Barefoot walking | Summary and Q&A

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June 26, 2019
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Harvard University
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Barefoot walking

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Summary

In this video, the speaker discusses the effects of wearing shoes on the mechanics of walking and the sensory perception of the feet. They conducted research in both a rural population in western Kenya where most people do not wear shoes regularly, and an urban population in a nearby city. Through measurements of callus thickness, walking patterns, and sensory perception, they found that people without shoes develop thick calluses that provide protection without dampening tactile sensitivity. The speaker also raises the question of the consequences of wearing shoes, especially cushioned ones, on joint damage.

Questions & Answers

Q: How do calluses protect the foot without causing a loss of sensory perception?

When people develop calluses, not only do they have thicker calluses, but these calluses also manage to protect the foot without causing a loss of sensory perception. The speaker explains that the calluses make the skin harder, which provides protection against external forces. However, despite the increased thickness, the calluses do not dampen the tactile sensitivity of our feet, allowing us to perceive touch and pressure.

Q: How do shoes change the forces experienced by the body compared to being barefoot?

The speaker reveals that when wearing shoes, the mechanical properties of the impact change. The shoe slows down the rate at which the collision occurs by about threefold. As a result, the impulse, which is the total amount of energy delivered to the body's joints, increases by about threefold as well. This means that wearing shoes causes the body to experience different and potentially greater forces compared to when one is barefoot.

Q: What factors did the researchers measure during their research in western Kenya?

The researchers conducted various measurements during their research in western Kenya. They used an ultrasound to measure the thickness of people's calluses, a force plate to measure how much and how people walk, and collaborated with a team in Germany to measure the sensory perception of the foot at different frequencies and amplitudes. These measurements allowed them to analyze the effects of wearing shoes on callus thickness, walking patterns, and sensory perception.

Q: What were the findings regarding callus thickness in people without shoes?

The speaker explains that their research showed that people who do not wear shoes tend to develop thick calluses, which had not been previously shown. This suggests that going barefoot contributes to the natural development of calluses on the feet. These calluses increase in thickness over time and provide protective benefits to the foot.

Q: Why is it important to understand the consequences of wearing shoes, particularly cushioned ones?

The speaker emphasizes that humans did not evolve to wear shoes, especially cushion shoes. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the consequences of wearing shoes on joint damage. The unnatural forces and mechanics imposed by shoes may have long-term implications for joint health and overall foot function. Further research into the effects of cushioned shoes is necessary to determine their impact on joint damage.

Q: Did the research focus only on the rural population in western Kenya?

No, the research conducted in western Kenya included both a rural population where most people do not wear shoes regularly and an urban population in the nearby city of Eldoret. By comparing the two populations, the researchers were able to analyze the effects of shoes on callus thickness, walking patterns, and sensory perception in different environments.

Q: What was the collaboration with the team in Germany focused on?

The collaboration with the team in Germany was focused on measuring the sensory perception of the foot at different frequencies and amplitudes. By utilizing their expertise and equipment, the researchers were able to gain insights into how wearing shoes affects the sensory feedback received by the foot. This information contributed to the overall understanding of the impact of shoes on foot function.

Q: Were there any unexpected findings during the research?

Yes, there were a couple of unexpected findings during the research. Firstly, the discovery that people without shoes develop thick calluses was unexpected and previously undocumented. Additionally, the fact that these calluses do not dampen the tactile sensitivity of the feet was also surprising. These unexpected findings highlight the complexity of the foot's adaptation to different environments and the importance of further research in this field.

Q: What are some potential implications of the research findings?

The research findings have several potential implications. Firstly, the understanding that calluses provide protection without diminishing sensory perception could influence the development of footwear technology and design. Secondly, the awareness of the differences in forces experienced by the body when wearing shoes versus being barefoot could have implications for joint health and injury prevention. Lastly, the research raises questions about the long-term effects of wearing shoes and the potential consequences for foot and joint health.

Q: What are some future research directions related to this topic?

The speaker suggests several future research directions related to this topic. Firstly, further investigation is needed to understand the long-term consequences of wearing cushioned shoes on joint damage and foot function. Additionally, studying the mechanics of walking in different populations, both those who regularly wear shoes and those who do not, could provide valuable insights into the impacts of footwear on foot health. Lastly, research on alternative methods of foot protection and support, such as minimalistic footwear or barefoot walking, could contribute to the development of more natural and sustainable approaches to footwear design.

Takeaways

Through their research in western Kenya, the speaker and their team discovered that people without shoes tend to develop thick calluses, which provides protection to the foot without sacrificing sensory perception. This challenges the notion that calluses reduce tactile sensitivity. Furthermore, the study highlighted the differences in forces experienced by the body when wearing shoes versus being barefoot, potentially raising concerns about joint damage. The research underscores the need for further exploration of the consequences of wearing shoes, especially cushioned ones, on foot and joint health, as well as the importance of alternative approaches to footwear design.

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