Footbed posts

WHO NEEDS FOOTBEDS? NO ONE

There are some who can benefit from footbeds or orthotics and some who do actually need them. But these groups are the rare exception. And they are unlikely to be skiers.

Orthotics. The pros / cons of orthotics in today’s society!

In a recent YouTube video (1.), Podiatrist & Human Movement Specialist, Dr Emily Splichal, explores the concept of orthotics and their role in today’s society. Dr. Splichal doesn’t pull any punches when she says:

“…..I have been through the conventional podiatric school and been fed pretty much the bullshit from podiatry of how every single person needs to be in orthotics, that our foot is not able to support itself without orthotics……if we do not use orthotics our foot is going to completely collapse  and you are going to lose your arch…….”

“……Our foot is designed to support itself. If we actually needed orthotics, we would be born…..we would come out of the womb, with orthotics on our feet.”

Meantime, The Foot Collective  asks (2.) Are you promoting weak feet?

  • Anything you use for artificial support at the feet (footwear with arch support & orthotics) your brain takes into account and accommodates for it.
  • That means if you provide your foot support your brain shuts down the natural arch supporters to reduce un-necessary energy expenditure.
  • Stop using support to help with pronation and understand why your feet pronate in the first place – because they are weak.
  • Strong feet = strong foundation = strong body.

The Real Source of Support for the Arch

Ray McClanahan, D.P.M. offers a perspective on the issue of Arch Support in his post on the CorrectToes blog (3.)

Are Custom Footbeds and Orthotics better than stock insoles?

In his post of August 20, 2017, Custom Foot Orthotics; No Better Than Stock Insoles (4.), Rick Merriam, of Engaging Muscles, explores the issue of orthotics in depth.

Prior to being told that supportive insoles are the way to go, I think it’s safe to say that all of those people didn’t know what they didn’t know.

The erroneous assumption that every skier needs footbeds or orthotics was made at a time when little  was known about the function of the foot and lower limb, especially in late stance. I was one of those who didn’t know what I didn’t know when initially when down the ‘the foot needs to be supported in skiing’ road up until I realized what I didn’t know and took steps to acquire the requisite knowledge.

Footbeds; is anyone checking what they do?

In 2000, I formed a company called Synergy Sports Performance Consultants (5). Synergys’ product was high quality information. One of my partners, UK Podiatrist, Sophie Cox, was trained by Novel of Germany and was one of the few experts in the world at that time on the Pedar system. Synergy did not make and/or sell footbeds or orthotics. Instead, we checked the effect of footbeds on skier performance. We performed a quick footbed check for a minimal fee of $20 using the sophisticated Novel Pedar pressure analysis technology.

Synergy was one of the first companies in the world to use the Novel Pedar pressure analysis system synchronized to video to acquire data on skier performance and analyze the captured data.  The Synergy team with diverse expertise studied the effect of ski boots and custom insoles on skier performance and identified functional issues in the body that needed to be addressed. It was a common finding that custom footbeds were significantly compromising skier performance, especially the ability to create the necessary platform under the foot on which to stand and balance on the outside ski.

Synergy offered a comprehensive 5 Step Performance Program that started with a footbed check. A key component was item 2., the Biomechanical Check.

With increasing recognition of the negative effect of most footwear on the user and criticism of the unproven claims made for footbeds and orthotics coming hard and fast, credibility in skiing is rapidly going downhill. It is time for proponents of custom insoles for ski boots to support their claims with solid evidence, especially evidence supported with data acquired during actual ski maneuvers. The technology to do this has existed since at least the year 2000.


  1. https://youtu.be/CIRf9WHmMXI
  2. http://www.thefootcollective.com
  3. https://www.correcttoes.com/foot-help/articles-studies/arch-support/
  4. http://www.engagingmuscles.com/2017/08/20/custom-foot-orthotics/
  5. DIGITAL SALVATION FOR THE SOLE [BACK TO THE FUTURE] –  http://wp.me/p3vZhu-24g

ERROR IN LAST POST ON EVERSION

In my last post, I erroneously stated that the sole turns inward, towards the center of the body, in eversion. I meant to state that the sole turns outward, away from the center of the body, in eversion.

