Footwear

Perhaps the staple of correcting evolutionary mismatch is the recent barefoot trend, being a very recognizable and intuitive change. For thousands of years preceding modern society, humans have been navigating their environment without modern footwear. As the majority of genetic evolution occured within an ancient environment, the morphology of the human foot adapted to be optimized to function within this very environment. Whilst ancient Homo sapiens did create and use footwear, these were far different from the modern shoe and were likely used significantly less frequently. Unlike modern shoes, footwear used by ancient humans was often made from raw materials immediately on hand and was of a more basic design, which did not produce the suite of negative health effects that is caused by modern shoes. To correct this mismatch, there has recently been a movement to create modern versions of ancient styles of footwear, so called ‘Barefoot’ or ‘Minimalist’ shoes.

 

 

Ancient Footwear

“It has been difficult for archaeologists to determine exactly when humans stopped going barefoot, however, because the plant and animal materials used to make prehistoric shoes is highly perishable.” [12]

Although it is challenging to find evidence of ancient shoes due to the perishability of the materials used, we can determine when footwear first came in to use with some accuracy by studying archaeological findings of ancient Homo sapien foot bones, specifically adaptations to their digit structures.

“Sturdy shoes first came into widespread use between 40,000 and 26,000 years ago… Humans’ small toes became weaker during this time, says physical anthropologist Erik Trinkaus, who has studied scores of early human foot bones… He identified chunkier toes in the population that routinely went without shoes. The research suggests shoe-wearers developed weaker toes simply because of the reduced stresses on them during their lifetime; it was not an evolutionary change.” [12]

“Footwear worn by human beings over recent millennia can be categorised as clearly minimalist. Its fundamental feature was the introduction of a protective sole. Over the last three decades, several advances have radically changed the design of functional elements in athletic footwear: cushioned midsoles, movement control technology, technology for optimizing shock absorption, etc. The advantages of these recent technological advances in athletic footwear are disputed in scientific forums.” [13]

Modern Footwear

Unlike ancient shoes, modern shoes tend to have thick and rigid soles, narrow toe-boxes, and many have raised heels. Lately, some research has studied how these novel aspects of modern shoes can effect changes in gait and posture, and whether this has negative health effects, including increased risk of injury and even deformed toes, and the possibility modern shoes even decrease athletic performance.

“‘People who don’t wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike,’ says Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard… ‘By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike. Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world’s hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain. All you need is a few calluses to avoid roughing up the skin of the foot. Further, it might be less injurious than the way some people run in shoes.'” [1]

“Barefoot activities can greatly improve balance and posture and prevent common injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, bursitis, and tendonitis in the Achilles tendon, according to Patrick McKeon, a professor in Ithaca College’s School of Health Sciences and Human Performance.

“The small, often overlooked muscles in the feet that play a vital but underappreciated role in movement and stability… McKeon describes a feedback cycle between the larger ‘extrinsic’ muscles of the foot and leg, the smaller ‘intrinsic’ muscles of the foot, and the neural connections that send information from those muscle sets to the brain… When that feedback loop is broken, though, it can lead to the overuse injuries… Shoes are the chief culprit of that breakdown, according to McKeon. ‘When you put a big sole underneath, you put a big dampening effect on that information. There’s a missing link that connects the body with the environment,’ he said. Muscles serve as the primary absorbers of force for the body. Without the nuanced information provided by the small muscles of the foot, the larger muscles over-compensate and over-exert past the point of exhaustion and the natural ability to repair. When the extrinsic muscles are no longer able to absorb the forces of activity, those forces are instead transferred to the bones, tendons, and ligaments, which leads to overuse injuries.” [4]

“In a recent study conducted by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and the Harvard Medical School, running in minimalist shoes can increase leg and foot muscle volume, indicating its potential application in rehabilitation programme.” [5]

Barefoot/Minimalist Footwear

This leads us to the purpose of modern barefoot or minimalist shoes, being a simple solution to the negative health effects of regular modern shoes whilst also retaining the benefits of footwear in general, providing surface protection and warmth. Today there are plenty of options for barefoot shoes in many different styles, making it very easy to correct this evolutionary mismatch. One caveat is that it may be necessary to perform a gradual transition to barefoot footwear, especially for older individuals, as weak bones and muscles in the foot require time to strengthen to handle the increased forces, otherwise, a rapid transition can result in injury.

