INSOLE/FOOTBED/ORTHOTIC EFFECTS


The big epiphany I had about 1975, was that the foot needed to be supported in the new plastic ski boots and that it was a lack of support that was causing my difficulties skiing after switching from low cut leather boots to the new higher, rigid plastic boots.

Back then, I was an avid runner. As best I can  recall, it was an article in Runner’s World on running injuries caused by over-pronation that served as a catalyst for my conclusion that the foot needed to be supported in a ski boot. I assumed that what was being reported in running magazines was both factual and derived from science-based investigations. While I had not found anything in the literature that suggested that the foot needed to be supported in a ski boot, it seemed logical to me that if runners needed support in their shoes, the need for support in a ski boot was many times greater. But my conclusion was based on the assumption that over-pronation was a pathology and that it was a proven cause of injuries in running. Therefor, it was also a problem in skiing.

Pronation and over-pronation was a new concept to me in 1975. My running partners and I all ran in flats with no arch support. None of us had ever heard of, let alone experienced, knee pain or the myriad of other problems that were fast becoming an integral part of running and were claimed to be caused by overpronation.

Soon after I read the article on overpronation, I made an appointment with a podiatrist in Vancouver to have my feet examined. I was hopeful that he would find the defect(s) in my foot that were causing me difficulties in skiing in the new plastic boots. But after a thorough examination, he pronounced my feet healthy and normal. Undeterred, I made an appointment for my wife and I with a well known sports podiatrist in Seattle, Washington, almost 800 miles round trip to and from Whistler. We made a special trip to Seattle to have prescription orthotics made for our ski boots. But far from helping, they made both of our skiing worse, much worse. Still, I remained convinced that the foot needed support in a ski boot.

Between 1977 and about 1983, I made a lot of footbeds for ski boots. From the first pair of footbeds I made, I received positive feedback. Skiers loved them. Some skiers told me they would never ski again without the footbeds I made for them. Even today, I encounter skiers who are still using the same footbeds I made for them 40 years ago. Did this subjective feedback serve as evidence that my footbeds made skiers ski better? No.

By about 1989, I was still unable to understand why I was continuing to experience difficulty skiing even after trying numerous pair of plastic ski boots. At that time, I was struggling to invent and patent a ski boot based on sound principles of functional anatomy

I finally came to the realization that the only way to arrive at meaningful conclusions about how the human system should ideally function in skiing was to design and fabricate an open-architecture research vehicle, one that minimized any neural noise that was unavoidably caused by interference with the physiologic function of the user by structures of the conventional ski boot. It had become apparent to me that it is the level of ‘neural noise’ and interference to physiologic function caused by a tightly fitting ski boot that prevents anyone from proving how a ski boot affects a skier.

The Birdcage allowed the capture of data during actual ski maneuvers that showed how some of the world’s best skiers skied and especially what happened when specific joint actions were interfered with.

It was was also about 1989 that I was starting to question how an insole or orthotic fit to one ski boot could produce the same result in a different ski boot or with skis with different sidecuts, especially width underfoot and different lift heights of the sole of the foot above the surface of the snow. I was also starting to question how the same stock or custom insole or orthotic could produce the same effect when used in different shoes. A custom insole for a female might be used in casual shoes, flats, running shoes, walking shoes, hiking boots and even spiked, high heel shoes. And what happens to the effects produced by an insole or orthotic when the sole of the shoe it is used in wears unevenly?

It was obvious to me, and should be obvious to anyone, that it is impossible for an insole or orthotic to consistently produce the same effect in widely varying footwear that each affect the foot in a different way. 

Despite the many questions I was having about insoles and orthotics, I continued to believe that they had value in some applications. In the years following the Birdcage tests of 1991, my wife had two different pairs of prescription orthotics made, both by reputable labs, for issues with hip and back pain. Neither pair provided any perceivable benefit. Both pairs were eventually discarded.

The best skiing experience today for my wife and I is with perfectly flat insoles and boot boards that provide no perceivable interference with the dynamics of the arches of our feet. Even the slightest impingement is immediately perceived. All of the shoes I wear have either flat insoles or no insoles. If I purchase a shoe with an insole with arch support, I modify it to remove the support.