December 15, 1997 Footwear News v53 n50 p20(1)

Walking on touch-deadened feet

by William A. Rossi

COPYRIGHT 1997 Fairchild Publications Inc.

We say of some people that they are in a state of "self-denial." That is, denying or blocking out faults of character, prejudices, fears, etc.

Well, all of us who wear shoes live in a constant state of "pedic self-denial." Our feet are out of touch with the real physical world around us. And whereas our feet are our only contact with this physical world, we live almost constantly in a state of sensory self-denial. And this costs us in penalties.

Is this beginning to read like far out, esoteric stuff? If so, it's because most shoe people have so little real understanding of the foot upon which they are totally dependent for their livelihoods.

So get ready for a fresh perspective on the shoes you design or produce or sell. And perhaps also a new respect for the foot so long neglected by most shoe people.

The sole of the foot is richly covered with some 1,300 nerve endings per square inch. That's more than found on any other part of the body of comparable size.

Why so many nerve endings concentrated there? To keep us "in touch" with the earth, the real physical world around us. In fact, it's our only contact with that physical world, vital to our sense of physical stability—our ability to stand and walk, our equilibrium.

It's called "sensory response"—our physical response to our physical world. All dependent on our feet.

Says research orthopedist Philip Lewin, "The foot is the vital link between the person and the earth, the vital reality of his day-to-day existence."

The paws of all animals are equally rich in nerve endings. Remove the nerve endings and the animal "loses touch" with its surroundings and cannot survive.

Deaf and blind persons acquire above-average sensory response in their feet. A deaf person dances by feeling the sound vibrations through the soles of the feet and sensory response.

When you stand in a rapidly descending elevator, you suddenly get a giddy sensation as your feet are "lifted" off the floor. This disoriented feeling is because your soles have momentarily "lost touch" with the floor.

Those nerve endings serve another important function. They jump-start the muscles and tendons responsible for all foot movements, such as those for walking. If the battery of your car is dead, when you turn on the ignition, the engine growls and groans. Same with feet in sensory denial.

One last important factor involved here. The earth is covered with an electromagnetic layer. It's this that creates the sensory response in our feet (or the paws of animals).

Anatomists Todd R. Olson and Michael E. Seidel of the City College of New York write, "Because the sole is so abundantly supplied with tactile sensory nerve endings, we are able to use our feet to provide the body and brain with considerable information about our immediate environment."

Now, let's get to our shoes and their role in this vital sensory response.

The bottoms of our footwear are so thick or heavy that the sole of the foot is virtually "deadened." A cross-section of a shoe across the ball reveals several layers: Outsole, midsole, insole, filler material, footbed, cushioning, sock lining. An almost total blockout of sensory response. The foot stands, walks virtually without feeling.

Hard to believe? Try walking barefoot on the grass for a couple of minutes. Then do the same with shoes on. The difference in sensory response is dramatic. This difference in touch reaction gives you an instant understanding and appreciation of sensory response.

Observe how shoeless people walk: Straight body column, full natural stride, magnificent natural posture. Most of them think nothing of walking 30 or 40 miles regularly each day, often with heavy loads on their heads or shoulders. Great stamina. No foot strain. Sensory response feeds the foot and leg musculature with jumpstart energy, plus further energy furnished by the earth's electromagnetic field.

Says Dr. E.T. Renbourne of Brookside Hospital, Surrey, England, who has done considerable research in this field, "Modern shoe soles give good wear. But they also impair the feeling of the ground which is so important to the foot's sensory response. The shoes shut off most, often all, of this natural sensory energy system, penalizing the body and gait systems themselves."

Imagine your life absent of the sense of touch. You'd be almost totally incapacitated. Yet, we've done almost the same via our shoes.

It gets worse. The design and construction of most of our footwear denies the foot at least half of its natural tread surface. This is confirmed by examining the sole of a well-worn shoe. Most of the wear is concentrated on a small portion of the ball and the outer-rear edge of the heel's toplift. The remaining surface is either unworn or only slightly worn.

Denial of foot tread surface, along with the multiple layers of shoe bottoming, results in an almost total wipeout of the foot's natural sensory response mechanism.

This largely nullifies the many advertised claims of our shoes about "full" comfort or "excellence of performance" or "closest thing to barefoot walking," among other extreme liberties taken with reality.

The simple, soft-sole moccasin, which dates back at least 14,000 years, is perhaps the only footwear able to support such claims. Yet, unfortunately, it is not a "practical" shoe in modern societies.

As mentioned, the electromagnetic field covering our planet feeds energy into our bodies. Through the aforementioned sensory-response mechanism, every living thing, including human beings, draws energy from this field through its feet, paws or roots.

Yet the footwear industry continues to make shoes and boots with thicker and denser bottoms via an overload of lug and traction outsoles, plus midsoles, footbeds, etc. This is to convey the "rigged" or "high-performance" look and macho lifestyle.

But it works to the contrary by denying the foot and legs the sensory response energy feedback needed for maximum performance.

Have you ever wondered why the runners from Africa and Asia are dominating the marathons in America and Europe? Most of these runners rarely wear shoes in their native lands, only for foreign marathons. Their unencumbered feet are energy-rich from high-intensity sensory response, enabling them to perform with more stamina.

No, all this isn't science-fiction stuff. It's the stuff of modern biomechanics, which should play a centerpiece role in all footwear. But the industry remains isolated from the foot it presumes to serve. It remains in a state of self-denial about the realities of the foot/shoe relationship.