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An Alternate Hypothesis for the Problems with Shoes

Posted Oct 24 2012 10:02pm

I’ve been doing a little more digging as far as the effects of shoes.  One of the things that I remember from previous research was the issue of open-toed versus closed-toed shoes.  In an older paper (which I’ll have to find) I remember it saying that foot pathology happened in populations with shoes compared to barefoot populations, but that it also said there was no pathology in populations that wore open-toed sandals.

This seemed kind of odd to me at the time, and the paper offered no explanation for it.  If it was the material between the bare foot and the ground that was causing the problem, then why wouldn’t sandals lead to foot pathology?

Also, you of course have the Tarahumara Indians who run in sandals, and they are some of the best runners around.

All this leads to a hypothesis: shoes may also be disruptive by limiting the mobility of the toes.  Specifically, I think shoes may block the dorsiflexion of the toes, particularly the big toe, which is a key to movement.

First, I remembered Michael Sandler, author of Barefoot Running , saying in his book:

“Few people realize that when you run, your toes should be active. Barefoot. you pull up your toes (dorsiflexion) before striking the ground…”

Next, I read about the windlass mechanism:

This is reaction that when the toes are pulled up, the arch flexes.

Two Rivers Treads also talks about the windlass mechanism.

Then, I checked to see if Kenyans who grew up barefoot lift their toes as impact.  It appears they do:


So therefore the following could be happening: closed shoes block the toes from rising.  This prevents the arch from being activated.  Hence, the impact from each step in running is not being absorbed by the arch, and this impact contributes to running injuries.

The next step for me: experiment with running with the toes up!

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