Picture above is Vibram FiveFingers shoe

The barefoot runner on the left is NOT ME

During my early teenage years – in the 1940’s – I lived in Johannesburg. One of my recollections is of migrant African goldmine workers, returning to their homes many miles away for well-earned rest breaks. As they walked in groups, barefoot down Rissik Street towards the main train station, many of them had brand new shoes, laces tied together, hanging around their necks. Doubtless these were worn, however briefly, when they reached their home villages – mainly in Zululand – as a sign of status and sophistication. However, barefoot was the common choice for comfort, en route to the trains.

They were right of course, and current research validates something that is intellectually obvious – that wearing shoes – particularly when running – may actually be harmful.

Way back in the 1970’s, when jogging was the latest craze, I tried this for a while.

I’d finish seeing patients around 6 or 7pm, and would jog around the block once or twice, or around the perimeter of the local park. I can’t say it was enjoyable, and when, after a few weeks, my right knee started twinging – I abandoned it altogether.

Currently I try to walk non-stop for a mile or so (or for those with European linguistic sensitivities, somewhat in excess of a kilometer) most days, at a brisk pace – wearing cushioned walking shoes. This regular walk is my concession to aerobic activity, and it does seem to do me good – constitutionally.

I have a selection of pedometers that offer me all sorts of useful information as to distance walked, at what pace, and how many calories have been expended.

But – my old knee twinge is back.

A news item yesterday suggested that new research shows that running, wearing cushioned shoes, is actually harmful to joints…..and that barefoot is better.

So, I am led to wonder whether this would also apply to my brisk walking and aging knees?

The research on which this news was based was by Kerrigan and colleagues (The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques 2009 American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 1:1058-1063). This research looked at the effect of modern-day running shoes on lower extremity joint torques during running. Simplistically torque is the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis.What happens when we walk or run is that a degree of twist or torque occurs in the joints of the leg, pelvis and spine….and it seems that the research showed that increased joint torques occurred at the hip, knee, and ankle when running shoes were worn, compared with running barefoot.

Synchronistically I have just been editing a section for the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.

The topic? A survey by one of my Associate Editors, Matt Wallden ND DO, of various products on the market that mimic barefoot conditions. These include footwear by Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT), FitFlop, Nike FREE, Vivo Barefoot, Newton running shoes, and the oddest of all, Vibram FiveFingers.

Each of these has its advantages, and each attempts to mimic barefoot, but with some protective features for the foot.

If you want to know more about these you may need to wait until April, for the JBMT editorial by Matt.

If you really cannot wait, do some google searches for details of these alternatives…..I know I will.