You look ready to mount something

Sandy Radburnd

I'd describe them as life-threatening.

The two injuries I've battled. One was an ache in my lower back at age 21, and the other, a sting in my right knee at 25. Both seemed to come out of nowhere - without an obvious traumatic event.

So after the second one, I got obsessive about figuring out which habits were setting me up for injury.

The hunt started with horror.

I dug up a monstrous stat from The WHO that has to be seen as (yet another) red flag for our modern lifestyles: It's estimated 60-70% of people in industrialised countries now experience "common low-back pain" [1].

If it's the norm, what mistakes are nearly all of us making?

I found two elephants in the room.

  1. The office workday
    Sit in a car → sit at a desk for eight hours → sit in a car again → sit at a dinner table → sit on a sofa. Repeat.
  2. Spending 10 hours + per day in shoes that elevate our heels
    Whether they're boots, sneakers or stilettos, most modern shoes raise our heels by 12mm or more.

Since I've already investigated issue 1, today is about the second habit we've adopted without thinking about it.

I'm not one for mounted violence.

I can't remember the last time I leapt onto a horse and hunted down my enemies with a bow. Which is weird, because my whole life... I've been wearing shoes designed for it.

Yep. Before they were fashion items, boots with elevated heels were invented to keep 15th-century soldiers secure in their stirrups. [2]

Since my Mondays are less about galloping and more about standing and running, let's look at what heels do to those.


Left - 2-4 million years | Right - sub-500 years [3]

Look at that X-ray, and you'll see that bare feet and heeled shoes demand different skeletal positions. It's particularly fascinating when paired with an analogy of Ido Portal's (a human-movement expert). He says: our bodies are like shirts: give them a pull somewhere, and that force is going to move every fibre in the garment.

While raised heels may not cause pain in our legs or feet, it's dead possible that they affect muscles further up the chain. Like our backs.

And what about motion?

Stride. Land on heel. Rock forwards. Repeat.

Walking is a rocking motion. Our weight starts on the heel, then transfers to the front of our foot. Smoothly.

Running... is not smooth. After each stride, we land on either the middle or front of the foot to engage our suspension and dissipate enormous forces hitting our skeleton (2.5 - 3x our bodyweight) [4].

It seems weird then, that any podiatrist would recommend today's standard running shoe: their big heels cause us to land heel-first (called heel striking), and interrupt this natural shock-absorbing movement.

How on earth did these become our runners of choice?

It's a gross story that you can read about from Christopher McDougall, the author of Born to Run, here. Long story short, a running coach from the University of Oregon had an idea that shoes with a big rubber heel could give runners an edge. He was the co-founder of Nike.

And here we are.

Since both our formal and running shoes are compromising our biology, it looks like common sense for us to try something else.

That's why I love my toe shoes.

Not only have they put an end to the pain, I'm surprised how comfortable I've felt rocking them at client meetings, weddings and parties. They've become my dailies, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't noticed a few impressed faces.

Got ya.

But really. There are some sexy shoes out there that have a flat, thin sole, and let our toes splay wide (like they do when our feet are bare). Mine are from Vivobarefoot.

My knee and back pain are history.

And there's another reason I rave about my Vivos...

Once they're toast, Vivo will buy my shoes back.

My first pair (Gobi II Desert Boots) have been going hard since Jan 2019. They've tackled dozens of hikes, been squashed sideways along hills while orienteering, and are still my go-to shoes for anything formal.

And on the day they're done, I'll give them back to Vivo for 20% off the next pair. Their techies will recondition them for someone else, and the shoes will dodge the landfill, which is where 90% of shoes currently end up.

Vivo are some of the good guys.

And I wish their model of taking care of our health and the planet's was better known. That's why I'm shouting about them (without affiliate links).

Before you go...

If you love running, I can't recommend Born to Run by Christopher McDougall enough. Along with an epic story, his experience shows that our bodies are capable of far more than we believe.

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[1] (which cites Andersson GBJ. The Epidemiology of Spinal Disorders. In Frymoyer JW (ed.) The Adult Spine: Principles and Practice. Philadelphia, Lippincott-Raven, 1997, pp. 93–141.)