Is there ever a situation where Birkenstocks are not the best footwear solution? Apart from Birkenstocks seemingly always being in fashion, they simply are one of the best shoe designs on the planet. This can be attested to be the fact the design of the cork footbed construction has remained largely the same since….well….forever!
According to Birkenstock it all began in Germany in 1896:
My history with Birkenstock is not quite as long as 123 years, but the number of Birkenstock sandals, thongs and slippers of various states of disrepair, lingering in the bottom of my wardrobe are testament to my passion for these shoes. I wear Birkenstocks as my primary shoes/footwear all year round with the felted slippers being the daily house shoe choice regardless of the weather.
As a podiatrist, I am well aware that not everyone shares my love for, or my perceived comfort in the wearing of Birkenstocks. (By the way, I do refrain from wearing my Birkenstocks in the clinic. I’m not quite sure why but it probably has something to do with my work attire ‘style’ rather than anything else). So, what is it about this shoe that works so well for my seriously pes cavis (high arched) foot? My arch makes no contact on the footbed which is described by Birkenstock as being “based on the cast of a healthy foot in the sand”, clearly something that my foot is not!
There are no forefoot flex grooves to assist on forward progression, and there is little to no heel to forefoot pitch (ramp or drop). As someone with limited ankle dorsiflexion (upward motion of the ankle) you would think this would be detrimental to both my comfort and my gait efficiency. Well, the funny thing is that it is not! Whatever kinematic/ kinetic inefficiencies the shoe may be thought to cause based on my logical assessment, is well and truly made up for in my sense of comfort, security and stability.
The comfort seems to come from the lateral ‘cuboid’ bump, or skive, and the perfectly placed (for me) metatarsal ‘dome’ in the forefoot. My feet seem to ‘relax’ the instant I slide them into my Birkenstocks.
Birkenstock says, “The result is a fit that allows for the greatest amount of freedom while simultaneously providing your feet with exactly the stability they need. An original BIRKENSTOCK footbed offers your feet the exact level of support they need when you’re standing or walking.”
And I couldn’t agree more.
Of course, I may be unique. As a study size of one, none of my experience can be taken as gospel, however with 25 million pairs of Birkenstocks sold in 2018 I very much doubt it!
Studies around footwear comfort have been in the spotlight recently, such as the review in the British Medical Journal Running shoes and running injuries: Mythbusting and a proposal for two new paradigms: ‘preferred movement path’ and ‘comfort filter’ by Beno Nigg and co. And although comfort is a very personal, subjective metric research done around the comfort of running shoes tells us that people value and benefit from comfort, with comfort having even been shown to reduce the risk of running injury.
Now, although I love my Birkenstocks, I have no intention of using them as my performance running shoe. It simply wouldn’t work. But for now, at the close of a hot NZ summer, I have been spotted on a regular basis beaching it in my Birkenstocks!