FOOTWEAR DAMAGED FEET


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.

Feet First

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.

l-v-r

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-vs-bare

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.

img_6602

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.

vivo-vs-sandal

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.

abducted-hallux

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

9 comments

  1. Dave,

    I have been a barefoot runner for the past 7 years and have always dreaded putting on my ski boots. I just discovered your blog and have dug deep into the back catalog. You are right on point with your assessment of how the foot works and how ski boots completly impede this movement.
    I am in the market for new boots, but I want to make an attempt at getting boots that will finally give me space in the toe box to properly use my 1st and 5th metatarsal as a good balance base. I use correct toes and I wanted to know if you thought it would be possible to punch out AT boots to accomodate them? AT boots are notorious for running slim and my old Scarpa F3s are killing my feet, especially my arches.
    Living in the Boston area I want to find a shop that will go along this crazy experiment to make a modify a boot to allow ankle flexion and toe space without them resisting me at every turn and trying to immobilize my foot and just give me a custom footbed and foam molded liners and call it a day. If anything I don’t want either of those! I would use thermal inserts from vivobarefoot to not interfere with my arch. It is enough to get the boot and liner punched out or should someone make the drastic liner mods that you made to remove the toe and upper portion of the liner? Additionally could you make a more detailed guide of how you did those liner mods? Your description of your toung mods are great and I will look to enact those. This may ramble a bit, but I am just so excited that I finally found someone like yourself that advocates for using the foot as it is designed rather than introducing all these restrictions to it. Thanks for your amazing blog!

    1. Hi SkiingMarine, welcome to the Skier’s (as in you) Manifesto. In the context of my blog, the Manifesto is intended to serve as tghe underpinnings of a movement underfoot (where it belongs) for change. My US Patent No. 5,265,350 was intended to serve as a basis for the functional design of a minimal ski boot, one that leverages human performance and renders the lower limbs specific to skiing. The research project behind this patent was the Birdcage studies. I think you will find that there is at least one ski boot in the works that is using the Birdcage principles.

  2. Dear Dave,

    Ok. Let me see if I go this as the important part of what you are saying. “In the transition phase, the skier has to tension the arch of the new outside foot by loading the foot through extension while moving COM forward. This begins to compress the arch which creates tension. When arch tension peaks due to Achilles load transfer, Soleus tension will peak and the muscle will go into isometric contraction.”

    In essences all a skier has to do in transition is to allow the body to do what it does naturally in normal gait with the caveat the foot is inside a boot strapped to a board undulating on uneven surface. The trick is under these adverse conditions to get the brain to mimic sgrideing – the un-waiting and waiting each leg which if done effectively activates a ski turn.

    So as the new stance leg become wait baring (open to closed chain) the foot will pronate as the COM moves naturally (forward) mechanically this means the shank bends forward at the ankle (closing the angel or presents as dorsiflexion) the Soleus tensions to maintain postural stability “and the muscle will go into isometric contraction.” This produces a stable arch or a solid BOS the “associated tripod-like-planar movement of the elements of the ankle complex” which acts through the boot to produce the greatest GRF in the center to the ski tapering for and aft. AKA a carved turn

    If the skier fires the flexor hallucis longus as I suggested the skier enters supination, the propulsive phase, lifting the heal off the ground sending the GRF to the shovel of the ski. While experienced skiers can handle this disruption it is far from an optimal carved turn. Other disruptions would be if orthotics complicate pronation or the boot cuff prematurely arrests the forward movement of the COM.

    Not sure if I got this quite the way you want it. What I did notice that by teaching the forward movement of the COM and having the student feel the engagement of the arch thus properly waiting the foot to be a solid base of support did initiate a turn with remarkable ease. Oh! “back seat” problems seem to take care of themselves. True also there is that thing of un-waiting the new inside foot to get the 7 degree natural edging potential associated new legged stance you have mentioned mono pedal support? thomas

    1. Dear Thomas, I apologise for the delay in replying to your comment. I’ll break it into points.

      “Ok. Let me see if I go this as the important part of what you are saying. “In the transition phase, the skier has to tension the arch of the new outside foot by loading the foot through extension while moving COM forward. This begins to compress the arch which creates tension. When arch tension peaks due to Achilles load transfer, Soleus tension will peak and the muscle will go into isometric contraction.”
      > The loading starts in the transition with extension in combination with a forward movement of CoM. This is essentially what happens in walking when a person starts ti move over the new stance foot-leg.

