Injury/Rehab Shoe heels + bio mechanics = injury?

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Covertackle

Premiership Player
Jan 26, 2012
3,963
2,202
Ipswich
AFL Club
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Like most people, I had a few hamstring tears playing RL (others here playing Aussie rules) when i got past my teens. Nothing major, but enough to make me conscious that pushing hard during games came with a risk. And it shouldn't. My guess back then was one is less flexible as one gets older, and more stresses on legs as one gets heavier muscled in adulthood. As i got older, i would get calf strains just from jogging or playing touch. The muscles were less elastic, hence the problem enhanced. Nowadays,I dont believe calf muscle strain is 'and old mans injury' as much as it is evidence of the original problem.

Watching the epidemic of RL and AFL players do hammys over the years, i wondered why it happens. As hunters, had our ancestors been as susceptible to hamstrings tears regularly as footy players it would have a serious effect on their livelihood. My belief is it was rare back then for our ancestors to do hamstrings. Remembering also they often would have no time to warm up and stretch before a burst of speed after a wounded animal or from a larger predator.

So i thought about what is different between modern man and our moccasin or barefoot ancestors back then? The difference is cushioning, and especially heel gradient. It is heel gradient that got my interest.

The body is plastic. As an example, One can shape feet (even deform them) and even deform the skull by binding. Go to the gym, pump some weights and your body will grow. Do yoga and your body will become more flexible. The body is plastic.

Imagine a small child, from the very beginning of when it walks, the child has a shoe with a heel on it. Perhaps 5-20mm heel gradient that raises the heel. Most hours when that child is awake, he or she has shoes on. School all their formative years, sports in the arvo, etc. Every waking, walking hour has a raised heel. There is absolutely no doubt, because the body is so plastic, the childs calf muscle will adapt to the heel, conserve its growth, and shorten in length and elasticity.

Very few athletes in Australia did not grow up in that exact way. Shoes with raised heels all their life at school etc. Rarely having a day without a heel on except perhaps near water. The result being everyone has shorter calf muscles than is 'natural'. For example; imagine the calf is a rubber band. The body is growing a shorter rubber band than it would normally. When it comes time to stretch, nore stress is put on that rubber band than it would if the rubber band was a little longer. (Could be an inch in many cases)

Many of you here would have worn running spikes or even 'waffles' at some time or other. No heel gradient. Spikes actually have a negative heel gradient. Even just walking or having a run barefoot you can feel the stretch in your calves. You feel that because you havent the aid of the gradient on your heel, so your calf is stretching more. Sprinters notoriously pull hamstrings. Why? Suddenly having a negative heel gradient makes their calves stretch more when sprinting in negative gradient shoes, something has to give, the calf is shorter and stronger and its the hamstring that goes. Sometimes its the calf muscle, especially if you are older. Simple bio mechanics.

I identified this potential problem (im no scientist so cant prove it, and only shoe companies fund studies and they wont fund studies that show their product can lead to deformation of calf muscles) years ago.

My solution was to have my child wear shoes with no heel gradient to school. I allowed footy boots with a heel gradient as its only for an hour at training or on the field, but in this instance the heel gradient actually helps as he now has calves that are as long as they should be and the gradient supports/lengthens the calf. I allowed him to wear normal Nikes etc to wear to games for a hour or whatever, but always for any length of time, flat shoes always. At this point no leg muscles problems, though at his age one would expect none. The next few years will confirm if my theory and correction was correct.

The body is plastic. Its not too late for any athlete to begin wearing flat shoes with no heels during the day, only wearing heels on 'special' occasions. A heel gradient (i think asics footy boots have a 10mm heel gradient) will support the calf, but all other times, if one wears flat soled shoes with no gradient, training in shoes like 'Waffles' should allow the calf to set to its natural length and lessen the risk of bio mechanical problems caused by shortened claves stressing hamstrings and other parts of leg muscles (groin?).

Youve all seen the canvas shoes in Target or wherever, $5 a pair, black or white? Well, Nike, Asics, Addidas all now make them with their logo on them. At target the plain ones are $5, the brand name ones $120... They are an option. So are Waffles, or if you really like to spend the loot, 'barefoot shoes' come in all styles now, even leather business shoes.

Barefoot running is a whole other subject, and it revolves around health and 'natural' running styles. Addidas do make a footy boot with zero gradient. Personally, i think the gradient is helpful during competition/games as it is a support and will aid the calf/hamstring. The gradient will come at a tiny cost to speed, as a 'correct length' calf cant stretch to its full length. Thats why spikes have a negative heel, and the front of the shoe are actually higher. It allows the calf to stretch more and create more speed. 1% is 1m in a 100m race. It also stresses the calf/hamstring more. Thats why hamstring strains are an epidemic in sprinters.

Of course stretching will help. But wearing flat soled shoes with zero gradient, is an effortless stretch session all day, every day. Your calf will adapt and grow to the length now demanded of it.

Anyway, make your own decision if my theory has merit. But to me, it makes sense, and we've put it into practice. So far, so good. Touchwood.
 

Covertackle

Premiership Player
Jan 26, 2012
3,963
2,202
Ipswich
AFL Club
Brisbane Lions
Other Teams
Melbourne Dees
I found a study that supports my theory. They also say there is not a lot of study in this area. Im not surprised. Shoe companies have huge influence and would never fund a study suggesting their product actually has a negative impact on your body.

While the study is of women wearing high heels, it is relevant to wearing a raised heel on a shoe all your life. The result is a shortened calf. It can happen pretty quickly the study suggests.

 

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