Thursday, May 22, 2014

Studies? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Studies (to Live Barefoot)!

One bit of opposition I keep hearing from podiatrists and other experts who oppose barefoot activity is that there isn't enough evidence to support it. Studies have not been able to show that going barefoot is better for you than wearing shoes.

Now wait just a minute.

Photo: Podiatry Today
Does anyone ever say "We don't have enough research to prove it's better to breathe environmental air rather than from an oxygen tank."

No one ever says "The evidence is inconclusive whether living without a neck brace is better than regular use of one."

Ever heard someone say, "Until we have evidence that going barehanded is more beneficial, best practice will be to recommend regular use of gloves."

See where I'm going with this?

I was in a Twitter conversation today with a barefoot supporter who said of the lifestyle, "We just need hard science to back it up, not just anecdotes." Many barefooters feel this way. My response?

No, actually we don't.

Really, since when do we need scientific evidence to use an inborn part of our bodies? How in the world did our society's thinking about feet become so "bass ackwards" that footwear supersedes our natural condition when it comes to the scientific burden of proof?

The feet we were born with are the baseline, friends. Why should we be forced to prove that we should be able use them the way they are?

We don't have studies showing why we should go barefoot, but we really don't need them. Barefoot is what we already are.

The onus is on those who claim we can't go barefoot. If footwear makes feet so much safer against injury, prove it. If arch supports improve the long-term health of the feet versus feet that never wear shoes, prove it.

This method of showing proven benefit over our innate condition has worked in other areas of the body:

  • Prescription glasses and contact lenses alter our natural condition and improve our sight.
  • Orthodontics effectively straighten the teeth and assist with their proper alignment.
  • Cochlear implants give hearing ability to those who've lost it or never had it.
  • Hip or knee replacement surgery gives pain-free mobility back to those who suffer from degeneration in these joints.
These results are proven. What's more, doctor's don't recommend those therapies above if you have 20/20 vision, straight teeth, you can hear, and/or your joints are fine.

On the flip side, listed below are a few widely-accepted results of healthy people regularly wearing footwear (and, I think, reasons that "experts" are reluctant to approach foot health from the baseline of our human condition):
  • Footwear -- even sandals -- raises the temperature of the feet, causing sweating and providing optimal conditions for fungal growth.
  • Shoes often squeeze or rub the feet in harmful ways, exacerbating or causing conditions such as bunions, hammer toes, neuromas, corns, blisters, and more.
  • The soles of footwear block the feet from feeling textures and objects on the ground below (exteroception), eliminating our natural safety mechanisms and altering our ability to sense where our feet are in space (proprioception).
So we have a good idea about why we shouldn't wear shoes. Despite those issues above and so many more, podiatrists and other experts around the world still recommend that people regularly wear shoes and "avoid going barefoot."

"BUT WAIT!," you may shout. "What if we do find a problem with the feet that needs fixing? What if someone goes barefoot all of the time and still has fallen arches, plantar fasciitis, bunions or something else that orthotics or surgery could help with?"

In those cases, yes, research to discover the best therapy would be warranted -- and those data exist. Even still, it seems to me that the goal would be to use whatever physical therapy, bracing, taping, orthotics, or even surgery that can help rehabilitate their feet so that that going barefoot can continue as the default condition.

"BUT WAIT ONE MORE TIME!," you may shout. "Those with peripheral neuropathy and Raynaud's clearly shouldn't go barefoot in certain conditions because it could create a health risk for them. Footwear is the only therapy that can't prevent serious problems."

Look, I get it that living barefoot isn't the end-all be-all for everyone. I get it that it truly isn't advisable for some select people to be barefoot in specific circumstances.

The bottom line is that the burden of proof lies with those who think footwear, orthotics, arch supports, braces, taping, etc. is inherently better for everyday living than our own two feet. While these things can provide therapeutic relief from specific medical conditions, they should not be considered for long-term, everyday use. What's more, everyday use of footwear has been shown to be detrimental and each person should think critically about whether remaining barefoot -- the human condition -- might be the best option until proven otherwise.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Shoe Claims Are All Backwards: Brief Thoughts About Recent Settlements

The sound of heads shaking is echoing throughout the barefoot/minimalist community after news of Vibram's settlement of a class-action lawsuit accusing them of making baseless claims that their Fivefingers line of minimalist footwear could reduce injury and strengthen foot muscles. Now the company has put aside $3.75 million dollars to pay back customers who didn't see such results.

