Walking Indian in barefoot luxury

New findings


Footscan of a barefoot Indian.

One of the world’s widest analyses on barefoot walking provides this guidance to shoe manufacturers: Don’t make shoes that constrict the feet. Instead, make shoes which are flexible and mimic barefoot walking.

Carried out by European scientists with assistance from doctors at the Jain Institute of Vascular Sciences (JIVS) in Bangalore, the new research is based on data collected from 207 Indians––70 barefoot walkers from villages and 137 shoed people––from in and around Bangalore.

Indian feet were subsequently compared with 48 westerners who use shoes more often than ordinary Indians. “What the findings suggest is that the feet of native barefoot walkers are better than those of habitually shoed walkers,” team leader Kristiaan D’Aout from the University of Antwerp said.

Many shoes––even slippers––are too narrow in the toe region. But shoes should be flexible to keep foot muscles in good shape, he said.

Wearing constricting shoes for a prolonger period can adversely affect feet function. “Use of inappropriate footwear, such as narrow-pointed and high-heeled shoes, should be limited as far as possible. In these areas, Indians do much better than Europeans,” Kristiaan said.

“We have shown that current footwear alters the foot. It is a message for footwear designers. They should make shoes that do not constrict the feet and flexible so that the foot can work as in barefoot walking with protection from the substrate,” he said.

Kristiaan came to Bangalore in 2006 and stayed there for five weeks in two intervals travelling to the rural areas in Jain Institute’s mobile clinic.

In the clinic, the Belgian researcher set up an automated foot mapping machine to register a foot’s axis, pressure points and other biomechanical properties. The research, which targeted at tracing the evolution of human feet, shows barefoot walking is the natural choice. Barefoot walkers have wider feet and more equally distributed peak pressures.

The shoed have more pronounced “hot spots” under the heel and the ball of the foot, where the pressures are especially high compared with the rest of the feet.
Researchers said distributing the pressure helps prevent injury to the foot. In barefoot walking, pressure is distributed more equally. The heel, ball of the foot and sometimes the great toe experience more pressure than the mid-foot.  But the difference is less in barefoot walkers than in shoed walkers.

Use of footwear is necessary. But footwear that fails to respect the natural foot shape and function will ultimately alter the morphology and the biomechanical behaviour of the foot, Kristiaan said.

DH News Service

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