The following article discusses ways modern footwear has warped the anatomical structure of our gait (the pattern of movement in our feet). Much of the information I come across to write about is quite old, this article, in particular, is from 2008 in New York magazine. It covers a wide variety of documented research studies, and the authors own personal experience with a “walking coach” and shoes designed to mirror the barefoot walking pattern.

Natural gait is biomechanically impossible for any shoe-wearing person” wrote Dr. William A. Rossi in a 1999 article in Podiatry Management.  For decades, the guiding principle of shoe design has been to compensate for the perceived deficiencies of the human foot; extra padding on the heel, arch supports, etc.. While rheumatologist’s have advised patients with osteoarthritis of the knees to wear padded walking shoes to reduce the stress on their joints, a study at Rush Medical College in Chicago found that the impact on the knees was 12 percent less when people walked barefoot than it was when people wore padded shoes!

Another study found that we actually compensate for more padding by unconsciously landing harder on our heels when there is more padding present. They found this not only in walking and running shoes but in gymnasts who will land harder on mats that are more padded than others. We now know there are over 200,000 nerve endings in the bottom of our feet; a sensory perception that is overlooked and numbed by wearing padded shoes.

Quite a few shoe companies have been developing and releasing shoes to compensate for the hindrance the modern day shoe has put on the function of our feet. You may have seen the shoes that look identical to the human feet? Individual toes and all? Reebok and Adidas have even been releasing their version of the shoe. While an heir to the Clark shoe company has been providing more functional and fashionable shoes called Vivo Barefoot, and a quite popular golf shoe company, True Linkswear, is even being worn by PGA Tour players. Being an avid golfer, and after reading this article, I think I may find myself walking in a pair of True’s sometime soon.

Interested in learning more? The original article can be read in its entirety here.