The latest “craze” in running is the new barefoot movement, which seems to have been largely inspired by Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. But to us chiropractors, the barefoot movement is nothing revolutionary, but simply the world beginning to catch up to the philosophy that chiropractors have been teaching their communities for over a century.
McDougall’s book is based on the question he asked his doctor: “Why do my feet hurt?” Their answer was: “because you run”. Sports medicine’s solution to runner’s problems is to try to insulate them from running as much as possible: more braces, more cushioning, and the ultimate solution: just don’t run! It’s not “natural”. The body is not made to tolerate the stresses of running, or even of walking in bare feet. We need the technology of sophisticated footwear and medical support in order to survive being bipeds.
For McDougall, this answer was difficult to understand, particularly after he heard about the Raramuri, an indigenous people living in the Copper Canyons of New Mexico. The people of this culture were avid runners for whom running 100 miles in the rugged terrain of the canyons with nothing but a flimsy hurache sandal was ordinary. Yet they had none of the athletic injuries that modern runners have. If running were intrinsically harmful, wouldn’t these people be the most debilitated of all?
What the author discovered is that there is nothing intrinsic to running that is harmful to humans; in fact, there is substantial evidence to suggest that early humans survived through “persistence hunting”, or, literally outrunning their prey. We are, literally, Born to Run. Modern running injuries skyrocketed with the invention of the modern running shoe, which altered the natural gait of the runner and enabled a stride which focused massive forces into the knees, hips and lower back.
When we chiropractors look at this story, we see much more than a tale about jogging and footwear. We see a cautionary tale that describes the collision of two opposing paradigms: one which operates on the principle that humans are “born broken” and must perpetually rely on science, medicine and technology in order to accomplish even fundamental biological acts such as walking, running or giving birth. The opposing paradigm, which chiropractic’s philosophy endorses, operates on a principle of Trust in the body and its capacity to operate normally and healthfully if given the proper environment and conditions to do so. Running barefoot is only a radical act if you consider the body incapable of operating normally in the environment to which it evolved. The fact that going for a run with nothing on your feet but a pair of thin slippers to keep pointy things from puncturing your soles is a leap of faith for most of us is a testament to the degree to which we have allowed ourselves to become indoctrinated in the mythology of our own incompetence.
We are not “born broken”, though there is a lot of money to be made by those who perpetuate that belief. Our bodies are remarkable, capable, sophisticated creations of biology, spirit and perhaps a little magic and we gain much by aligning ourselves (both figuratively and literally) with its capacity. This alignment, which can be assisted physically by a chiropractic adjustment, can also manifest in the form of giving your body the proper food, water, activity, social stimulation and connection, mental habits, and general hygiene that it craves for normal functioning.