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Archive for February, 2010

How Myths are Perpetuated

There’s an AP story making the rounds right now in various newspapers. Here’s the Washington Post version. And here’s the text of the story, in full:

Montana convenience store bans hoodies, ski masks

MISSOULA, Mont. — A Montana convenience store manager who is tired of being robbed has expanded the “no shoes, no shirt, no service” dress code to include a ban on hoodies and ski masks.

Joe Salisbury is the longtime manager of Noon’s convenience store in Missoula. He decided to post a sign on the door telling customers that no hooded sweat shirts or ski masks are allowed after a rash of robberies by hoodie-wearing thieves.

Salisbury says several times over the past two weeks, late-night visitors wearing hoodies have dashed into his store to swipe a couple of cases of beer, sometimes making repeat visits wearing the same sweat shirts.

Salisbury says the ski mask ban goes without saying, but he had room on the sign and so added it on anyway.

Notice anything suspicious about the story?

It just assumes that the manager already had a “No shirt, No shoes, No service” sign, and added the “No hoodies, No ski masks” to the existing sign.

Wrong.

Here’s the sign:

No Hoodies, No Ski Masks

No Hoodies, No Ski Masks

What the sign does says is “REMOVE HOODS AND SKI MASKS BEFORE ENTERING THIS STORE.” There’s nothing there about shirts or shoes. That was just added by some cutesy reporter. You can see the original story, before it was picked up by AP, here. While that story also says something rather stupid about NSNSNS signs, it does not wrongly claim that there was a sign there that wasn’t.

Thus we see how the media feeds on and enhances myth-perceptions.

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I just wanted to highlight a posting that occurred on the Running Barefoot Yahoogroup. This comes from Wendy:

I had to see a podiatrist (for what turned out to be a skin issue related to my auto-immune issues, no connection to barefoot running) and spent most of the visit chatting with the doc about barefoot running. He was totally amazed at the muscle development in my feet and how perfect and flaw/callous free they were! The fact that I had run a 8 miler barefoot a couple of weeks before totally blew him away. All the usual questions were thrown out there, what about glass, grass, and goo, yadda yadda. Of course, everything made total sense and when I left he thanked me for an interesting visit and wished me the best with my barefoot running :-)

Podiatrists get a lot of very good, specialized training, and almost all of it is based upon real science. However, when it comes to bare feet, there really is very little research and speculation has reached its way into their practices. We see that in many of the news articles that reach the media, in which the reporter talks to a podiatrist for “balance.” The truth is, very few podiatrists see people who go barefoot regularly, and most of the research in the podiatry world compares one kind of shoe against another kind of shoe (at least for long-term foot care).

It’s nice to see a podiatrist able to see and accept something that runs counter to some of that training.

Oh, and the title of this entry also came directly from Wendy. I fully endorse it!

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What’s Your Carbon Footprint?

Well, I don’t know. But, if you are a barefooter, I do know what’s not in your carbon footprint: shoes (or at least, no where near as many shoes as the non-barefooter).

According to this article, Running’s Impact on the Earth, from the November 2008 issue of Runner’s World, a pair of running shoes and socks has a carbon impact of around 170 pounds of CO2. Leather shoes fall in about the same range.

170 pounds is about the equivalent of driving 150 miles.

A lot, however, does depend on what type of shoe is being discussed. According to this Wall Street Journal article, Six Products, Six Carbon Footprints, shoes can run from 22 pounds up to 220 pounds, depending on how they are made. If you just have to wear something, flip-flops are pretty much the lowest, with some as low as 22 pounds of CO2 per pair.

Go barefoot. Go green.

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Barefoot Native Americans

The usual perception of the original Native Americans is as moccasin wearers. Obviously, a lot of this comes from movies and TV, and most of that comes from Westerns, in which the Indians* presented are Plains Indians from the mid- to late-1800s, long after the original meetings of Europeans and Native Americans.