I have revised the paragraph in my post so it reads correctly.

In order for the torso and Center of Mass to stack vertically over the ball of the foot, the sole of the foot must turn outward, away from the center the the body. This is called eversion. It is enabled by the joint that lies below the ankle called the sub-talar joint. The sub-talar joint is tied to the tibia where it acts as a torque converter. When the foot everts or inverts, the sub-talar joint translates this on an approximately 1:1 ratio into internal or external vertical axial rotation of the leg.

I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

OUTSIDE SKI BALANCE BASICS: STEP-BY-STEP

In view of the positive response to my recent posts and comments I have received, I have decided to take a step-by-step approach to explaining the mechanics and biomechanics of balance on the outside ski.

I am going to start the process by comparing balance on one foot to balance on two feet. I refer to balance on one foot as monopedal stance (one foot) and balance on two feet as bipedal stance (two foot). The graphics are for illustrating general principles only.

The graphic below shows monopedal stance on the left and bipedal stance on the right. Orange hash marks delineate the alignment of major body segments. Black reference lines on the right leg of both figures show the angle of the leg in relation to the ground.

In order to transition from a balanced position in bipedal stance to a balanced position in monopedal stance, either the foot must move towards the L-R center of the torso or the torso must move towards the foot that will become the stance foot, or a combination of the 2 movements must occur. The central issue is the amount of inertia acting on the torso. In skiing, due to the degree of inertia, the new outside foot of a turn is normally guided into position under the torso as the skier or racer approaches the fall line in the top of a turn.

Moving the foot into position under the Centre of Mass so it stacks in line with the ball of the foot usually takes an inward movement (adduction) of the leg from the pelvis of 6 to 7 degrees. In the upper left figure in monopedal stance, the leg is adducted 6.5 degrees and has formed a varus or outward leaning angle with the ground.

If the leg only adducted, then the sole of the foot would end up at an angle of 6.5 degrees with the ground and the figure would end up on the outer edge of the foot; on the little toe side. In order for the torso and Center of Mass to stack vertically over the ball of the foot, the sole of the foot must turn outward, away from the center the the body. This is called eversion. It is enabled by the joint that lies below the ankle called the sub-talar joint. The sub-talar joint is tied to the tibia where it acts as a torque converter. When the foot everts or inverts, the sub-talar joint translates this on an approximately 1:1 ratio into internal or external vertical axial rotation of the leg.

When the foot everts, the subtalar joint rotates the vertical axis of the leg towards the center of the body an equivalent amount; in the subject case, 6.5 degrees.

The combination of eversion/internal vertical axial rotation of the leg is called pronation. If either of these actions is interfered with, or worse, prevented, it is impossible to create the alignment necessary to stack the torso and Center of Mass over the ball of the support foot.

The consistently stated objective of footbeds is either to limit or even prevent pronation. Put another way, the whole idea of footbeds is to make it difficult or even impossible to balance on the outside foot and ski.

If this issue is not crystal clear, please post comments as to what is needed.

BOOT-FITTING 101: THE ESSENTIALS – SHELL FIT

In this post, I am going to discuss the process I follow to assess what I call the essential foot to shell clearances. This is a 2-step process.

Step 1 – Establish the clearances between the structures of the foot and the inner wall of the boot shell required for the foot to function.

Step 2 – Establish the physical connections between discrete restraint force transfer areas of the foot and the inner walls of the boot shell required for the effective force transfer to the ski, for containment of the foot required to support the processes of balance and for the coupling of the foot to specific mechanical references in the boot shell related to the running surface of the ski.

As a prelude to discussing shell fit, it is necessary to point out that a major shift is occuring in the area of focus on the human foot.

