A British biomechanist believes he can help ease the strain on the shins of walkers and soldiers trekking for many miles while wearing heavy loads on their backs with a new type of footwear. Can a spring change the way we walk? Jim Drury looks at the product's first steps.
STORY: Jim Usherwood wants to put a spring in our step - literally. The locomotor biomechanist is patenting his new design for boot soles - with springs in front of the heel. Other manufacturers have placed springs on the heels before, but Usherwood says that can be counter-productive. SOUNDBITE: Spring Shoe Inventor, Dr Jim Usherwood, saying (English): "If you have a spring here then you have to change the way you stand. The second different thing about these is that they effectively reach an end stop. When you're standing in a mid stance they're compressed enough that they're not moving anymore, so you can then vault over the middle stance, very much like normal walking and you don't have to bounce up and down." His research involved studying colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College walking over lab force plates. Colleague Tatjana Hubel says human steps always demonstrate an M-shaped force, even when the walker is wearing stiletto heels. SOUNDBITE: Royal Veterinary College Post Doctoral Researcher, Dr Tatjana Hubel, saying (English): "You can typically see two big peaks. The first one is if the heel hits the ground and the second one is if you push up shortly before the toe leaves the ground." They also tested ostrich steps and noticed the same phenomenon, despite the birds' very different shaped foot and raised heel. Their research suggests that we waste energy with every step, and Usherwood says his boots could help harness it, or at least make it less tiring to lose. SOUNDBITE: Spring Shoe Inventor, Dr Jim Usherwood, saying (English): "Every time our foot goes flat on the ground our shin muscles are pulled and throw energy away, and our shins get quite tired. Now if you can get some of that energy back again for free then that might make walking a bit easier, but the fundamental trick is that you really should be able to reduce the forces and the work done by your shin muscles." He says the prototype could help those who trek long distances, like walkers and soldiers, by enabling people to walk further without risk of injury or muscle exhaustion. Once he's secured commercial backing, Usherwood will modify the design into something more practical... he says he's ready to spring into action.