The Latin expression, nihil novi sub sole, which translated means “there is nothing new under the sun,” came to mind when I first come across Dr. Phil Hoffman’s study of feet from the Philippines and Pygmies of Central Africa from the early 1900s. Neither group ever wore shoes. Their feet were healthy. As for the shoe-wearing population, Hoffman concluded that most modern shoes not only ignored the natural shape of the human foot, but also end up ruining them because they were too narrow.
I’m always scouring the web looking for both old and new studies about the human foot. Leonardo da Vinci called the foot a “masterpiece of engineering”. The subject of feet and shoes fascinates me on several fronts—as a medical doctor, owner of a natural running and walking store, father of two active young children, and someone who has been running for over 30 years.
Hoffman’s study–it was first published in the American Journal of Orthopedic Surgery in 1905 surfaced while I was doing research for a Running Times’s article on children running shoes and foot health that I co-wrote with my good friend and gait expert Jay Dicharry, who is the author of the popular book, “Anatomy for Runners.”
We are pleased to present the full study (with its original photos and charts) to all Natural Running Center readers. Just click on the link below. The PDF download is free all NRC subscribers. (The download URL will be in your newsletter welcome email.
But there’s more. We had asked several regular NRC advisors and contributors (Dr. Ray McClanahan, Casey Kerrigan, M.D. and Dr. Phil Maffetone) to also write essays to accompany the study. I too wrote a piece. The end-result is a 72-page e-booklet filled with what we hope you will find to be useful, relevant material about maintaining good foot health, especially if you are a runner.
As Dr. Ray McClahanan writes in the booklet’s intro:
Most of what we now know about foot health—true foot health, that is—comes from scholarly writings that were published, in some cases, well over 100 years ago. These studies, along with the wisdom we have gained from unshod or minimally shod populations, are crucial to our understanding of what constitutes normal, healthy foot anatomy and how to preserve this beautiful, spade-foot shape through adulthood and well into old age.
Dr. Hoffman’s 1905 study…is as illuminating about natural foot health as it is troublesome for the fact that it has largely been forgotten and ignored by contemporary podiatry and the Western world at large. It is a window through which we can see how our natural foot health heritage has been corrupted and co-opted by footwear that has tried to dominate and improve upon an already (and inherently) brilliant design.
Healthy feet and toes are our birthright. Almost every single one of us was born with perfect feet, and with the proper care and attention, and in the absence of traumatic injury, we can maintain healthy foot and toe anatomy and function nearly indefinitely.
I couldn’t agree more.