If you wear constricting and/or supportive footwear for any length of time, the odds are good that your feet will eventually suffer some form of damage. Based on my personal experience, the earlier you start wearing footwear as an infant and the more supportive and stiff the soles, the greater the odds that undoing any damage in the future will take an intensive, protracted effort.
A good starting point in the ski boot set up process is a check of the most important and sophisticated component of equipment in the boot/binding/ski system, the human system, starting with the feet.
One of the first steps I took after I experienced difficulty skiing in the new, higher, rigid plastic ski boots after moving from low cut leather ski boots, was to make an appointment with a podiatrist to have my feet examined for problems. After an examination, I was advised that my feet did not have significant issues. In short, I had normal feet (normal, not natural).
Having eliminated foot problems as a factor (or so I thought), I suspected that my feet needed supplementary support in order to withstand the forces of skiing. So I made an appointment with a well-known sports podiatrist in Washington state and explained my situation. He prescribed semi-rigid orthotics for my feet for use in my running footwear and ski boots. The results fell far short of my expectations. I felt higher impact forces in running. In my ski boots, I could not hold an edge on anything other than soft pistes. I expected that it was a simple matter of adjusting to the orthotics. But after a period of time with no improvement, I stopped using them in any of my footwear, eventually discarding them.
Signs of Foot Damage
As I stated in my last post, my first footwear as an infant were narrow and stiff soled; marketed and promoted as ‘orthopedically correct’. That was the only type of footwear I wore in the early years of my life.
The photo below compares my left and right feet. The foot that I have more difficulty balancing on should be obvious. My right foot is less stable than my left foot because the claw toe deformation prevents the metatarsals of my foot from splaying especially in monopedal stance.
Eleven years ago I started going barefoot the majority of the time. Back then, the claw toe deformity was far worse, moreso in my right, than my left foot than shown in the above photos. These photos were taken a few days ago after months of exercises such as the short foot that are designed to strengthen and rehabilitate damaged feet by working with the whole body. I discovered that if the damage is severe enough, going barefoot may not be sufficient correct it.
The photo below compares my left foot is it looks today to the same foot with a corrective toe spreading device on the same called Correct Toes.
Correct Toes were designed by sports podiatrist and elite distance runner, Dr. Ray McClanahan because he was unsatisfied with the inconsistent and temporary results offered through conventional symptom management techniques: orthotics, medication and/or surgery (www.CorrectToes.com). According to the brochure, Correct Toes provide the best results when worn in shoes and walked on so long as the shoes are wide enough to allow the toes to splay so the foot can properly assume the weight of the body in single leg stance.
One shoe that is wide enough to wear the Correct Toes in is the VivoBarefoot Gobi II WH shown in the photo below.
The photo below compares the sole of the VivoBarefoot to a conventional slip on shoe. The blue bar shows the width of the conventional slip on compared to the width of the VivoBarefoot as indicated by the red bar.
From a perspective of logic alone, it should be obvious that when one foot carries the entire weight of the body, the base of the foot should splay (expand transversely and longitudinally) so as to provide greater weight distribution and stability by increasing the base of support. The associated biomechanics of the support limb are infinitely more complex than splaying suggests. Preventing the base of the support foot from fully splaying at least partially explain why the majority of skiers, even at the World Cup level, are unable to ‘stand and balance’ on their outside ski in a turn as has been advocated for decades by the world’s best skiers.
Footwear that prevents the metatarsals and toes from fully splaying can cause the muscles that support the arches to weaken. When this happens, it is common for the muscles that flex toes to intervene in an effort provide support for the arch.
When the great (big) toe or Hallux is forced towards the outside the foot, as is common in footwear, especially ski boots, it can weaken the arch. When this happens, the head of the first metatarsal will usually shift inward (medially) creating a condition called Hallux Valgus. In response, the 2nd and 3rd toes, will intervene in an attempt to shore up the arch.
The left photo below shows a manipulated alignment of my great toe with the second digit severely plantarflexed in an attempt to shore up my arch. This is what both my feet used to look like until recently. Over time, the first knuckles of the second and third toes became deformed and frequently developed sores from pressing upward against the inner surface of my footwear.
Prolonged plantarflexion of my first four toes eventually led to my small toe moving underneath my 4th toe. The right photo above shows what my foot looks like after months of exercises, the use of minimal shoes and Correct Toes.
If damage to the feet has occured before ski boots are worn, adverse effects are more likely because a compromised medial (inner) arch can result in excessive mobility in terms of the 3-dimensional movement of the elements of the foot. When a skier with this issue attempts is to stand and balance on the outside foot of a turn, the inside ankle and navicular bones can move inward and hang up on the inner wall of the ski boot shell.
As shown in a recent study, going barefoot will strengthen the muscles that support the arches of the feet . But going barefoot alone is unlikely to correct deformities such as claw toes. The feet are integral part of the whole body. Problems that show up in the feet can be caused by problems higher up the chain.
I prefer a holistic, systems approach using a number of complementary modalities to addressing issues in the feet or any part of the body.
In my next post, I will discuss the effects of densities and surface textures of different flat insoles. I will also start posting links to the rapidly growing camp of barefoot-minimal expertise. Here are but a few.
FEET FREEX – Jessi Stansland – http://www.feetfreex.com
EBA Fitness – Dr. Emily Splichal – www.youtube.com/user/EBFAFitness
Northwest Foot & Ankle – Dr Ray McClanahan – www.nwfootankle.com
Katy Bowman – Nutritious Movement – http://www.nutritiousmovement.com