We are born barefoot and happy, wiggling our toes and running on all surfaces. Then we are given shoes, supposedly to protect our feet, but that assumption carries some caveats. In high school, we play basketball, soccer, run track, and participate in other physical activities. We suffer minor ankle sprains and foot pain, and the keep on going. No big deal, right?

Then we turn 30 and develop a tight back. Not real painful, just some nagging stiffness that comes and goes.
We try to lose some weight, get healthy, buy expensive shoes, take some advil, go to the gym and even take up jogging. Sure, why not? We become a fitness nut, but still have the same nagging pains. Then the back pain gets worse and we break down and go to see the chiropractor. He adjusts us and it feels better. A few days go by before the nagging pains come back. Another
adjustment and voila, it feels better. but two days later, we have to go again.

Then we go to the real doctor to get some Loratab and muscle relaxers. That's the ticket. After a few months, we realize we're addicted to painkillers and have no idea what was really wrong in the first place. The back pain just keeps getting worse and now we are lying in the surgery suite, about to have the back surgery we never wanted. What happened?

This unfortunately widespread example illustrates the point that a great majority of unexplained back pain actually comes from foot and ankle problems that were never addressed or rehabilitated, or even examined when the injury occurred. One relevant, surprising fact is most shoes that cost hundreds of dollars and tout the best soles and support technology are actually doing more harm than good.

Here's a simple test for ankle or foot problems. Stand on one foot, and if balance cannot be maintained for 10 seconds on it, there is a problem. We all should be able to put our arms in front of our body and then lift on leg, with eyes open and closed for 10 seconds on one foot then on the other foot. During this test, we should always have someone there to catch us so we do not fall.

Dr. Craig Richards, a researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia, revealed in the British journal of Sports Medicine no evidence-based studies demonstrate running shoes make the wearer less prone to injury. He writes, "Not only can we no longer recommend a shoe with an elevated heel and pronation [walking primarily on the inside portion of the feet] control system, but the lack of research in this area means that we cannot currently make any evidence-based shoe recommendations to runners. Running shoes need to be tested like any other medical treatment, in carefully controlled clinical trials."

A wise injury prevention strategy is to practice walking, and running shoeless. Humans have been barefooted for about 2 million years, which means that our feet have the ability to carry us around on all kinds of surfaces and that we have the ability to adapt ourselves to our surroundings. Our entire locomotive system, comprising muscles, tendons, and bones, evolved in conditions where maintaining balance was a survival factor. Our ancestors needed to create variation just by changing the way their feet hit the ground to avoid predators and chase prey (and each other). Creating variation is also a major factor in avoiding injuries or dilapidation, as people with a runner's knee well know.

"Barefoot running has been one of my training philosophies for years," says Dr. Gerard Hartmann, an Irish physical therapist who treats many of the worlds' finest distance runners.. "Pronation has become this very bad word, but it's just the natural movement of the foot." he says. It supplies a mild, shock-absorbing twist that allows the arch to compress, comprising in his opinion the greatest weight-bearing design ever created.

He explains,"The arch gets stronger under stress; the harder we push down, the tighter its parts mesh. Push up from underneath and you weaken the whole structure." When shoes are doing the work, tendons can stiffen and muscles shrivel. Hartmann's final word is this: "I've worked with the best Kenyan runners, and they all have a marvelous elasticity in their feet. That comes from never running in shoes until you're 17."

Chiropractic clinics such as Bayside Chiropractic and Rehab offer easy rehab exercises which, combined with proper footwear and correction of foot biomechanics, can save patients from many types of misfortune. Also, parents with children in high school sports should have every minor ankle sprain or other injury examined and treated, to avoid problems such as these later in life.

Dr. Christian Augustin, DC, is the owner of Bayside Chiropractic Rehab and laser Therapy, 8335 Gayfer Road Ext, Ste F, in Fairhope Alabama. For more information, call 251-990-8388.