Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Take Off Your Shoes And Walk"

Take Off Your Shoes And Walk: Steps To Better Foot Health is the book all podiatrists ought to be reading.  Simon Wikler, DSC* was the rare doctor who wasn't willing to stick to the status quo when told by an older colleague:

"'Foot troubles are chronic conditions people have had for a long time,' he advised.  'You'll waste your time trying to find their cause and cure.  Be content just to give people all the relief you possibly can'"
Dr. Wikler noted during his practice and travels that barefooted people had none of the problems that plagued his shod patients.  Using this knowledge, he began to treat his patients by advising them to strengthen their feet.  He prescribed exercises, walking, properly fitted shoes, and, especially in the case of children, barefoot activity.  His cure for fallen arches in children was quite simple.  Take off their shoes.

His advice for children was a little more radical than his advice for adults, who could also have benefitted from going about in their bare feet.  In this, I suppose, he was a victim of his profession, which seems to believe that at some point we become unsuited for walking in our bare feet.  Or maybe he was just bowing to the practicalities of America in 1961.

The one criticism I do have is that he didn't seem to realize that bunions could be cured simply by going barefoot or at least wearing properly-fitted shoes.  My sister-in-law, who took her sister's advice for alleviating her back pain and bought a pair of VivoBarefoot shoes, reported to me the other day that her bunions had nearly healed since she'd been wearing her new shoes every day.

In a touching anecdote, he reports on his attempts to bring to market a non-deforming shoe for America's children.  He found a man with feet deformed from improper shoes who might help him manufacture these shoes.  The man told Wikler he was crazy.

Wikler was forced to abandon the enterprise as losses mounted, observing:
"The difficulty was, it seemed, that nine out of ten mothers were more interested in style and appearance than in the non-deforming character of their babies' shoes."
I can only hope that the customers of the modern minimalist shoe companies prove that our mothers have learned something since Wikler's day.

Wikler also notes that shoes made on the fabled Munson last, the only shoes made in the last 100 years which were designed to allow your foot to work naturally, were going out of style as "old man's shoes."

Take Off Your Shoes and Walk is unfortunately long out of print.  Amazon lists two used copies available, and that's where I got mine.  Luckily Unshod.org has made a good portion of this book available online.

Read the introduction, and the excellent history of foot problems, and, especially if you have kids, the sections on foot health.  It's well worth your time, and will probably save you quite a bit in podiatrist bills, especially if you're a runner.

Interestingly, the one ailment that Wikler never mentions is that favorite of the runner in sneakers: plantar fasciitis.  I guess folks didn't get it prior to the sneaker.  But we know what the solution is: Take Off Your Shoes and Walk!

*Doctor of Surgical Chiropody (Chiropody is now known as podiatry.)