“Take me out back to the field and put a bullet in my head, I’m no longer fit for this earth.” This is how I felt about 6 years ago when my body suffered from severe joint and back pain. It was a condition brought on by working many years in industry, walking and standing in heavy steel toed boots on industrial concrete, further excited by one of my favored daily activities of jogging outdoors, the paths mostly accessible to me at the time, being asphalt. The symptoms go so bad that I could not carry my new born son more than a block without surrendering to pain. What kind of father am I if I cannot even carry my child?
But I’m not one to give up so easy. I was still young and had many years ahead. I enjoy many activities outdoors and I’d be damned if I would let this doom me to an eternity of flipping through channels in my La-Z-Boy recliner.
I avoid traditional doctors at all cost and in this case especially as I envisioned them whipping out their doodle pad to prescribe a batch of moderately addictive pain killers, they’d check back with me in a year or two to record the side effects. I have about as much respect for doctors who push pharmaceuticals as I do gang thugs who push crack downtown.
So off to the witchcraft, voodoo specialists I went. With luck, I found a reputable chiropractor who prescribed a 5 min routine of stretching exercises and with some mild adjustments and about a year of dedication I made a recovery. I did have to cut out the running for that time, but after my confidence returned I did some research into what measures I could take to avoid falling back into the rut I had just climbed out of.
The proper footwear, This was it, I needed to invest in top quality runners and insoles., next stop, the orthopedic specialist.
I was told to take off my shoes and walk back and forth down the hall while he studied my posture, then he sat me down in a chair and examined my feet, “Ah yes! You have high arches,” this was apparently a groundbreaking discovery. Then he took a laser tool, and somehow with this tool he was able to determine that one of my legs was 1/8” shorter then the other…or was it 1/8” longer?
I was convinced that this was the ultimate solution to my problem and 3 – $400 later I was strutting my stuff in the park with my new everything “air” shoes and stylish new orthotics with an 1/8” lift on the right side…or left? Off I went jogging hard, just like the good old days, lungs heaving in the fresh spring air, life was good. The next morning I rolled out of bed…literally, my legs had seized and the shin splints were excruciating. I told myself that it was only temporary and it would take awhile for my body to adjust, so I kept on jogging on and a while later, things got even worse. I’d been scammed by the orthopedia…titian? Even the name sounds made up.
“I will jog again!” I proclaimed. Back to the drawing board I went, or rather, the Google search engine. I read about tribes in mystic lands that can jog for ten’s of miles every day, their whole life, with never an issue. The researchers discovered that humans are really not supposed to walk, or land on their heels, they should walk on the balls of their feet. Like when your child walks around on his tiptoes. That’s actually instinct; it’s the way we are actually supposed to walk. The arches in our feet actually act as a type of spring to absorb some of the impact.
Sole-less shoes! This was going to be it! Off to Sport Chek I went and in an hour I was back in the park. It felt great, bouncing along on the balls of my feet, no heal contact, no shocking to my knees or ankles or jarring of my back. I was young and free again, back on track.
What I learned from my sole-less shoe experience is this: I truly believe that we are supposed to walk in that fashion, if you look at the research, it just makes sense. However, this is a technique that should be instilled in us from birth so that our muscles and skeletal structure can grow in the proper way, to support this style of transportation. When you are a fully matured male at 6’ – 190lbs, it’s just too late. Although my calves looked great after a couple weeks using the sole-less method, they only appeared so because they were constantly tense and cramped. After stepping on a rock and fracturing the metatarsal bone in my foot, my sole-less shoes were placed on top of my pile of other failed miracles.
Since then I have retired to the elliptical machine, indoors, breathing recycled air. It’s not my preference, but something is better than nothing. Still I can’t help thinking about the questions and lack of answers brought to life through this journey. I’m sure this story is more than familiar to many reading this. Some of the friends I talk to have either traveled the same path or are currently battling it. Some with high arches, some flat, long legs , short legs, nothing seems to make any difference. How is it that our human structures are so flawed to preform our most basic function? Something just didn’t add up.
Last week I was walking through the park on our first welcoming day of spring. My boys rode their bikes and I walked along behind them, in my shoes, on the asphalt path, keeping pressure more on the balls of my feet as opposed to my heels. I walked for quite a distance, before the all to familiar aching began to creep into my joints. “Ah c’mon!” I thought, “I’m not even jogging!”
It was at that point that I decided to take two strides to the right and walk on the grass. The difference was almost immediate, the pain in my joints eased. Every time I took a step I felt the ground give slightly in response to the impact, and again when I applied pressure to push off. It took a slight bit more effort as you have to push a little harder and lift your foot slightly higher, but I felt a renewed energy. On the asphalt we walk in a way that we lift our foot just high enough to prevent dragging our feet, cause mother always scorned, “pick up your damn feet!” then we flop it back down, slightly ahead of where it left. It’s not really walking on the paved surface, it’s more like flopping. That’s an interesting term…”honey, it’s nice out. Shall we go for a flop in the park?”
So when we walk on the pavement our muscles have limited engagement, it is all joints, on the grass we are forced to use more muscle.
I’m a decently healthy guy, I work out daily, weights and cardio, I snowboard as well as various other sports. I have this much trouble walking on our paths, I can only imagine how hard it is for the people fighting obesity, as society promotes walking as a simple way to get fit.
So I walked along the grass, looking down beside me to the asphalt and I began to piece this theory together. Why would it matter, the depth of my arches and the length of my legs in comparison to each other if I were walking on natural ground? A surface that mold’s to my foot and is rarely, if ever, even? It’s not us, it’s not the design of our body’s that is inadequate, it is the walking surface that we have so intelligently engineered for ourselves.
It’s not just the asphalt paths. It’s everywhere! Sidewalks, malls, office buildings, plant floors, cement, ceramic, marble and hardwoods, look at all the work and resources we have dedicated to creating surfaces that erode our bodies.
Why? Why would we do this? All the mining of resources, clearing of tree’s, packing and paving, high tech shoes, space aged insoles, chiropractors, orthotics, pain killers…Oh yes, of course, these walkways were never created to support our human forms. They were made to support the economy.
So, what do you think about when you walk?
For those of you who actually made it through this article and found some interest in it. Please follow this link and read further on the benefits of walking on the bare earth.