      In essences all a skier has to do in transition is to allow the body to do what it does naturally in normal gait with the caveat the foot is inside a boot strapped to a board undulating on uneven surface. The trick is under these adverse conditions to get the brain to mimic sgrideing – the un-waiting and waiting each leg which if done effectively activates a ski turn.

      “So as the new stance leg become wait baring (open to closed chain) the foot will pronate as the COM moves naturally (forward) mechanically this means the shank bends forward at the ankle (closing the angel or presents as dorsiflexion) the Soleus tensions to maintain postural stability “and the muscle will go into isometric contraction.” This produces a stable arch or a solid BOS the “associated tripod-like-planar movement of the elements of the ankle complex” which acts through the boot to produce the greatest GRF in the center to the ski tapering for and aft. AKA a carved turn”
      > A dynamicsally tensioned arch creates a forward and laterally acting shear force that serves as reaction for the Achilles (Soleus-Gastroc) – Hamstrings chain which sequentially go into isometric contraction in a bottom-up process. The highest GRF (Center of Pressure or CoP) is under the ball of the foot where it radiates to the extremes of the ski running surface. But since CoP lies under the ball of the foot, GRF is locally biased towards the inside edge. The sidecut causes the shovel to start to hook into the turn. As the skier progressively inclines a point will be reached where the ski edge angle is sufficient to close the kinetic chain. Once this happens, internal rotation of the leg from the pelvis is translated through the subtalar joint in the ankle complex into rotation of the long axis of the foot and ski into the turn. Edge hold results from the balancing of torques not through a simple alignment of opposing forces in accordance with Newton’s Third Law.

      “If the skier fires the flexor hallucis longus as I suggested the skier enters supination, the propulsive phase, lifting the heal off the ground sending the GRF to the shovel of the ski. While experienced skiers can handle this disruption it is far from an optimal carved turn. Other disruptions would be if orthotics complicate pronation or the boot cuff prematurely arrests the forward movement of the COM.”
      > Consciously mediated muscle actions such as contracting the flexor hallucis longis is antagonistic and incompatioble with isometric contraction. The FHL is an inverter-extensor that is tensioned in pronation to achieve isometric contraction. Orthotics, custom insoles or anything that interferes with compression of the arch significantly reduces Achilles load transfer induced tension and, more important, the shear (reaction) forces needed for isometric contraction.

      “Not sure if I got this quite the way you want it. What I did notice that by teaching the forward movement of the COM and having the student feel the engagement of the arch thus properly waiting the foot to be a solid base of support did initiate a turn with remarkable ease. Oh! “back seat” problems seem to take care of themselves.” > Yes, you have this right.

      “True also there is that thing of un-waiting the new inside foot to get the 7 degree natural edging potential associated new legged stance you have mentioned mono pedal support?”
      > In a sense yes. But it is a little more complicated then that. In accordance with Newton’s First Law, when a skier generates a force that redirects their line away from the gravity or fall line, their CoM will have momentum that will decay as gravity asserts its influence. Before the momentum decays, the skier needs to rotate their outside ski across their momentum line just before they cross they cross the gravity line in the top of a turn. This will cause momentum to load the foot and ski. Elite skiers instinctly do this, but only of their boots support the associated biomechanics that include the abilily to orient the ball of the foot under the result force emanating from CoM. I will describe this process with sketches and animations in a future post.

  3. I was able this last week to put some of the short foot ideas into practice on snow. Based on dry-land training I have been doing; there is now question that the medial arch of my foot was weak. Weak because the muscles are not firing in proper sequence. Have been developing a flexed arch (short foot) while standing and rocking back and forth the way a racer would bare wait on both the medial and lateral side of the foot in the apex of a turn. This I’m guessing requires the tensioning of those muscles that support inversion, (Tibialis anterior, Tibialis posterior) and eversion (Peroneus longus, Peroneus brevis).
    In dry-land training while running slalom style down rocky slopes I have made conscious effort to fire the flexor hallucis longus muscle or the flexor digitorum longus to grip the mountain as I stride. My guess in doing so I’m also firing the corresponding muscles to create the strong arch i.e. the adductor hallucis et all i.e. a “ridged, locked or strong foot”
    On snow firing the flexor hallucis longus to establish the stance leg was a bit over powering that is moving the COP Center of Pressure too far forward to the head of the first metatarsal. Being more subtle in the firing and consciously moving COP near the center of the flexed arch did the trick. Establishing chaining movements of my new inside ski and pelvis et all was needed.