Until recently, most discussions on the human foot have focussed almost exclusively on the rearfoot; the ankle complex, the tibial-talar and sub-talar joints, ankle dorsiflexion and plantarflexion, ankle mobility, inversion, eversion, etc. This limited focus has been at the expense of an appreciation and understanding of the role of the forefoot and the complex lever mechanism that enables the first MTP joint to apply large forces to the ground. A study (1) published in 2004 commented:

The plantar aponeurosis (plantar fascia) is known to be a major contributor to arch support, but its role in transferring Achilles tendon loads to the forefoot remains poorly understood.

 Fascia is a sheet or band of fibrous tissue such as lies deep to the skin or invests muscles or various body organs.

The most plausible reason why the role of the  plantar aponeurosis in transferring Achilles tendon loads to the forefoot is poorly understood is that it has not been given much attention until recently.  

The above cited study concluded:

Plantar aponeurosis forces gradually increased during stance and peaked in late stance.

The almost exclusive focus of attention on the rearfoot has led to assumptions about the function of the foot as a system which are only now being called into question and found to be erroneous or invalid. One result is the erroneous assumption that the arch of the human foot is weak and collapses under the weight of the body. This has spawned a lucrative market for custom made arch supports intended to provide what is perceived as needed support for the arch of the foot.

In boot-fitting, the process of fascial tensioning, in which the height of the arch decreases and the forefoot splays, has been misinterpreted as an indication of a collapsing (implied failure) of the arch due to its inability to support the weight of the superincumbent body during skiing maneuvers. This has led to an almost universal perception and acceptance in skiing of custom arch supports as essential foundations for the foot and the most important part of a ski boot.

The Fascial Tension/SR Stance Connection

Plantar aponeurosis forces peak in late stance in the process of fascial tensioning where they act to maximally stiffen the foot in preparation for the application of propulsive force to the ground. When fascial tensioning of the plantar aponeurosis peaks, forward rotation of the shank is arrested by isometric contraction of the Achilles tendon. This is the shank angle associated with the SR Stance.

Immobilize – Support – Stabilize

Discussions of foot function in the context of the foot to shell clearances necessary for foot function and especially fascial tensioning, tend to be obscured by a consistent, persistent narrative in the ski industry spanning decades that the foot should be supported, stabilized and immobilized in a ski boot. Foot splay, associated with fascial arch tensioning, is viewed as a bad thing. Efforts are made to prevent foot splay with arch supports and custom formed liners in order to the fit the foot in the smallest possible boot size in the name of optimizing support.

In the new paradigm that exists today, the foot is increasingly viewed in the context of a deeply-rooted structure. In the design and fabrication of footwear, attention is now being directed to the accommodation of the  fascial architecture  and the importance of fascial tensioning as it pertains to the science of the human lever mechanism of the foot.

Fascial Tensioning and the Human Foot Lever

Fascial tensioning is critical to the stiffening of the foot for effective force transmission and to foot to core sequencing.

The body perceives impact forces that tend to disturb equilibrium as vibrations. It damps vibration by creating fascial tension in the arches of the foot and the lower limb. Supporting the structures of the foot, especially the arch, diminishes both the degree and speed of fascial tensioning to the detriment of the processes of balance and the ability to protect the tissues of the lower limbs through the process of damping of impact forces.

Dr. Emily Splichal has an excellent webinar on The Science of the Human Lever – Internal Fascial Architecture of the Foot as it pertains to foot to core sequencing – https://youtu.be/_35cQCoXp9U

The DIN Standard is Not a Foot Standard

A major problem for the human foot in a ski boot is the DIN standard toe shape. DIN stands for ‘Deutsches Institut für Normung’ which means ‘German Institute of Standardization’.

The DIN toe shape creates a standard interface for bindings. In a strong, healthy foot, the big toe or hallux should be aligned straight ahead on the center axis of the boot/ski. But as an interface for the human foot, the DIN standard toe shape of a ski boot is the equivalent of a round hole for a wedge-shaped peg.

The graphic below shows a photograph of a foot overlaid over a photograph of the ski boot for the same foot. The outline of the wall of the boot is shown in red. Even though the length of the boot shell is greater than the length of the foot, the big toe will be bent inward by the wall of the shell using the one finger space behind the heel shell length check.