Perhaps the staple of correcting evolutionary mismatch is the recent barefoot trend, being a very recognizable and intuitive change. For thousands of years preceding modern society, humans have been navigating their environment without modern footwear. As the majority of genetic evolution occured within an ancient environment, the morphology of the human foot adapted to be optimized to function within this very environment. Whilst ancient Homo sapiens did create and use footwear, these were far different from the modern shoe and were likely used significantly less frequently. Unlike modern shoes, footwear used by ancient humans was often made from raw materials immediately on hand and was of a more basic design, which did not produce the suite of negative health effects that is caused by modern shoes. To correct this mismatch, there has recently been a movement to create modern versions of ancient styles of footwear, so called ‘Barefoot’ or ‘Minimalist’ shoes.

Ancient Footwear

“It has been difficult for archaeologists to determine exactly when humans stopped going barefoot, however, because the plant and animal materials used to make prehistoric shoes is highly perishable.” [12]

Although it is challenging to find evidence of ancient shoes due to the perishability of the materials used, we can determine when footwear first came in to use with some accuracy by studying archaeological findings of ancient Homo sapien foot bones, specifically adaptations to their digit structures.

“Sturdy shoes first came into widespread use between 40,000 and 26,000 years ago… Humans’ small toes became weaker during this time, says physical anthropologist Erik Trinkaus, who has studied scores of early human foot bones… He identified chunkier toes in the population that routinely went without shoes. The research suggests shoe-wearers developed weaker toes simply because of the reduced stresses on them during their lifetime; it was not an evolutionary change.” [12]

“Footwear worn by human beings over recent millennia can be categorised as clearly minimalist. Its fundamental feature was the introduction of a protective sole. Over the last three decades, several advances have radically changed the design of functional elements in athletic footwear: cushioned midsoles, movement control technology, technology for optimizing shock absorption, etc. The advantages of these recent technological advances in athletic footwear are disputed in scientific forums.” [13]

Modern Footwear

Unlike ancient shoes, modern shoes tend to have thick and rigid soles, narrow toe-boxes, and many have raised heels. Lately, some research has studied how these novel aspects of modern shoes can effect changes in gait and posture and whether this has negative health effects, including an increased risk of injury and even deformed toes, and the possibility that modern shoes may even decrease athletic performance.

“‘People who don’t wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike,’ says Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard… ‘By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike. Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world’s hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain. All you need is a few calluses to avoid roughing up the skin of the foot. Further, it might be less injurious than the way some people run in shoes.'” [1]

“Barefoot activities can greatly improve balance and posture and prevent common injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, bursitis, and tendonitis in the Achilles tendon, according to Patrick McKeon, a professor in Ithaca College’s School of Health Sciences and Human Performance.

“The small, often overlooked muscles in the feet that play a vital but underappreciated role in movement and stability… McKeon describes a feedback cycle between the larger ‘extrinsic’ muscles of the foot and leg, the smaller ‘intrinsic’ muscles of the foot, and the neural connections that send information from those muscle sets to the brain… When that feedback loop is broken, though, it can lead to the overuse injuries… Shoes are the chief culprit of that breakdown, according to McKeon. ‘When you put a big sole underneath, you put a big dampening effect on that information. There’s a missing link that connects the body with the environment,’ he said. Muscles serve as the primary absorbers of force for the body. Without the nuanced information provided by the small muscles of the foot, the larger muscles over-compensate and over-exert past the point of exhaustion and the natural ability to repair. When the extrinsic muscles are no longer able to absorb the forces of activity, those forces are instead transferred to the bones, tendons, and ligaments, which leads to overuse injuries.” [4]

