Barefoot Running: Minimalist Shoes
Long before Chris McDougal and Born to Run there was Dr. Phil Hoffmann, way ahead of his time. Over a hundred years ago, in 1905 he published research in The American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery entitled, Conclusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of the Feet of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing People, a study that has been largely ignored for more than a century. In the discussion, Dr. Henry Ling Taylor commended Dr. Hoffman on his fascinating work and recommended the findings be ‘largely disseminated so that the public might know of it’. So here it is, 100 years later, from the pioneer of barefoot running and the father of minimalist shoes.
After observations in the field and subsequent study including research on hundreds of feet from the Philipine exhibit and Central African or Pigmy group at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, Dr. Hoffman published the following:
1. The shape and range of motion of the foot and ankle are practically the same in barefooted populations compared to shoe-wearing populations up to the time of use of footwear.
2. Once footwear begins, usually at the end of the first year for a child, rapid progressive narrowing of the forefoot and restriction of motion occurs in the toes, foot, and ankle joints.
3. Universal among barefoot and modern sandal wearing populations, the great toe is separated from the 2nd toe by a considerable space; and when bearing weight the toes separate even further which widens the base of support.
4. A condition almost universal among shoe wearing adults is one of crowding of the toes, especially of the great toe, which can underlie or overlap the 2nd toe (hallux valgus).
5. Shoes are both of improper shape and are entirely too small to accommodate the shape of our bare foot at rest and even worse in weight bearing.
6. The heels of shoes propels our center of mass forward causing excessive pressure on the forefoot and habitual wearing of heeled shoes leads to shortening of the calf muscles.
7. The heel of shoes and the spring (or turning upward of the front of the shoe) leads to permanent hyperextension of the metatarsal phalangeal joints.
8. The crowding of the toes by shoes causes deformity of the toe joints.
9. The foot is very pliable (‘plastic’), especially in the young, and continued compression can mold it to any shape (the extreme case being those of the high caste Chinese whose feet were bandaged).
10. Within six weeks of wearing shoes, persons who never wore shoes will begin to demonstrate narrowing of the forefoot and an angled deformity of great toe through painless compression of their feet.
11. The action of shoes is one of a splint, and in addition to deforming the foot, they restrict movement in the joints.
12. The restriction of movement largely depends on the type of shoe that has been worn during childhood.
13. Lateral motion (spreading out of the toes) of the toes seen in infants persist in adults who have never worn shoes. It is rare to find an adult in a shoe wearing population who has even the slightest strength of laterally separating the toes.
14. Extension and flexion of the toes is greater in adults who have never worn shoes.
15. The ancient sandal did not compress the toes or interfere with joint motion.
16. In most adult shoe wearing populations, the toes are practically functionless beyond given additional length to the foot.
17. In the barefoot populations, toes serve a variety of functions including grasping and steadying the athlete at the moment of generating maximum power. This can be seen in the classic sculpture Discoboli’s of Myron.
18. The sole of the barefoot populated foot is thick, tough, pliable and free of any callous spots common in shoe wearing populations.
19. The sole of the barefoot populated foot has deep transverse folds or lines of flexion similar to those present universally in our palms.
20. Regarding arches and ‘contrary to common opinion and teaching’, there is NO one type regarded as normal but rather normal feet present with high, medium, and low arches.
21. The very low arch or ‘so called flat foot’ is NO indication of weakness; in fact in many cases it was associated with a strong and flexible foot.
22. Flat foot as a pathological entity does not exist.
23. In the 186 primitive feet examined, not a single foot was found to have associated symptoms of weakness so characteristic and common in the adult shoe wearing populations.
24. The height of the arch bears no relationship to the type of gait.
25. Commenting on shoes, I couldn’t have summarized the following any better:
“The lasts over which the footwear of civilization is shaped are rarely modeled in the spirit of truth that would make them conform to the contour of a normal foot. The whim of society and the manufacturers' enterprise alone regulate their shape. Society, apparently, agrees that the human foot as formed by nature is coarse, vulgar and unsightly, and that its width, especially at the toes, is entirely too great. It regards the small, especially the narrow foot, as the beautiful one. The dictum of fashion has greater influence than reason. Perhaps the statement that society admires the small foot is not exactly true, for society, as such, never sees the naked foot; but what is so commonly does admire is the dainty little shoe that hides its own handiwork – the distorted, cramped, calloused and repulsive foot. Here beauty is less than skin deep, or at most lies no deeper than the calfskin product of the cobbler’s art. The manufacturer through ignorance and self interest fits the desires of his patrons rather their feet, and places upon the market footwear that more or less crowds the front of the foot”.
The American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery, Hoffmann Phil. Conclusions Drawn From a
Number 2, 1905.