Monday, 20 September 2010

Shoeing experiment...!

While the UKNHCP students were at Rockley last Thursday, we tried an experiment. Mark Johnson, who is one of our farriers, was teaching a dissection course and I was talking about biomechanics.

Now, both Mark and I are very interested in filming gaits, and in how biomechanics can be affected by what happens to the feet, whether in shoes or barefoot. Flexion and breakover are particularly dynamic, and that got us thinking, as we usually do when we are together.

We didn't feel it was particularly ethical to experiment on the horses so of course that left the students. Luckily, they are all just as obsessed about feet as Mark and I, so they fortunately volunteered...
As I am completely useless at this sort of thing, I begged Mark to "rigidify" my boots. Of course he had a band saw and a stack of tools in his van, and it was a matter of a few moments work for him (it would have taken me days). I though it might be interesting to test long-toe/under-run heel conformation, but to start with we experimented with a "normal" rigid shoe - a boot fixed to a board which prevents flexion and delays breakover.

Just to establish the research parameters(!): both the students who participated (an admittedly small sample for a clinical study of this magnitude and importance, devised as it was over a glass of wine the night before...) were clinically sound, fed an appropriate diet and worked on a variety of surfaces with and without shoes. Each participant was filmed laterally and cranially/caudally at walk:
  1. barefoot;
  2. in a flexible (eg glue-on) shoe; and
  3. in a rigid (eg steel) shoe.
The video footage of the participants was peer-reviewed and gait anomalies were noted (ie: we all looked at it over lunch and made rude comments):

PS: Excuse the hole in the boots - I wasn't about to select a decent pair for the study since they had to be screwed through the sole...

On a fractionally more serious note, it is very interesting how shoes of any kind exaggerate gait deviations, and how - the more rigid the shoe - the greater the effect on proprioception, flexion and breakover.

As Mark said: "Shoeing is so normal from our point of view - but it isn't for the horse".


jenj said...

At least everyone in the video is landing heel-first! ;)

Andrea said...

Heehee that was fun!!
Now here's the part that makes me giggle the most - as someone who also participates in barefoot/minimally shod running (which is starting to be a big thing here in the States), I know and appreciate just how horrible painful a heel-first landing is for a human. We're designed to land midfoot first, and studies have been done that show how children that grew up in shoes will run different than children who didn't. A person 'fresh out of their shoes' will land heel-first, as they have been trained to do with their heavily padded shoes - like your participants. Until they grow a thick sole callus and learn to use their bodies more efficiently. Sound familiar? ;)

(This is exactly why I got into barefoot running - the total parallels between both species and the health benefits that can be had. Nature made hooves and human feet a certain way for a reason, and it's the most biomechanically efficient to just get back to that!)

Nic Barker said...

Glad you enjoyed it :-)

Andrea, yes, I agree - my partner runs in Fivefingers a lot, and he found exactly what you did, though in fact his landing and stride length vary depending on how concussive the surface is :-)