“In a recent study conducted by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and the Harvard Medical School, running in minimalist shoes can increase leg and foot muscle volume, indicating its potential application in rehabilitation programme.” [5]

Barefoot/Minimalist Footwear

This leads us to the purpose of modern barefoot or minimalist shoes, being a simple solution to the negative health effects of regular modern shoes whilst also retaining the benefits of footwear in general, providing surface protection and warmth. Today there are plenty of options for barefoot shoes in many different styles, making it very easy to correct this evolutionary mismatch. One caveat is that it may be necessary to perform a gradual transition to barefoot footwear, especially for older individuals, as weak bones and muscles in the foot require time to strengthen to handle the increased forces, otherwise, a rapid transition can result in injury.

More Information:

“‘People who don’t wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike,’ says Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and co-author of a paper appearing this week in the journal Nature. ‘By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike. Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world’s hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain. All you need is a few calluses to avoid roughing up the skin of the foot. Further, it might be less injurious than the way some people run in shoes.'”

[1]

“Our research asked how and why humans can and did run comfortably without modern running shoes. We tested and confirmed what many people knew already: that most experienced, habitually barefoot runners tend to avoid landing on the heel and instead land with a forefoot or midfoot strike. The bulk of our published research explores the collisional mechanics of different kinds of foot strikes. We show that most forefoot and some midfoot strikes (shod or barefoot) do not generate the sudden, large impact transients that occur when you heel strike (shod or barefoot). Consequently, runners who forefoot or midfoot strike do not need shoes with elevated cushioned heels to cope with these sudden, high transient forces that occur when you land on the ground. Therefore, barefoot and minimally shod people can run easily on the hardest surfaces in the world without discomfort from landing. If impact transient forces contribute to some forms of injury, then this style of running (shod or barefoot) might have some benefits, but that hypothesis remains to be tested.”

[14]

“The aim of the present study was to compare the potential cognitive benefits of running barefoot compared to shod. Young adults (N = 72, M age = 24.4 years, SD = 5.5) ran both barefoot and shod on a running track while stepping on targets (poker chips) and when not stepping on targets. The main finding was that participants performed better on a working memory test when running barefoot compared to shod, but only when they had to step on targets. These results supported the idea that additional attention is needed when running barefoot to avoid stepping on objects that could potentially injure the foot. Significant increases in participant’s heart rate were also found in the barefoot condition. No significant differences were found in participants’ speed across conditions. These findings suggested that working memory may be enhanced after at least 16 minutes of barefoot running if the individual has to focus attention on the ground.”

[2]

*We note that it is possible that the cognitive effects of unshod running with targets as discovered by this study may be caused by the subjects’ elevated heart rate rather than from running unshod, per se, as an increase in heart rate positively correlates with cognitive improvements, mediated by the mechanism of an increase of blood flow to the brain, delivering higher quantities of oxygen and nutrients. It is possible that the increase in heart rate is caused by that running unshod with targets is significantly more aerobically strenuous than shod running with targets, though possibly especially, or even only, in the case of subjects unpracticed with unshod running with targets. However, this hypothesis has not been tested to our knowledge.

“According to Ross Alloway, it’s possible that the barefoot condition required a more intensive use of working memory because of the extra tactile and proprioceptive demands associated with barefoot running, which may account for the working memory gains.”

[15]

“Barefoot activities can greatly improve balance and posture and prevent common injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, bursitis, and tendonitis in the Achilles tendon, according to Patrick McKeon, a professor in Ithaca College’s School of Health Sciences and Human Performance.”

“The small, often overlooked muscles in the feet that play a vital but underappreciated role in movement and stability.”

