This essay is a few years old but still good


Look, if anyone displayed brand-loyalty, it was me.  I LOVED my NIKE  AIR MAX  Triax™ runners.  I wouldn’t buy anything else.  Why?  Because they felt good.  I liked the cushioning.  I liked the ride.  I also felt they protected me from the hard road by interposing a layer of air between the sole of my foot and the pavement.   So why was I sidelined with a heel injury for over two months?  I listened to the manufacturer and changed my runners every 400 miles.  Come to think of it, why do I see so many runners with lower extremity injuries in my office?  The traditional answer to these questions has always been overuse often compounded by an underlying mechanical abnormality such as over-pronation or flat-feet.

The treatment, along with modification of training, physiotherapy, stretching etc. has always included a close look at the runner’s footwear, often with recommendations about motion control, stability, cushioning, orthotics or custom molded insoles.  A growing body of literature in the field of sports medicine, however, is causing a bit of a stir…no, call it PANIC in the running world.  Everything you and I always believed about running shoes and running injuries may be wrong!    Here’s the scoop:  The modern running shoe itself may be the major cause of running injuries!  Stated another way, the modern running shoe, presently thought of a protective device, should be reclassified as a “health hazard”.  (NIKE, please tell me it ain’t so!!!)
Now relax, get back on your chair and take a deep breath.   We’ll take this one step at a time and since we’re going to be talking about shoes and feet, I may as well start at the beginning…the very beginning.  Until quite recently in our history, most humans lived out their lives unshod.  S.F.Stewart in his “Footgear – It’s History, Uses and Abuses” states that “…all writers who have reported their observations of barefoot peoples agree that the untrammeled feet of natural men are free from the disabilities commonly noted among shod people – hallux valgus, bunions, hammer toe and painful feet.”  So why was footgear developed?  One of the earliest examples of footgear known to us takes the form of sagebrush bark sandals found in caves and rock shelters near Fort Rock, Oregon under a layer of volcanic ash dating back 10,000 years.  The foot surface is smooth and they were held on by bast straps over the instep.  Similar sandals were used throughout the volcanic cordilleras of Meso and South America and the volcanic islands of the South Pacific.  The early Polynesians used sandals to cross old lava flows and when fishing on the razor-sharp coral.  It seems, therefore, that the prime function of the earliest sandals was protection of the sole.

Although the early Pharaohs are all represented as barefoot, by the first millennium BC sandals in Egypt were common in court and were worn by soldiers.   In Mesopotamian kingdoms sandals were evidently a status symbol with the king known to have worn a wedged sandal in contrast to his flat-soled courtiers.  Very thick-soled low boots are known to have been worn by Greek tragedians to increase their height.  Comedians wore socks or soccus – hence the expression “high tragedy and low comedy”.  Thus, the secondary function of footgear appears to have been symbolic.

From the time of the Greeks, footgear gradually evolved to meet both symbolic and functional needs.  For example, tradition tells us that about the beginning of the present millennium Count Fulk of Anjou introduced long pointed toes to cover up some deformity of his feet, and courtiers quickly adopted the fashion.  The Mongols, who on horseback ravaged the Middle East between Damascus and Moscow from the 12th-14th centuries, are credited for the introduction of the block heel presumably developed to better grip the stirrup plate.  But in the French court of Louis XIV, the rugged Mongolian heel underwent a radical cosmetic transformation eventually leading to the ultimate idiotic expression of modern fashion – the stiletto heel.

European peasants wore clogs carved from a block of wood.  Mass production seems to have begun prior to the 14th century, for Edward II in 1342 decreed that shoes should be sized.  Their length was measured in barleycorns, 3 to an inch.  This is still the basis of shoe measurements, 1/3 inch to a size in length.  We start sizing from a baseline of 3″ in children and 7″ in adults.  Widths vary with length; in a given size the widths vary by 1 1/2 inch.  Unpaired shoes were introduced in England in the 15th century when gout became common and these shoes had broad square toes to relieve pressure.  The most recent innovation seems to have been the hard box toe to preserve the appearance of the shoe.

Now, let’s focus-in on the running shoe.  It seems that the earliest sports shoes were developed in the 1830’s by the Liverpool rubber company owned by John Boyd Dunlop.  Although they were first called sand shoes because they were worn on the beach by the Victorian middle classes, they eventually became known as plimsolls because the lines formed by the rubber and canvas bond looked similar to the Plimsoll line on a ship’s hull.  In 1933, Dunlop launched its Green Flash range of trainers.   Adi Dassler (and his brother Rudolf) started making sports shoes in Herzogenaurach, Germany in 1920 and in 1936 Jesse Owens wore a pair of them when he won four Olympic gold medals in Berlin.  ADIDAS (Adi Dassler) was formed in 1948 with the now famous three stripes logo developing from three support leather bands used to bolster the sides.  By the 1956 Olympics, dozens of competitors were wearing ADIDAS shoes.  Rudolf Dassler broke away to form PUMA.  Amidst the first rumblings of the jogging-boom, NIKE (after the Greek goddess of victory) was launched by American Phil Knight, a former track star at the University of Oregon, and his waffle-making coach Bill Bowerman in 1971(Surely you remember the NIKE Waffle Trainer!).  The NIKE  ‘Swoosh’ is arguably the most successful logo in the world and was conceived for Phil Knight by a local Oregon graphic design student, Carolyn Davidson, for a total fee of $35.  (But don’t worry about the graphic designer.  In September 1983, NIKE presented Carolyn Davidson with a rather substantial share package as a way of saying “Thank-you.”)  ASICS (acronym for Animus Sanus In Corpore Sano, Latin for A Sound Mind In A Sound Body) first introduced its shoes in North America in 1977 while REEBOCK (named after a species of an African gazelle) entered the US Market in 1979 as the running shoe was slowly transforming into a fashion item.  1987 was declared the Year of the Running Shoe by the clothing industry, the same year NIKE launched the ‘cross-trainer’ and it’s flagship running-shoe, the Air Max. After 16 years of research, NIKE introduced its SHOX line of runners in 2000, arguably the first athletic shoe on springs (foam)!


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