    While I have gotten lots of this elsewhere in bits and pieces it is a pleasure to learn more here, thomas

    1. Although I have been aware of significant differences in feet for a few decades, it was only recently that I discovered the large and emerging camp of expertise of those such as Dr. Emily Splichal, Katy Bowman, Jessi Stansland and many others who are drawing attention to what is arguably the most neglected part of the human anatomy, the feet. This critical aspect is finally starting to become included in training regimes.

      “In dry-land training while running slalom style down rocky slopes I have made conscious effort to fire the flexor hallucis longus muscle or the flexor digitorum longus to grip the mountain as I stride. My guess in doing so I’m also firing the corresponding muscles to create the strong arch i.e. the adductor hallucis et all i.e. a “ridged, locked or strong foot”

      Yes, work the muscles in dryland training using exercises like the short foot (Foot Core) to strengthen the feet. But in actual skiing, the muscles of stance need to be in isomentric contraction. A skier should not attempt to consciously recruit these muscles in concentric contraction as is suggested by ‘authorities’ on ski technique who advocate using the legs like 2 x 4s to hold the skis on edge (knee angulation). This is patently absurd if for no other reason than it is antagonistic to postural (balance) responses which are spinal reflexes in the SR stance. Thus, one does not actively pronate the foot. Instead they move COM forward to cause the weight of the body to cause the foot to pronate.

      “This I’m guessing requires the tensioning of those muscles that support inversion, (Tibialis anterior, Tibialis posterior) and eversion (Peroneus longus, Peroneus brevis).”

      Correct.
      The SR stance tensions the inverters in isometric contraction to resist pronation (eversion-internal vertical axial rotation). An excellent software program for the money that produces animations of joint actions such as inversion of the foot that can be viewed from any angle is Muscle Premium by Visible Body. The inverters of the foot are the Flexor Digitorum Longus and Brevis and the Tibialis Posterior. The primary everters are the Extensor Digitorum Longus and the Peroneus Brevis and Longis.

      The inverters and the Peroneus Brevis and Longis also act as extensors and become effectively shortened with ankle dorsiflexion. For this reason, the ski stance should be configured in late stance, not mid stance as many ‘authorities’ on ski technique have incorrectly stated and continue to state.

      1. Dear Dave,

        I attempting to hear each other and clear up mechanical misunderstanding let’s start with your comment here;

        “Yes, work the muscles in dry land training using exercises like the short foot (Foot Core) to strengthen the feet. But in actual skiing, the muscles of stance need to be in isometric contraction.” The difference between the dry-land slalom as I described it and skiing is the difference between closed chain and open chain. In running the foot comes on and off the ground (open and closed chain?) In skiing the foot is always in contact with the ground/boot etc (closed chain). What you are saying is there is a fundamental difference between the two (open-closed chain) in the way the foot locks and reacts. Therefore I was comparing apples and oranges what works in slalom running will not work in skiing or is very ineffective???????

        What the skier is aiming to do is to harden the arch through isometric contraction at the transition to the new stance leg/foot. As the new stance leg becomes wait baring the foot will begin to pronate but meets resistance from the boot and Isometric contractions of the arch. As the turn progresses the tibia should rotate medially over the talus as the body “inclinates” (pelvis COM) shift laterally to the inside of the turn. A trained brain can then allocate the Center of Pressure by altering the COM for/aft between the metatarsal head (ball) and the calcaneus (heal).

        You mentioned “. A skier should not attempt to consciously recruit these muscles[flexor hallucis longus et all] in concentric contraction” as in dry-land running because this disrupts the optimal bone, COP and muscle activation needed for an efficient body – boot/snowboard/ski interface. While it is a bit counter intuitive my on snow observation was ‘firing the flexor hallucis longus to establish the stance leg was a bit over powering.’ Weird but I could sort of feel my brain trying to tension the arch and search for a way to center the COP so it would gravitate to the point in my foot that it affected the long axis of the ski in such a way it held and edge and let the geometry of the ski make a relaxed but very precise carved turn.