“McKeon describes a feedback cycle between the larger ‘extrinsic’ muscles of the foot and leg, the smaller ‘intrinsic’ muscles of the foot, and the neural connections that send information from those muscle sets to the brain. ‘Those interactions become a very powerful tool for us,’ he said. When that feedback loop is broken, though, it can lead to the overuse injuries that plague many an athlete and weekend warrior alike. Shoes are the chief culprit of that breakdown, according to McKeon. ‘When you put a big sole underneath, you put a big dampening effect on that information. There’s a missing link that connects the body with the environment,’ he said. Muscles serve as the primary absorbers of force for the body. Without the nuanced information provided by the small muscles of the foot, the larger muscles over-compensate and over-exert past the point of exhaustion and the natural ability to repair. When the extrinsic muscles are no longer able to absorb the forces of activity, those forces are instead transferred to the bones, tendons, and ligaments, which leads to overuse injuries.”

[4]

“In light of the results, Soto points out: ‘Training based on barefoot running, practised correctly, produces significant changes in foot support, regardless of the athlete’s speed: forefoot support (metatarsal), tends to minimize impact peaks and, therefore, leads to a lower risk of injury.'”

“Barefoot running appears to contribute to the acquisition of a more efficient biomechanical running pattern, allowing contact between the foot and the ground to begin in the metatarsal area (forefoot strikes). The use of standard modern footwear appears to favour the opposite technique; initiating contact with the ground at the heel area with a rearfoot strike, which produces significant impact peaks that negatively affect the runner’s health and athletic performance.”

“Footwear worn by human beings over recent millennia can be categorised as clearly minimalist. Its fundamental feature was the introduction of a protective sole. Over the last three decades, several advances have radically changed the design of functional elements in athletic footwear: cushioned midsoles, movement control technology, technology for optimizing shock absorption, etc. The advantages of these recent technological advances in athletic footwear are disputed in scientific forums.”

[13]

“In a recent study conducted by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and the Harvard Medical School, running in minimalist shoes can increase leg and foot muscle volume, indicating its potential application in rehabilitation programme.”

“The study showed the transition to MRS strengthened the muscular components of the foot core system, indicating its potential application in rehabilitation program. Instead of focusing on foot orthotic device, foot core training should be emphasised in current clinical guidelines in treating injury related to weak foot muscles.”

[5]

“Since thepedal digital flexor muscles plantarflex the toes into the sub-strate in these latter portions of the stance phase (Reese et al.,1983), an artificial reduction, or dispersal, of that groundreaction force must have taken place. Some form of protective footwear can therefore be inferred to have become habitual bythe Middle Upper Paleolithic, afterw28,00014CBP,orw32,000 cal BP.”

“The anatomical evidence indicated that supportive footwear was rare in the Middle Paleolithic but became frequent by the Middle Upper Paleolithic.”

[6]

“…he identified chunkier toes in the population that routinely went without shoes. The research suggests shoe-wearers developed weaker toes simply because of the reduced stresses on them during their lifetime; it was not an evolutionary change.”

“Sturdy shoes first came into widespread use between 40,000 and 26,000 years ago, according to a US scientist… Humans’ small toes became weaker during this time, says physical anthropologist Erik Trinkaus, who has studied scores of early human foot bones.”

“It has been difficult for archaeologists to determine exactly when humans stopped going barefoot, however, because the plant and animal materials used to make prehistoric shoes is highly perishable.”

“A shoe-less lifestyle promotes stronger little toes, says Professor Trinkaus, because “when you walk barefoot, you grip the ground with your toes as a natural reflex”. Because hard-soled shoes improve both grip and balance, regularly shod people develop weaker little toes.”

[12]

“In 1938 archaeologist Luther Cressman (from the University of Oregon) excavated at Fort Rock Cave, located in a small volcanic butte approximately half a mile west of the Fort Rock volcanic crater in central Oregon.”

“Fort Rock sandals are stylistically distinct. They are twined (pairs of weft fibers twisted around warps), and have a flat, close-twined sole, usually with five rope warps. Twining proceeded from the heel to the toe, where the warps were subdivided into finer warps and turned back toward the heel. These fine warps were then open-twined (with spaces between the weft rows) to make a toe flap. Cressman surmised that a tie rope attached to one edge of the sole wrapped around the ankle and fastened to the opposite edge.”

