University of Calgary

Happy feet

Research on new “rocking chair” shoe tests new approach to knee and hip pain

By Don McSwiney

Benno Nigg believes that all the little muscles in our feet are far more important than we thought in the health of our knees and hips.

“In a place like Canada where it’s impossible to walk without boots or shoes, these muscles—along with other neglected muscle groups in our core—become weak, which I believe has an impact on our natural biomechanics, and perhaps contributes to problems with our knees and hips,” says the co-founder of the Human Performance Lab in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology.

Simply put, Nigg believes that by strengthening muscles in the foot, ankle and core, people can improve their natural biomechanics and get back to a more natural way of walking. Enter the MBT shoe.

At first glance, it’s not impressive—a cross between the platform boot and a therapeutic shoe—but the shoe is all the rage in London and Paris, where fashionable women can be seen tromping the Champs-Elysees in their MBTs.

The shoe was developed by Nigg with the Swiss company MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology.) The premise draws on Nigg’s idea that our ancestors kept their little foot muscles “in shape” by walking barefoot across uneven ground. The MBT shoe has a “rocking chair” sole, which engages the foot muscles by providing an uneven surface and provides the same stimulation as walking barefoot.
Nigg, along with post-doctoral student Scott Landry, is launching a new Calgary research project to determine the shoe’s effectiveness in strengthening various muscle groups in the body.

They are looking for a handful of volunteers between the ages of 40 and 70 years of age, who spend a lot of time on their feet, walking or standing. The participants will be given a free pair of MBT shoes, which have a retail value of $300.

Landry says that he believes the real benefit to participants will be the natural strengthening they receive from the shoes.

“From research already completed by Dr. Nigg and others—and from the anecdotal rave reviews the shoes already receive from paying customers—we’re fairly confidant the product works. In this trial, we’re looking to measure how they work, how effective they are and track the changes over a six-week period.”

If you’d like to be part of this study please contact Landry at 220-3479 or slandry@kin.ucalgary.ca.