However, there are accounts of many of the early meetings, and it is pretty clear that Native Americans went barefoot quite a lot. Think about it: even today getting leather wet can ruin it, and they did not have as advanced tanning techniques and materials as we have today. Moccasins were relatively expensive as far as labor went, so it would make sense that somebody trying to conserve them would go barefoot when possible and only use the moccasin when needed.

For instance, Le Page du Pratz, in his 1758 “Histoire de la Louisiane: contenant la découverte de ce vaste pays” (History of Louisiana: covering the discovery of this vast country), notes that, while they did wear moccasins:

Il eſt rare que les hommes ou les femmes portent des ſouliers, ſi ce n’eſt en voyage.

It is rare for men or women to wear shoes, unless they are traveling.

Note that, back then, Louisiana encompassed what we would call the whole Louisiana Territory, so we are not just talking southern climes here. (Also note that I’m having some fun showing the original printing, using the kind of “s” that looks like an “f”. You can tell the difference in that an “f” has the crossbar extending on both sides of the letter, while an “s only has a crossbar on the left.)

Du Pratz also provided a picture of what he called “Naturels en Eté”, or “Native in Summer”:

Native in Summer

Yup, that’s barefoot all right. (Image from Project Gutenberg.)

* These days it’s always a problem of what to call Native Americans. Most of the those I know do not mind the word “Indian”, so I will use it on occasion.

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Heel-toe Revisited

Earlier, we discussed whether barefooters should naturally walk with a heel-toe or a toe-heel stride. It is clear that the higher heel on a shoe automatically distorts whatever the natural barefoot gait would use.

We know from Dr. Lieberman’s research on running barefoot that the natural barefoot stride has the running landing either mid-foot or slightly on the fore-foot. This greatly reduces stresses on the body by more-or-less eliminating the transient created by the heel striking the ground.

Well, there is new research out on barefoot walking, and some of the differences between heel-toe and toe-heel walking. The study is The influence of foot posture on the cost of transport in humans, J Exp Biol 2010 213: 790-797, by C. B. Cunningham, N. Schilling, C. Anders, and D. R. Carrier. The paper appears in The Journal of Experimental Biology. The study does not look at the forces on the foot or the body, but instead looks at the efficiency of the two modes of walking.

According to the study, it takes about 53% more energy to walk on the balls of your feet than to heel-strike when walking. There’s a nice story on the the study at Physorg.com and another one in the Salt Lake Tribune. Note that this does not affect Dr. Lieberman’s results on barefoot running. When running, this newer study did not see and energy difference between rear-strike and fore-strike running.

So, how does this affect our earlier discussion, in which we noted that some barefooters walk heel-toe and others walk more toe-heel? For one thing, it does justify the discussion about the size of the calcaneal bone and the amount of padding beneath it. It really is more “natural” to walk with the heel hitting the ground first. However, even those who walk with hitting their heels first don’t really strike with their ball or their toes. At noted there, they tend to land mid-foot, with the heel coming down and a final, quick rotation of the foot on landing. I’m not sure just what that effect might have on energy efficiency, but I bet it is nowhere near as much as the effect for ball landing.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

Footy Heart

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Foot Care and Heel Cracks

Most people usually assume that the feet of barefooters are all “calloused”. However, the word the kind of “callous” that people think of is a localized thickened area of the skin, like a corn. Since corns are formed by the rubbing on the foot by the inside of a shoe, barefoot people don’t get those. What they do often get is a general broad thickening of the entire sole. This is the natural reaction of the glabrous skin there and it is how we evolved.

While barefooters are not subject to many of the foot maladies of the shod (like corns), they do get things like heel cracks. While one might suspect that heel cracks are a result of the thickening of the skin on the bottom of the foot, that surely cannot be the whole answer, since there are many, many shod people who get heel cracks. In fact, there is a whole industry and a plethora of products for heel cracks, and I guarantee they are not all being sold to barefooters.

Barefooters do have a lot of experience with keeping their feet in strong and supple condition, so we can offer a bit of advice regarding skin creams. One of the products that we particularly like is Neutrogena’s Norwegian Formula™ Hand Cream. Don’t let the “Hand” in the name fool you; it works just fine on feet. This product goes on quite thick and can take quite a while to get absorbed. It mainly contains glycerin as its moisturizer.

