Should I Wear Cushioned Shoes?

When astronauts come home from space they face severe loss of bone density, the longer the mission, the worse it is. 

That’s because we are biological organisms – constantly evolving according to the needs we place on our system. Load is the language of our cells – it’s how we communicate our need for adaptation to our body. Load is experienced as stress – and initiates a feedback loop that begins a process of tissue remodeling – according to the speed, pattern and volume of the load through a process called mechanotransduction

“{Mechanotransduction} refers to the many mechanisms by which cells convert mechanical stimulus into chemical activity” Michael Dalcourt

Fascia Training. American Council on Exercise

When you choose a highly cushioned shoe, you are communicating with your fascial system that tolerance to high impact isn’t something you need. The cells responsible for the maintenance of your collagen are called fibroblasts – the most abundant cell in the fascia. This is another clue as to just how adaptable the fascial system is – the cells responsible for remodeling are the most prolific!

When tension in the fascial system is high, the fibroblasts get busy spooling new collagen fibers to meet the need. This isn’t just something that adolescents experience, it’s a process that remains active as long as we demand it. 

But when the tension is absent, the fibroblasts go dormant – they interpret the lack of demand – and respond with inactivity. This simple feedback loop within the entire extracellular matrix is referred to as Davis’ Law, and is a soft tissue corollary to the more well known skeletal research known as Wolff’s Law .

But for the sedentary – or for those who deliberately over protect themselves from healthy loading patterns (cushioned shoe addicts) there is more bad news. Your fibroblasts don’t just become idle, they don’t just stop spooling collagen – they will actively destroy it. The fibroblast cell produces a highly effective collagen eating enzyme called collagenase, which will dissolve existing collagen fibers that it perceives as unnecessary.

Above excerpts from “Fascia: what it is, why it matters” by David Lesondak

Remember that nothing is static in the body, and that every fiber, every muscle requires upkeep and maintenance to remain healthy. If you signal to your body that you don’t need that fiber, your body will make do without it, so as to avoid maintaining tissue that is unused. 

So – should everyone who has highly cushioned shoes go burn them now? No – I don’t think so. Should we make a blanket statement that these shoes have no place in society, I don’t think so. 

What we should do is follow the clues of our own biology and make informed decisions. For most of us that means following in the habits of our overly protective western culture and avoiding healthy natural loading patterns – is a slippery slope and will not help us age well. When I hear people say they like swimming “because it’s low impact” I cringe – low impact means low demand, low demand means low capacity. I love swimming too, but I see the lack of loading as a problem that I overcome with high impact running.

None of this happens overnight, it takes several months to make positive adaptations and equally, it takes time to lose. When it comes to our fascial system, we are making changes to an extracellular matrix that isn’t serviced by our vascular system. Our vascular network allows remodeling and repair to happen much quicker (muscles grow faster than tendons). 

Should I stop using cushioned shoes? Should I throw out my arch supports? It’s easy to say ‘yes!’ and there are good reasons to do that. However applying these principles to the life of an athlete takes a careful and measured approach, and the risk of injury is real. For that reason, I’m not going to prescribe what you should do – unless you’re an athlete of ours – in which case we dive deeply into your history, injuries and current capacity – and map out a path for you to build a bulletproof fascial matrix. 

What I will say is that for the vast majority of human beings wearing highly cushioned shoes is a risk – it will begin a cascade of incapacity that will affect how you feel and what you believe about your body. You were designed for load, you were designed to be explosive, agile and capable of remarkable feats of athleticism – because you’re a human. All the clues lie in your own biology. 

Don’t let nonsense technology strip you of your inherent capacity to be a badass, because soon you’ll be an astronaut coming home from space afraid of walking without balloons on your feet, telling us how nice swimming is because of its low impact. Nah mean?!