bendy shoe lets the 26 bones and hundreds of muscles, ligaments and tendons flex too, allowing our complex system of mobility, shock absorption and energy return to put a natural spring in every step. People who grow up largely barefoot have been shown to have stronger, healthier feet, as well as presenting with fewer cases of flat feet. Kids who grow up largely unshod also have better coordination and movement skills than their shod counterparts[xii].

Walking or running, child or adult: we are standing on a shoe-shaped problem and nobody’s talking about it. Thick, cushioned soles that don’t allow your feet to feel the ground and function as they were designed to, may be are wrecking our feet, their movement, and our bodies….

It’s time to get reconnected with YOUR FEET and live barefoot.

[i] Gore A, Spencer J. The Newborn Foot. American Family Physician. February, 2004. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0215/p865.html

[ii] New survey reveals majority of Americans suffer from foot pain. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-survey-reveals-majority-of-americans-suffer-from-foot-pain-259775741.html

[iii] Foot orthotic insoles market to reach 3.5 USD billion by 2020. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/foot-orthotic-insoles-market-to-reach-35-usd-billion-by-2020-570502031.html

[iv] Lun V, Meeuwisse W, Stergiou P, Stefanyshyn D. Relation between running injury and static lower limb alignment in recreational runners. Br J Sports Med. October 2004. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1724945/

[v] Hollander K, Argubi-Wollesen A, Reer R, Zech A. Comparison of minimalist footwear strategies for simulating barefoot running: a randomized crossover study. PLoS One. 2015;10(5):e0125880. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26011042

[vi] Hollander K, Riebe D, Campe S, Braumann KM, Zech A. Effects of footwear on treadmill running biomechanics in preadolescent children. Gait Posture. 2014;40(3):381-385. https://europepmc.org/article/med/24890307

[vii] Daoud AI, Geissler GJ, Wang F, Saretsky J, Daoud YA, Lieberman DE. Foot strike and injury rates in endurance runners: a retrospective study. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012;44(7):1325-1334.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22217561 

[viii] Pohl MB, Hamill J, Davis IS. Biomechanical and anatomic factors associated with a history of plantar fasciitis in female runners. Clin J Sport Med. 2009;19(5):372-376.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19741308 

[ix] Ruder M, Jamison ST, Tenforde A, Mulloy F, Davis IS. Relationship of Foot Strike Pattern and Landing Impacts during a Marathon. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(10):2073-2079.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31525171 

[x] Physical inactivity a leading cause of disease and disability. World Health Organization. April 2002. https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/release23/en/

[xi] Physical activity. World Health Organization. February, 2018. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity

xii Hollander K, van der Zwaard B, de Villiers JE, et al. The effects of growing up habitually barefoot on foot mechanics and motor performance in children and adolescents. Journal of Foot and Ankle Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5010736/

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