But many barefooters have found what we think is an even better skin moisturizer: lotions containing urea. Urea seems to allow the skin to retain its moisture better. Thus, one of the products we think does a superior job is Flexitol Heel Balm. It contains 25% urea. It’s not as messy as the Neutrogena when it goes on, and it leaves the thickened skin on the sole feeling like fine leather. It also does a very good job preventing cracks. Gold Bond Foot Cream is another product that contains urea (though I haven’t been able to find out what percent).

It’s really quite amazing what a positive difference the addition of urea makes.

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Tesco Does it Again

Britain’s Tesco has done it again, this time tossing a father who was carrying his daughter on his shoulders. It sure seems to me that they are getting a lot of self-inflicted bad publicity these days.

There are two aspects of the story that also are of relevance to those who prefer to go barefooted.

A spokeswoman urged Mr Dunkley to return to the store and talk to the manager. ‘We take the safety of our staff and customers very seriously,’ she said. ‘Each store can make these decisions on an individual basis, there is no blanket policy.’

We’ll talk about “safety” in a moment. But first I’d like to concentrate on the latter part of the spokeswoman’s statement. Why would any intelligent and rational company allow each store to make such decisions on a store-by-store basis? If you are a customer and, each and every time you go to one of the stores in a chain, you have no idea whether you will be tossed, why shop there? If I’m tossed from a store for being barefoot, and then I am told that each manager at each store makes his or her own decision in that regard, why would I even tempt fate by trying a different store in the same chain? There are just too many other stores that I can rely on. Such a decision by upper managers means that I’ll never shop any of their stores again, even the ones with managers who don’t have such a ridiculous policy.

Note that I am not criticizing a blanket ban (though I could do that, too!), but the fact that a policy is non-uniform means a much greater loss of business than folks might otherwise realize.

The story also says

But the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said Tesco’s decision was ‘misguided’.

‘Sometimes over-reactions mean people are stopped for supposed health and safety issues when in reality there isn’t a real health and safety issue at all,’ it said.

This also is quite applicable to barefooting. These store people have no idea whether bare feet are safe or not (of course, we barefooters say they are perfectly safe) but they still buy into the myth, even when there “isn’t a real health or safety issue at all.”

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Heel-toe? Or Toe-Heel?

We had a reader ask if humans should be walking, not with a heel-toe stride, but with a toe-heel stride. That is, should we walk with more of a midfoot- or forefoot-strike when barefoot? He also wonders if there is any research to back up such different striding in barefoot cultures, and wonders if such a stride might reduce various chronic problems.

From Dr. Lieberman’s research, we already know that barefoot runners automatically adopt a mid- to fore-foot strike. This is true whether the runners have never worn shoes, but it is also true for any experience barefoot runner. Barefoot runners very quickly learn not to do heel strikes because of the transient forces created.

There is some equivalent research regarding barefoot walking. For instance, “Influence of shoes and heel strike on the loading of the hip joint”, G. Bergmann et al., Journal of Biomechanics, Volume 28, Issue 7, Pages 817-827, found reduced torsion at the hip when barefoot. (This was a rather cool study, in that, when the subject got a necessary hip implant, he was given one with instrumentation as part of the implant.) “Walking Barefoot Decreases Loading on the Lower Extremity Joints in Knee Osteoarthritis”, N. Shakoor and J. Block, Arthritis & Rheumatism, Vol. 54, No. 9, September 2006, pp 2923–2927, found that walking barefoot reduced loads on the knee of about 12%. Interestingly, they found that as people walked barefoot they altered their stride. This study found that, just as often happens for the barefoot runners, people increased their cadence and reduced their stride length, even while maintaining the same speed. However the study did not report on any difference in heel-strike patterns.

