Keith Olbermann was on David Letterman’s show on Wednesday night. Olbermann was wearing a light cast on his foot due to a stress fracture. The episode is here (added note: Olbermann comes on at about the 17:00 mark), or you can read the transcript:
L: Our first guest is the Chief News Officer of Current TV, and also has an exceptionally large head. Beginning June 20th, he will be the anchor of his very own television program entitled, “Countdown, with Keith Olbermann”. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back Keith Olbermann.
O: I can walk.
L: Good to have you on the program. Good to see you again. I had no idea that you were injured. Tell us about that and what’s going on.
O: Well, it’s not as easy to get out of NBC as it was when you did it.
L: They had a guy work you over?
O: You might very well think so. I cannot possibly comment. Actually, an accident in a shop class, oddly enough.
L: Well, that will happen.
O: I’m out of material . . . Uh, stress fracture; running.
L: Uh, you know, how much do you run?
O: Not much at the moment.
L: No, not now. But, are you like a 5, 10 miles when you go out, that kind of guy?
O: No, 5, 10 minutes.
L: 5, 10 minutes.
O: On a good day.
L: And how did you fracture your foot running? I mean, I guess it’s obvious, but why?
O: Badly. I fractured it very badly. And, it’s a, it’s a, uh, . . . You’ve seen the 5 toed running shoes?
L: I have seen them; they’re like the glove?
O: My foot doctor is the foot doctor for the Rockettes, which in an enviable job that I’m sure many of us men . . .
O: . . . would like to have. What he said was, these are the most wonderful shoes in the world to walk in . . .
L: Uh, huh.
O: . . . and they really, . . ., I noticed this a year ago when I first put ‘em on, they’re great for your knees, they’re great for your hips, and you actually feel younger, like you can walk again.
O: You’re not old guys. Unfortunately, if you try to run in them and you weigh more than 175 pounds, you will break something. This does not say this on the side of the box. And as he said, “I hate to tell you this in your late stage of life here, but, you’re not less than 175 pounds.”
L: That’s too bad.
O: So walk to your heart’s content but don’t run in them.
175 pounds? That’s an odd thing for the doctor to say. Why don’t we try to analyze what is really going on?
The first thing to keep in mind is that, as bone is stressed (below the breaking point), it strengthens. A couple of really cool scientific papers are by Eric Trinkaus, Anatomical evidence for the antiquity of human footwear use and Anatomical evidence for the antiquity of human footwear: Tianyuan and Sunghir. You can actually tell if people went barefoot much of their lives by looking at the robustness of their toe bones.
If you grow up barefoot, you can run just fine without worrying about stress fractures in your feet. But if you wear shoes all the time, those bones will not be as robust, and various odd motions are much more likely to fracture them.
There is another thing I’ve mentioned when it comes to the Vibram Five-Fingers: they provide just enough cushion without the feedback from your soles that you can not only overdo things without realizing it, but you can also use poor form that can lead to such fractures.
I earlier criticized an article that talked about “pounding the pavement“. That’s a lot easier to do wearing Vibrams with their little bit of padding on the sole. If you slap your bare sole repeatedly on the pavement (instead of gently placing it down) you will feel it pretty quickly and stop doing it. But in Vibrams? You can keep doing it and keep sending that slapping shock wave through your metatarsals. Next thing you know? Stress fracture.
So, if you insist on wearing Vibrams instead of doing the smart thing and just running barefoot, you have to be extra sure of your technique, and you have to stop way before you think you should. Because you have turned off listening to your soles.
Oh, and back to the 175 pound thing: there is no good reason that should be some sort of threshold. For a more petite person, with more petite bones, bad technique will set in earlier. For a more robust person with more robust bones, they might be able to get away with more. But if they do it with Vibrams, that’s all they are doing: getting away with it.