This is what happens when you sell products, folks. If you're going to be taking people's money, you'd better be darned sure that what you claim it can do is scientifically valid. When it comes to footwear, we've seen this before with Sketchers Shape-up line of shoes and FitFlop's sandals.

I'm sure so many podiatrists are laughing about all of this. The most vocal of them take great pleasure in getting on their anti-barefoot-running Websites, their Twitter accounts, and other outlets to essentially say, "See?! The evidence isn't there that minimalist shoes are good for you! We've been saying it all along!"

I totally get it. It's academically dishonest to make claims that using a product aids the feet in reducing injuries and getting stronger when there's no evidence. That makes sense.

As I type this, I'm wearing one of my FOUR pairs of Vibram Fivefingers. Why? Because I have to wear closed-toe shoes for my job. Otherwise I'd be barefoot.

Bare feet are the human condition. Let's all keep remembering that. We were born with bare feet. People have lived for millenia with no shoes and done fine.

In everything we do, going barefoot should be the baseline and any shoes should be added only as necessary. Any claims about what those shoes or orthotics or braces or whatever can do should be based around improving the human condition and they should be backed by evidence.

So instead of:

"Vibram Fivefingers strengthen the feet and reduce injuries" (compared to standard shoes) ...

The claims should be:

"Vibram Fivefingers increase traction on many surfaces and protect the feet while preserving most of the foot's natural function."

See the difference? It's easy to get into legal hot water with the first statement -- obviously, because it happened. It's a lot harder with the second.

I wear Vibram Fivefingers, among other brands of minimal footwear, when I need something on my feet for protection, warmth, or to fulfill a policy when it's not okay to challenge the system. I wear them because they add little to the feet -- NOT because they are so much less bulky or injurious than normal shoes.

As the Barefoot Alliance says in it's main hashtag, #BarefootIsHuman. Let's stop making baseless claims that hurt the underlying intent of the barefoot/minimalist movement and start behaving as if shoes add to the feet instead of barefoot being the subtraction of shoes.

It's more accurate all around, and more honest.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Please Donate to Help My Son and Other Kids with Neurological Disorders

For the second year in a row, I'm running the Hospital Hill Run half marathon BAREFOOT to raise money on behalf of my son, Benjamin, for the Joshua Center for Neurological Disorders. That's 13.1 miles without shoes for a kiddo that means the world to me!

Our son Benjamin lives with a few neurological disorders, including Tourette's, ADHD, and OCD. He's a GREAT kid -- as you can see from the picture -- but he rarely gets to spend time with other kids who "get" what he lives with and who won't make fun of him for his tics and quirks.

At Joshua Center's camp each year, Benjamin CAN spend a few days with others who live with the same struggles he lives with. He makes new friends and remembers that there are others like him who won't judge him -- all while having a ton of fun!

Benjamin was able to go to the Joshua Center's camp on a scholarship last year thanks to the generous support of people like you!

Please click the "Donate Now" button at the top right corner of this blog or visit my fundraising page by clicking this link to help us help kids like Benjamin. THANK YOU!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Thoughts on a Podiatrist's Facebook Post

This week I was taken aback by a post that a podiatrist put on Facebook and subsequently tweeted:

What I find most shocking is that every single one of those ailments certainly happened because shoes caused those pathologies in the feet.

Dr. Steve Bloor, barefooter and podiatrist in the UK, has said on a number of occasions that he thinks a significant amount of foot pathology is caused or exacerbated by shoes.

Yet podiatrists often recommend that people never go barefoot. They claim that feet need support, bare feet will acquire athlete's foot or nail fungus, and unprotected feet are simply at too great a risk of injury.

I don't have a problem with podiatrists and their profession. I think they serve an important purpose, but how about we, as a society, give our own bare feet a chance to be strong and flexible on their own. If injury occurs, then podiatrists can help us get back on our own two (bare) feet.

Dr. Bloor, told me in an interview a few years ago that, "I now believe the foot is well designed for supporting itself and the rest of the body if it is given a chance to do so without being hindered by footwear."

The answer to foot problems like bunions, neuromas, hammer toes, and the like is not fixing them, then putting those feet back into shoes. As the Barefoot Alliance says, "Barefoot is human." Constant shoe use is not a characteristic of how we are made to function.

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