Among the members of the Society for Barefoot Living, there does not seem to be a particular preference regarding heel-strike or midfoot-strike walking. There certainly is not the “striking” difference that is seen for running. Some folks are perfectly happy heel-striking (I am one of those), while others walk with more of a mid-strike. (Forefoot striking while walking seems to look pretty odd.) Many of the midfoot-strikers look like they are about the heel-strike, but at the last moment they rotate their feet just enough to land midfoot.

There does not seem to be any studies making this comparison among cultures that regularly go barefoot.

One of the things that makes it easier to midfoot-strike barefoot, and that also probably reduces the strike force even when heel-striking, is the absence of the heel of a shoe. For the barefoot running study, just the presence of the heel made it difficult for the foot to rotate down enough to lessen that strike. This also seems to apply when walking. When wearing a shoe (almost all of which have built-up heels) it is quite difficult to avoid heel-striking, and that heel-striking is often at a more oblique angle. When barefoot, it’s just plain easier to land with more of a midfoot-strike.

I suspect that heel-striking when barefoot is fairly natural. After all, evolution provided us with the very large calcaneal bone (the heel bone) that is well-reinforced for being landed upon. There is also a lot of padding under the heel bone, and we know it’s not there for barefoot running (in which we shift our gait). If we didn’t heel-strike while walking there would be no need for that large bone there, so it’s pretty likely that doing so is physiologically “acceptable”. What is not acceptable (that is, kind on the body) are the increased forces that come from wearing a shoe heel. And don’t get me started on the knee forces for really high heels.

Finally, Society for Barefoot Members members report that all sorts of back and knee pains that they used to have disappeared when they started to go barefoot. Furthermore, when they are forced to wear shoes again, those aches and pains re-appear. There does seem to be a cause-and-effect between the reduced forces of going barefoot and the health of the support system for our bodies.

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There are two Tesco news stories making the rounds. In the first, a Tesco in Cardiff, Wales put up a sign requiring that their customers not wear pyjamas and that they must wear shoes. The sign read:

To avoid causing embarrassment to others we ask that our customers are appropriately dressed when visiting our store (footwear must be worn at all times and no nightwear is permitted)

How the heck does that cause embarrassment to others? It’s not like pyjamas don’t cover what needs to be covered—it’s just looser than other clothing (and, on some people, probably looks a lot better than tight-fitting clothing). And how are people embarrassed by seeing bare feet?

In the second story, a barefooted man, Dave Richards, was tossed from a Derbyshire Tesco. He’d been going barefoot there for eight years, but they suddenly implemented the policy. It’s not clear just what Tesco‘s official response is. On the one hand, the story says that Tesco has no national policy on footwear, but then they also say that other customers expect to see other customers wearing footwear. There is other coverage of the story here, and, for a local Derbyshire newspaper, here.

Mr. Davis, quite intelligently, now shops at a Co-op store in Castle Donington.

Another thing that is interesting about this story is that it is a story at all. In the U.S., such behavior by a store is so common that it is simply not newsworthy. Britain, however, never seemed to have had the coterie of busybodies that the U.S. does, and folks there are much better (with their “British reserve”, I guess) at not intruding into other peoples’ lives. Unfortunately, it now appears that they are starting to get infected by this American disease.

It’s also a real laugh to read some of the comments attached to the stories:

I think if he signs a waiver not to sue them if some idiot runs over his tootsies with a trolly or a tin of beans falls off a shelf splatting his foot to the floor then he should be OK.

Do these people even understand simple logic? A pair of flip-flops would presumably be OK, yet they don’t protect the foot from either being run over with a “trolly” or having cans fall over them. Where is the call to ban flip-flops, or sandals of any kind?

I’m afraid, as usual, that this is just folks thinking that their way of doing things is God-ordained, and that anything different runs against the natural order of things.

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The Nature Video channel on YouTube has put up a very nice video regarding Dr. Lieberman’s study. It shows some nice pressure pad results synchronized with the foot landings on a treadmill.

In addition, we find out that, as a part of his research, Dr. Lieberman has started running barefoot himself, and really enjoys it.

Here’s the video:

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