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-3-55-38-pm

The Importance of Foot Splay

The progressive fascial tensioning that occurs as CoM advances over the foot transforms foot into a rigid lever that enables the plantar foot to apply force the ground or to a structure underneath the plantar foot such as a ski or skate blade. Forefoot splay is important to the stiffening of the forefoot required for effective plantar to ground force transfer.

Ski boot performance is typically equated with shell last width. Performance boots are classified as narrow. Such boots typically have lasts ranging from 96 mm to 99 mm. Narrow boots are claimed to provide superior sensitivity and quick response, implying superior control of the ski.

The outside bone-to-bone width shown in the photo below is not quite 109 mm. The boot shell has been expanded. The 2 red arrows show the 5th and 1st toe joints (metatarsophalangeal joint or MTP joint). A prime hot spot in less than adequate shell width in the forefoot, is the 5th MTP joint. Even a minimal liner will narrow the boot shell width by 3 to 4 mm.

mt-width

Shell Check: Start Point 

I start with a skier standing in both boot shells with the insole in place from the liner then have them claw each foot forward in the shells using their toes until they can just feel the wall of the shell with the outside (medial) aspect of the big toe when they wiggle the toe up and down. If there is a finger space behind the heel, the shell is in the ball park.

A second check is made with the skier standing on one foot. Some allowance for the correct alignment of the big toe  can be made by grinding the inside of the shell where it is forcing the big toe inward. When fully weighted, a fascially tensioned forefoot will splay approximately 3 mm for a female and 5 mm for a male.  The ball shaped protrusion of the 5th MTP joint is typically almost directly below the toe buckle of a 4 – buckle boot.

Once a skier can stand on one foot in each shell with adequate space for normal foot splay, the rear foot can be checked for clearance. The usual sources of problems are the inside ankle bone (medial malleolus) and the navicular and/or the medial tarsal bone. A good way to locate the prime areas of contact is to apply a thick face cream or even toothpaste to the inside ankle bones then carefully insert the foot into the boot shell, stand on it to make contact with the shell, then carefully remove the foot. The cream will leave tell tale smears on the boot shell which can then be marked with a felt pen.

Getting Step 1 successfully completed can involve alternating back and forth between forefoot and rearfoot clearance. Until, both areas are right, full normal foot splay may not occur. Step 2 is done in conjunction with liner modifications which can be a process in itself and is often the most problematic aspect of creating an environment in a ski boot that accommodates and supports foot function especially fascial tensioning.


  1. Dynamic loading of the plantar aponeurosis in walking – Erdemir A1, Hamel AJ, Fauth AR, Piazza SJ, Sharkey NA  – J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2004 Mar;86-A(3):546-52.

FEATURE POSTS: US PATENT 5,265,350 ON PRONATION & PRONATION WHAT SHOULD IT FEEL LIKE?

The objective of the conventional ski boot, whether intended or not, is to make skiing exceedingly difficult. Towards this end, the objective is comfort. A ski boot that renders the lower limbs dysfunctional can be very comfortable while at the same time making skiing exceptionally difficult. Although a priority, comfort in itself does not necessarily equate with good balance and control in skiing.

On February 9 and 10, 2014, I published complementary posts on the subject of pronation as it pertains to skier function and especially balance. The above excerpt is from US PATENT  5,265,350 ON PRONATION Feb 9, 2014. The entire post can be read at http://wp.me/p3vZhu-ey

The second post, PRONATION – WHAT SHOULD IT FEEL LIKE? was published on February 10, 2014. The entire post can be read at http://wp.me/p3vZhu-ey

 

GUEST POST: MICHAEL PUPKO

Since I started this blog with my first post on May 11, 2013, A Cinderella Story: The ‘Myth’ of the Perfect Fit,  (https://skimoves.me/2013/05/11/the-myth-of-th…ve-perfect-fit/), I have had a number of skiers contact me from various parts of the world, either through my blog via a comment (which I don’t post), through a social media site like FaceBook, Twitter or Linkedin, or through contact information provided by someone they know who knows me. One skier who contacted me privately is Michael Pupko. After he started following my blog, he started trying some of my ideas. Most important, he started giving me valuable feedback. Michael has developed some innovative concepts of his own. He started discussing them with me and asking for my feedback. Over the years I had considered some of his ideas. But never got around to trying them. Michael put them into practice and refined them. We have both learned a lot from our corroboration. He recently posted a large comment. With his permission, I am posting it as a guest post with my comments inserted.

