Monday, April 21, 2003

Nonergonomic! Is Ergonomic Footwear Truly Ergonomic?

Nonergonomic! Is Ergonomic Footwear Truly Ergonomic?
[人因工程 ]

Survey in China and India of Feet That Have Never Worn Shoes

The low incidence of dermatomycotic infection here noted might be attributed to the fact that most foot fungi require dark, warm and damp interdigital spaces for growth such as that provided by shoes and stockings on a foot that has no free outlet for its perspiration. In addition, these bare feet get the beneficial fungicidal effects of the sun's ultra-violet rays.

No instances among the barefoot feet were found of: Onychrocryptosis, Hyperidrosis, Bromidrosis, Hallux Valgus, Hallux Varus, Bursitis at the first or fifth metatarso-phalangeal articulations.

Almost everyone surveyed showed a marked spacing between the first and second toes such as that found on young babies. The great toe was either pointing straight ahead or slightly abducted to provide a greater weight-bearing base or, possibly, to compensate for a shortened first metatarsal segment.

One hundred and eighteen of those interviewed were rickshaw coolies. Because these men spend very long hours each day on cobblestone or other hard roads pulling their passengers at a run it was of particular interest to survey them. If anything, their feet were more perfect than the others. All of them, however, gave a history of much pain and swelling of the foot and ankle during the first few days of work as a rickshaw puller. But after either a rest of two days or a week's more work on their feet, the pain and swelling passed away and never returned again. There is no occupation more strenuous for the feet than trotting a rickshaw on hard pavement for many hours each day yet these men do it without pain or pathology. These figures prove that restrictive footgear, particularly ill-fitting footgear, cause most of the ailments of the human foot.

Baby shoes cause great harm to growing, formative feet. The so-called "sentimental" value of baby's shoes might well be dispensed with.

People who have never worn shoes acquire very few foot defects, most of which are painless and non-debilitating. The range of their foot motions are remarkably great, allowing for full foot activity. Shoes are not necessary for healthy feet and are the cause of most foot troubles. Children should not be encouraged to walk prematurely and should not wear any footwear until absolutely necessary. Footgear is the greatest enemy of the human foot.

Editor's Comments:

Design at its conscientious best demands a willingness to jettison everything one "knows" and start over with a clean slate. Shulman's implication that modern man should do away with footwear altogether is admittedly, pretty radical. One need not agree with Shulman's prescription to recognize that his research casts serious doubt on the alleged necessity of "ergonomic footwear."

I for one am not willing to go without some kind of footwear in the modern urban environment. Even leaving aside the risk of cuts from rusty nails or broken glass, one hardly wants to put up with dirty feet!

Certain occupations will of course continue to require conventional footwear. In addition to hard hats, construction workers will need to keep wearing steel-toed construction boots to protect themselves from work-related accidents. But off the job blue or white collar workers and professional or amateur athletes need not be constrained by such job-specific considerations.

The challenge for industrial designers is to explore bold new shoe designs that accomodate both the natural characteristics of the human foot and the harsh requirements of Life in the Big City. What the final product will look like is anybody's guess. Perhaps some sort of high-tech, thin-soled, light-weight, breathable designs will eventually replace the traditional dress and casual shoes we wear in 2003.

We would be naive in the extreme however if we assumed that functional considerations were the primary determinant in shoe styling trends. Consumer footwear purchases are overwhelmingly the result of emotional preferences having nothing whatsoever to do with ergonomic considerations. As anyone familiar with ultra-trendy, pointy-toed, women's heels knows, the ancient practice of foot-binding never vanished, it merely assumed less extreme forms.

"So there is always this clash between form and function in every design. Look at women's shoes: purely for the sake of style, women will wear shoes that are expensive and painful."
-- Frank Nuovo, Vice-President in Charge of Design, Nokia

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Survey in China and India of Feet That Have Never Worn Shoes
Illustration(s): "Ergonomic Athletic Shoes"
Author: Samuel B. Shulman
Affiliation: "Survey in China and India of Feet That Have Never Worn Shoes," The Journal of the National Association of Chiropodists, 49, 1949, pp. 26-30.
Publication Date: December 27, 1996
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

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