Friday, March 12, 2010

Put the shoe on the other foot

A little while ago I was searching around for some info on barefooting and stumbled across a podiatry forum. Intrigued by what podiatrists might have to say about the subject, I had a look at some of the topics around the "barefoot running debate". Well my immediate impression was that there is some serious anger on both sides of this so-called debate!

I won't go into detail, but to summarise some of the posts I read, they didn't seem to be against barefooting, yet attacked barefooters with a zeal usually shown by David Koresh wannabes. I engaged a little with them and came to the conclusion that it was a natural defensive mechanism, as they feel that a lot of the "barefooting community" (I'm sure there are communities out there that are barefoot, but I think it's a bit of a stretch to label a few barefooters here and there as a community) attacks them personally, and that some skew the results of research to suit their own argument.

I'm not doubting this happens for a second, but it seems a little sad to me that we are reduced to such an unproductive "us vs them" mentality. Some remarked "bet the barefooters will hate this!" in response to some research which indicated certain people would benefit from motion-control shoes, and had nothing to do with barefooting at all. My problem with this (apart from the unjustified schadenfreude response) was not that the research may be incorrect, but that it merely addresses the symptoms.

I think this goes back to my rant last week. Instead of addressing the real issue (in this case it was people with over-pronating feet), the research attempted to establish the best corrective shoes for people who over-pronate. The obvious question goes unanswered - why the bloody hell are they over-pronating in the first place? Where is the research to determine if this is a natural state, or something that results from their footwear or other factors? Has anyone conducted any studies of children's feet at a young age to determine if a significant percentage of people naturally over-pronate, over-supinate, or are these occurences rare? Why do we make the assumption that there is something wrong with us?

Why not start from the other position - that nearly everyone is able to walk with a pain free gait, and that something else is causing high incidences of poor walking form? It seems to me that 2 millions years of evolution has gone into the way we walk and run, and that's it's a pretty stupid assumption to make that all of a sudden in the last century or so, a significant percentage of a species that relied on its mobility to survive now can't walk without motion correcting shoes or orthotic supports. I know that in some cases people will either be born with issues that require correction, or accidents may cause a loss of motion or mobility, but surely these are the exception.

Continuing with the theme of there probably being nothing wrong with us, I think I have found the cause of my occasional left knee pain. On our hump day run I made an extra effort to observe my running gait, and tried to detect any differences between the way my left and right legs moved. It paid off, and I discovered that I needed to make a slight adjustment. It immediately felt better, although it also felt quite strange, as it is something that I think has been ingrained in my running style for a long, long time.

Another win for going barefoot. I can't prove it, but I don't think I ever would have figured that one out while wearing shoes, or even the vibrams.

I think back to the problems I have had with my feet over the years. When I was a teenager I played a lot of golf. About the age of 16, I started getting real problems with flat feet, to the point where I could hardly finish a round due to the pain. My parents took me to a podiatrist, and they gave me some orthotics. These definitely alleviated the pain, and I was able to get moving again, albeit still with some discomfort at times. I wish I knew then what I know now - I could have saved years of intermittent achilles and plantar fascia problems, thousands of dollars on shoes, and a lot of the pain I experienced when I started running if I'd just gone au-naturale.

Treating the symptoms didn't resolve the underlying problem. It rarely does.


  1. Yeah, those podiatrists are amusing in their fanatical attempts to counter what they believe to be the fanaticism of the "barefoot running community"

    For about 8 months I had achilles and plantar fascii pain - after a month in the Vibrams the pain is almost completely gone. I don't need tests or reports to prove that it works because it just did!

  2. But Jack where is your research?! :)

    I think that they are genuinely concerned for the health of their patients, but have the wrong focus (treating symptoms, not finding causes), and can't see the forest for the trees.