A gymnast poised on a balance bar, a batsman sprinting across the pitch to take a quick single, a marathoner running at an even pace, a basketball player jumping to slam the ball in the basket, a child running in a garden, a housewife working in her kitchen: all might seem to be performing different activities at different speeds and with different movements. But they are all similar in one crucial detail: They are all upright on their feet, and their foot and ankle muscles are all working hard to maintain balance and assist them in their work.
Humans are distinguished from the rest of the animal species by the fact that they are the only mammal to use “Bipedalism” exclusively for locomotion. In fact “Bipedalism” was developed 4 million years ago, even before the large human brain and invention of stone tools etc. distinguished humans from primates.
When “Bipedal locomotion” was chosen by man 4 million years ago, it was used for hunting down and killing prey, gathering food, walking on rough terrain and running away from several dangers. The foot obviously is an engineering marvel without comparison and has evolved over millions of years. It has the ability to mould to the terrain, grip various surfaces like tree trunks, rocks, slippery moss, sand, etc; has several inbuilt sensors (more than 20,00,00 nerve endings!!) to detect any possible danger and to give a signal about the specific terrain that the body needs to adapt to, without requiring to use eyes or other senses.
But we must remember that the foot was designed to be naked, and is meant to interact with the natural elements without a covering. The foot and its design is the most important tool helping us stand up unassisted, use our upper body for various tasks and maintain our balance throughout. Just like the foundation of a building; the roots of a plant; the base of a bridge, the foot too serves as the “anchor” for all work. Our ancient forefathers used locomotion (gait) to perform all activities required for their survival, the foot was not covered in footwear and the terrain was natural.
Modern man uses gait for “Professions”. Eg. An engineer working on the floor of a factory might stand whole day and stroll around the factory; an athlete might do intense training for four hours a day; a salesman may walk; climb and descend stairs for 5-6 hours a day, a businessman may hardly walk/ stand at all, a ballet dancer may practise standing on her toes / forefoot for several hours a day; and a basketball player might need to jump and land on his feet several times. Each profession today has a different demand on the body, and hence on the function of the foot.
The terrain we use is also radically different from those that our forefathers used. We have Tar, Cement, Gravel, Slab, Stone tiles, Ceramic, Wood, etc. and we walk/ train on these exclusively throughout the day. A very short time if at all might be spent on natural surfaces like grass, sand, natural stone, and mud. Most of the “natural surfaces” we might encounter are actually man-made/ maintained by man. Obviously then, right from the time in infancy when we learn to walk, our feet never interact with nature the way they were meant to. This also means that they probably never learn and develop all the functions they are really capable of.
The artificial surfaces that we work and walk on, and our “presumed” understanding of gait and foot function, have created the need for several different types of footwear, and again we choose our footwear to suit our profession. A Doctor or a banker for example might wear leather “formal” shoes, a track-and-field athlete might wear “Spurs” for training, a soldier might wear boots, a tennis player might wear “Tennis” shoes, a ballerina might wear special Pointe ballet shoes, a ball-room dancer might wear high-heeled stilettos, and a Bharat Natyam performer might train bare-footed! Furthermore the same individual might slip into 3-4 different types of footwear through the span of 24 hours!Some of our choices are determined by our profession, some by fashion, and some by comfort. In fact, as children we have no choice in the matter at all, and parents, teachers, coaches and doctors will decide what is “Good” for us.
In short the way we use our feet is radically different from the way they were meant to be used and though the foot was designed to be “naked”, we now prefer to “clothe” it, thereby providing footwear manufacturers a constant source of revenue!!