[7]

“There are still some people who are afraid to wear moccasins because they think they will develop flat feet, or that their feet will become too wide. Both of these fears are unfounded. In the first place, to have healthy feet they should be allowed to spread out as far as they want to: so wearing a confining shoe is of no intelligent consideration. Man originally walked on bare feet and wearing mocassins is the next thing to this. It is not what you wear on your feet that makes you flat-footed, but how you walk. If you walk with your feet straight ahead, the weight on the balls of the feet, you will not need to worry about flat feet. Use your heels only as rockers to finish the stride.”

“Indians, as a rule, did not wear moccasins in the rain. They went barefooted. Woodland Indians often went barefooted anyway.”

“For winter wear moccasins were often made of buffalo hide, with the hair inside. Some even wore an ‘overshoe’ – an outer moccasin with the hair outside, which did shed water and was almost waterproof.”

“When moccasins were worn in bad weather they were made of smoked buckskin, which, although not waterproof, was unaffected by water.”

[9]

“In the present exploratory study, an acute bout of BF versus SH running did not impact SRT. It is possible that increased afferent feedback during BF running (Kurz & Stergiou, 2004; Robbins et al., 1993) is responded to in subcortical regions or transcortical reflex pathways (Nielsen, 2003), without affecting the attentional requirements of the task. Additionally, this may be the case only for simple tasks such as SRT. Alternatively, it is possible that our small sample size did not have sufficient power to reveal a significant difference across BF and SH running conditions. Nevertheless, the present results suggest that although differences in running kinematics across BF and SH running may lead to differences in musculoskeletal injuries (Daoud et al., 2012; Hreljac, 2005), it is not likely that BF running will impact runners’ risk of attention-related acute injuries such as trips or falls (Hsu, 2012; Knobloch, Yoon & Vogt, 2008). Future work should examine whether more complex perceptual-motor tasks and more sensitive outcomes will be affected by BF versus SH running. Further efforts should also examine whether the present observations will emerge in a larger sample of runners. Finally, it is prudent to examine whether changes in SRT will manifest when runners are performing over-ground on a stable running surface, as opposed to during treadmill running.”

“The primary aim of the present study was to determine whether there was a difference in SRT during acute bouts of BF and SH running, in competitive distance runners naïve to BF running. Despite a statistically significant increase in SRT during later time-points of the exercise bouts compared to earlier, we did not observe a statistically significant difference in SRT across footwear conditions. We also did not find a statistically significant difference in SRT errors between conditions. However, there was a statistically significant increase in stride frequency during BF running; and participants anecdotally reported having perceived an increase in attentional demands during BF relative to SH running”

[17]

Footwear Sources

[1] Barefoot running: How humans ran comfortably and safely before the invention of shoes

[2] Participants performed better on a working memory test when running barefoot compared to shod, but only when they had to step on targets

[3] Twelve weeks of barefoot running, applied progressively, causes significant changes in foot strike pattern with a tendency toward midfoot or forefoot strikes, regardless of running speed and significant changes in foot rotation at low speed, while the inversion was reduced in left foot at low speed with a tendency toward centered strike.

[4] Going barefoot: Strong ‘foot core’ could prevent plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and other common injuries

[5] Minimalist shoes increase leg and foot muscles

[6] Anatomical evidence for the antiquity of human footwear

[7] The World’s Oldest Shoes

[8] First Direct Evidence of Chalcolithic Footwear from the Near Eastern Highlands

[9] The Indian Tipi: Its History, Construction, and Use By Reginald Laubin, Stanley Vestal

[10] Growing-up (habitually) barefoot influences the development of foot and arch morphology in children and adolescents

[11] Foot Deformities in Women Are Associated with Wearing High-Heeled Shoes

[12] Bones reveal first shoe-wearers

[13] Running barefoot helps optimize technique, reduces risk of injury, study shows

[14] Biomechanics of Foot Strikes & Applications to Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear

[15] Working memory is better after a barefoot run

Counter evidence:

[16] Barefoot running – some critical considerations

[17] Barefoot running does not affect simple reaction time: an exploratory study