The effects of habitual footwear use: foot shape and function in native barefoot walkers
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Footwear science. - Abingdon
, p. 81-94
University of Antwerp
The human foot was anatomically modern long before footwear was invented, and is adapted to barefoot walking on natural substrates. Understanding the biomechanics of habitually barefoot walkers can provide novel insights both for anthropologist and for applied scientists, yet the necessary data is virtually non-existent. To start assessing morphological and functional effects of the habitual use of footwear, we have studied a population of habitually barefoot walkers from India (n¼70), and compared them with a habitually shod Indian control group (n¼137) and a Western population (n¼48). We focused on foot metrics and on the analysis of plantar pressure data, which was performed using a novel, pixel based method (Pataky and Goulermas 2008, Journal of Biomechanics, 41, 2136). Habitually shod Indians wore less often, and less constricting shoes than Western people. Yet, we found significant differences with their habitually barefoot peers, both in foot shape and in pressure distribution. Barefoot walkers had wider feet and more equally distributed peak pressures, i.e. the entire load carrying surface was contributing more uniformly than in habitually shod subjects, where regions of very high or very low peak pressures were more apparent. Western subjects differed strongly from both Indian populations (and most from barefoot Indians), by having relatively short and, especially, slender feet, with more focal and higher peak pressures at the heel, metatarsals and hallux. The evolutionary history of humans shows that barefoot walking is the biologically natural situation. The use of footwear remains necessary, especially on unnatural substrates, in athletics, and in some pathologies, but current data suggests that footwear that fails to respect natural foot shape and function will ultimately alter the morphology and the biomechanical behaviour of the foot.