        I use the go to phase of lightening or lifting the toes (some call it dorsiflexion, closing the ankle angle) to get students not to over power the shovel of there ski. So firing the firing the flexor hallucis longus et all just enough to stiffen the arch gives the brain a stable platform on which to support the body on the new stance leg and adjust the COM and COP to effectively begin a carved turn. As the trun progesses after the point of transition the brain should move the COM latteral and rotate the tibia to calabate the edging effectivness and compliment the ski/snowboard geometry.

        How was it for you, my feeding back to you the information you wanted me to know? How did I hear what you wanted me to know? Was that it? thomas

      2. I’ll address one point at a time.

        “In running the foot comes on and off the ground (open and closed chain?)”
        > The real issue is load-unload cycling. You are correct in that the kinetic chain is open in the unloaded (unweighted) state.

        “In skiing the foot is always in contact with the ground/boot etc (closed chain).
        > In skiing, the foot is not necessarily always in contact with the ground (snow). Nor is the foot always fully loaded on the boot board of a ski boot. When the skis are moving over terrain changes and asperities (unevenness) in the snow surface the momentum of the skier causes significant variances in loading.
        “A passage over a bump or a hollow may generate a sudden change in the ground reaction force that may lead to
        a rapid change in value of the drift angle β, for the reasons above mentioned. This can affect the
        smoothness of the skier trajectory as well as affecting stability.” – AN INNOVATIVE SKI-BOOT: DESIGN, NUMERICAL
        SIMULATIONS AND TESTING, Stefano Corazza 􀀍 and Claudio Cobelli

        “What you are saying is there is a fundamental difference between the two (open-closed chain) in the way the foot locks and reacts.”
        > We need to be careful how we define closed chain. In running, closed chain inferrs that the foot cannot rotate about the horizontal axis, only the long axis of the foot. In running a slalom gate, the lateral force applied to the outside foot will cause it to invert (rotate away from the turn).
        In skiing, the feet, in particular, the outside can rotate horizontally (steering or pivoting) until the ski has achieved sufficient edge angle to close the kinetic chain. Under forces that apply extension against GRF or resist flexion against GRF, the foot will invert. In skiing, this is the usual result of attempting to stand on the outside ski as described as drift in the aformentioned paper. Depending on if and when rotational force is applied to the outside foot (and ski) by the internal rotators in the pelvis, the resulting torque applied to closed kinetic chain will produce eversion while imparting a horizontal plane torque. That this continues to elude the so-called ‘experts’ in the field of ski technique should be a source of enormous embarrassment especially when racers like Siffrin literally shove it in their faces.

        “Therefore I was comparing apples and oranges what works in slalom running will not work in skiing or is very ineffective???????”
        > Correct.

        “What the skier is aiming to do is to harden the arch through isometric contraction at the transition to the new stance leg/foot.”
        > No. In the transition phase, the skier has to tension the arch of the new outside foot by loading the foot through extension while moving CoM forward. This begins to to compress the arch which creates tension. When arch tension peaks due to Achilles load transfer, Soleus tension will peak and the muscle will go into isometric contraction. The mechanism, including the unloaded leg swing phase, employs the same basic mechanism as locomotion; alternating single limb support. Again, this should be drop dead obvious, but apparently it continues to elude the ‘experts’.

        “As the new stance leg becomes wait bearing the foot will begin to pronate but meets resistance from the boot and Isometric contractions of the arch.”
        Pronation requires anterior (forward) movement of CoM ankle dorsiflexion and the associated tripod-like-planar movement of the elements of the ankle complex, all of which most ski boots and custom insoles and even orthotics intentionally obstruct.

        The amount of misinformation and outright erroneus information saturating the ski industry is staggering.

        More later.

  4. Minor lack of snow in NY so I take some walks through the woods and ravines. The soil here is heavy clay with a layer of wet leaves on top. Can ski down whether I want to or not even when trying to go up. Last couple of days I have remembered to lock in and ‘grab the barrel’ when I start the descent and it is amazing to me how much less I slip and slide than when I was just going down my past ‘normal’ way. Two things I’m quite convinced of; it will be easy once I get on skis to be in that stance since I’m getting so much practice and that it will really help my skiing because the functional tension it creates throughout the body. Thanks once again!!

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