“Among civilised peoples there are few who have really healthy feet… What is the cause of this shocking fact? Firstly, too many people know nothing about their feet, and secondly almost everyone shies away from a foot examination due to feelings of false shame.” So reads the Birkenstock Fußfibel, a small, smart footcare manual published by the storied German shoe brand in 1983. Nearly 35 years later and little has changed; the majority of us still abuse our feet daily, squishing them into ill-fitting shoes or subjecting them to torturous high heels, without thought to the long term consequences on our bodies.
Birkenstock has been blazing the trail for podiatric innovations for over 200 years, devoting itself not only to the development of revolutionary footwear but also to teaching others how best to treat, and understand, feet. The Fußfibel is one of many informative publications printed by Birkenstock over the years but it is arguably the most charming and accessible, replete as it is with diagrams to illustrate the foot’s structure and its relationship to other parts of the anatomy, a guide to Birkenstock styles and their individual benefits, and, best of all, “a little foot lexicon”. This concise compendium offers advice on ailments, from skewfoot to swollen feet, recommends treatments and lists the appropriate footcare for a range of scenarios (pregnancy, hiking, sedentary jobs et al). Here, to keep you on your toes when it comes to personal podiatry, we list some of our favourite pieces of timeless advice from the manual.
1. Let your feet roam free
Perhaps surprisingly, the Fußfibel is quick to expound the virtues of shoeless wandering in the wild outdoors as per the teachings of 19th-century Bavarian priest Sebastian Kneipp. The message is simple: we were born to walk barefoot and the benefits of doing so are immeasurable. It promotes circulation, strengthens the muscles, allows for aeration and gives your feet back their natural footprint.
2. Nature nurtures
But we can’t abandon footwear forever. The next best thing? Shoes shaped by nature. The form of Birkenstock’s cleverly crafted footbed is dictated by the human footprint and thus “follows” the foot that wears it. It comprises of natural cork and latex, covered by porous and durable leather and offers support and breathability to our asphalt-weary feet. (Top tip: use a footbed insole to provide extra support when wearing sports shoes and boots.)
3. High heels hinder
It’s a fact: while heels are undoubtedly chic, they cause an unnatural distribution of body weight and thus punish our feet, backs, calves, hips and knees as well as skewing our toes. The Fußfibel recommends that those unwilling to sacrifice their stilettos counteract the damage by wearing support pads, spending plenty of time barefoot and making sure to carry a pair of light Birkenstock sandals for a swift switch for the walk home.
4. If the shoes fits...
We are notoriously lazy when it comes to making sure our shoes fit correctly, frequently forfeiting comfort for style. We all know our shoe size but width and tightness are the key factors to watch out for in maintaining healthy feet. Your feet need plenty of room to move freely, which is why Birkenstock’s varying widths and adjustable straps are particularly handy.
5. Pamper, pamper, pamper
Nothing restores your feet to working order like a bit of TLC. The Fußfibel prescribes an alternating bath and foot rub. First fill the bath until the water reaches mid-calf level, while adding revitalising spruce needle salts. Then immerse the legs for three to five minutes in warm water (36 to 38 degrees C) followed by ten seconds in cold water (12 to 18 degrees C). Repeat this process two to three times, finishing with cold water. Afterwards rub the feet and legs with massage elixir. And voila, happy feet!