__________________________________________________________________

MICHAEL PUPKO

The physics of skiing are secondary to the ability to move within the ski boots. My only contact with David MacPhail has been through this blog and a limited amount of personal emails from which I can guarantee, I don’t have a complete grasp on his ‘alignment concepts’ of ski equipment but am 100% convinced of their validity because applying my limited understanding to what I have discovered myself over the past 20 years has changed what I do with equipment radically for the better. The latest discovery before being given the link to this blog (I can’t even take credit for finding it myself!) was to leave my boots unbuckled to the point where I hit the cuff just before my ankles range of motion is zeroed out so should I happen to need it, my binding would release before my ankle. Upon reading this blog I found someone who knew the why and methods of doing this properly, so I’m grateful to not have to reinvent the whole wheel, just try to build on it and make it better and above all, understand methods already proven by Podborski, etc.

Sometime around 2005 I ‘discovered’ a new method of adjusting footwear and orthotics that is better than any current method THAT I”M AWARE OF (which doesn’t mean there isn’t a better method). Finally after 1000s $ and many rejections I now have a patent on the method because I was finally able to convince the necessary parties that the vertical relationship of the heel to forefoot is different than the lateral (canting wedges) relationship. Since over 99% of humans that have access to fancy footwear walk anatomically incorrectly, the vertical relationship, called toe drop by some, remains a critical aspect of fitting not just ski boots but all footwear for me, guess what? I am now skiing without footbeds/orthotics for the first time in 2 decades with better results than with because what I learned from this blog enabled me to remove the original interference in the arch that was the limiting factor in not only my ski boots, but also other footwear.

In spite of a pile of fancy orthotic blanks and the equipment to create orthotics it will take a strong argument from any one to convince me to make them a pair because MacPhail’s methods are better than what I was doing. So obviously his methods is based upon a more solid ‘principle’ than my methods.

My theory on Ligety’s last season is so silly I never dared to mention it last year; I say it boiled down to his broken hand / wrist. When one is competing at any level, in any sport, anything that can cause one to hold back just a touch will change the standings dramatically.

COMMENT: I agree

We’ll see as the season progresses how far ‘back’ he is, obviously. Nothing could stop Ted though in Beaver Creek last season because his mental strength overcame whatever other issues seemed to be there last seasons. He ‘rose to the occasion!’ Bottom line is that Ligety and Shiffrin are both better aligned for their best disciplines than any other current racer and while they are dialled in them, either they don’t know or their equipment techs won’t allow them to transfer it over to the disciplines. Something we’ll never be able to prove now is that if Bode had MacPhail as his boot-fitter I feel he would have left Stenmark’s records in the dust. As dominant as Ligety has been in GS, he still has a little bit of catch-up when it comes to Stenmark who skied on brands of equipment that no other racer has won consistently on!

COMMENT: I agree

MacPhail’s theory that removing the inner liner of the ski boot keeps one’s feet warmer doesn’t make much sense. I did that and with an extra pair of liners in a pair of used boots I had bought and I’ve never gone back.

COMMENT: I think Michael means he tried his boots with minimal liner and found it works. Racers I worked with like Podborski, skied in shells with no liner except for the portion of the liner that was screwed in the shaft of the boot. They never had cold feet. This is not something I recommend without careful experimentation.

My boots are a joke, I laugh every time I go skiing because I have so much more fun. I challenge any critics to simply apply these ideas to your equipment and then if you want to argue fine. But I’d first ask for MacPhail’s help in what went wrong because my experience has been that my problems were in a mistake that I made.

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.