Utilizing Footwear Traumata for Identification in Forensic Anthropology (2012)


This paper presents the results of a research inquiry into the possible applications of footwear studies to forensic anthropology. These applications have been broken into three sections which include the various bone morphological changes caused by footwear, the use of shoe data in forensic cases, and how the shod versus unshod argument could be significant to forensic anthropology. Each section provides a description and how each example may be applicable to forensic anthropology.

Trauma of the Foot as a response to Footwear

The traumata discussed here reflect changes in bone morphology which may be related with specific types of footwear. Consideration for differences in shod versus unshod will be discussed in a later section. Because shoe style is a lifestyle choice, the ability to estimate specific long-term footwear can aid in an individual identification for a forensic case.

The first of these injuries I would like to discuss fall under the general term metatarsaligia. This term references pain in the forefoot, and involves the metatarsals. Long-term heel wearers may show evidence of this shift in weight bearing to the distal portions of the metatarsals in the form of eburnation (West 1995).  This proximal portions of the metatarsal may be affected as well, however the pain in this area is typically associated more with nerve inflammation (West 1995). The effects of this could be seen only in chronic long-term wearers of heels.

Stress Fractures typically occur on the metatarsal shaft, along line of surgical neck. They can be caused by stresses associated with change in occupation or footwear (West 1995). New shoes introduce a shift in balance and the shape the foot is held in, which is especially stressful on bones when occurring alongside extended periods on the feet.

One of the more interesting considerations I found applicable to forensic anthropology is the Haglund’s Deformity, also known as a “pump bump”. This “bump” is a bony enlargement on back of calcaneus, which forms as a result of this portion rubbing against rigid backs of shoes. Because the pump bump is primarily associated with heeled shoes, a lifestyle choice in itself, it may be of interest to forensic sciences to assess whether heel size has any correlation with bump size. Such a correlation could provide stronger evidence for very specific lifestyle choices.

Use of shoe data in forensic cases

The forensic applications in regards to shoes are often unrelated to bones. DNA evidence from shoes insoles has been used to link a wearer to a shoe. This shoe can then be linked to a crime scene either by its presence or through footprint analysis. Another forensic use of shoe data is database. There are very specific studies which relate to average size, length, et to provide shoe manufacturers with these foot demographics. Manufacturing companies have used this information to predict how many of each size to make, but I propose investigators can make use of the information in the reverse. Investigators would be able to what portion of population owns that specific size and style of shoe. This may be beneficial in a case where footwear is the prime source of evidence, and regional scope for identity is unknown.

Atamturk conducted a study which focused on estimating sex from various shoe data including foot lengths, shoe lengths, and footprints. Foot length was found to be the most reliable predictor for sex; shoe lengths and footprints being more indicative of the individual wearer (Atamurk 2010). Another area in interest here is “Cinderella analysis,” which theorizes that everyone has own unique footprint in relation to their own unique choice in footwear, and that this is measurable. Data of concern are foot fall patterns and weight distribution (Rice-Oxley 2007). Using these sources of data could be beneficial in the realm of identification for forensic sciences, however many of the applications are aimed at establishing presence of a perpetrator at a site, I have not encountered use in forensic case studies as of yet. I would propose a more precise and all-encompassing method of data collection as well, and should take into account all ratios of footwear and shoe size.

The Shod versus Unshod Argument

Philip Lewin, claims that the function of shoes is to protect. Shoes protect the wearer against the hardness and unevenness of the ground, heat and cold; and to provide support (Lewin 1948). There is evidence against these functions however, and the primary data for such arguments have resulted from the occurrence of running related injuries. These areinjuries to bone and connective tissue in the lower extremities (was once thought to be “overuse injuries” because affected runners after they increased training.) but are common in recreational runners as well (Robbins 1987).

Much of the evidence against footwear is in the low incidences of running related injuries in barefoot populations. This suggests that running shoes may have a correlation to injuries, or that barefoot running builds rosbusticity needed for protection and support. I have found evidence for both hypotheses in this research.

 Low incidences of running related injuries in barefoot societies may be attributed to deflection of medial longitudinal arch upon loadbearing. This deflection is important for the development of specific musculature of the foot (Robbins 1987). This deflection cannot occur to its full extent in shoes with arch supports, because it provides a false surface, and thus no deflection for that arch. The main bony ridges and arches that have become reliant on this false protection of shoe, will not develop support structures. This leads to muscle atrophies in the foot, and may also lead to foot muscles attaching to incorrect bone surfaces (Robbins 1987). Trinkaus provides a cross cultural comparison[1] reveals habitually shod individuals to possess the most gracile phalanges. Unshod individuals tended to have more robust phalanges, and a third intermediate category was found in shod yet rural populations. Along with the atrophic musculature and more gracile bones in the foot overall,

The plantar epithelium has an incredibly high density of neuroreceptors, which allow for a “feedback-meditated protective behavior.” This response references the ability to adjust balance and body positioning in accordance to external stimuli (Robbins 1987). The inability to recognize the need for adjustments, and the improper growth of bony ridges suggests that running shoes may be more harm than good, especially to habitual runners.

While these studies show a correlation between footwear and running injuries, I believe an important component has been forgotten.  The injury may also be influenced by the running surface. This is only speculative data, but running on a concrete sidewalk provides a different shock impact than running on grass. I would have liked these studies to have taken this into account. There is a new shoe on the market, which promises a hybrid between protection from the industrial elements and the developmental freedom of going barefoot. Studies such as this could be applicable to forensic anthropology in a broad scope. To estimate whether an individual is from an industrialized nation may not narrow down identity, however to estimate that an individual is from a barefoot population could be very beneficial.

I have found that there is no determining factor for identifications in regards to footwear. However, it cannot be assumed that ideal situation will always be encountered. Should footwear be the sole source of evidence for a case, these applications may be considered to suggest identity. Human have been wearing (or not been wearing) shoes for much of our existence, and yet we know so little about their effects, both positive and negative.


Agic, Ante. “Foot Morphometric Phenomena.” Coll. Anthropol. 31.2 (2007): 495-501.

Atamturk, Derya. “Estimation of Sex from the Dimensions of Foot, Footprints, and Shoe.”            Anthropologischer Anzeiger 68.1 (2010): 21-29.

Bright, Jo-Anne. “Recovery of Trace DNA and Its Application to DNA Profiling of Shoe           Insoles.” Forensic Science International (2004).

Lewin, Philip. “Selection and Care of Shoes.” The American Journal of Nursing 48.9 (1948):          580-81.

Marlin, Thomas. “Some Observations on Shoes.” British Medical Journal 2.4065 (1938): 1159- 160.

Rice-Oxley, Mark. “Britain’s Latest in Forensics: Shoes.” 2007

Robbins, Steven E., and Adel M. Hanna. “Running-related Injury Prevention through Barefoot Adaptations.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 19.2 (1987): 148-156.

Shulman, Samuel. “Survey in China and India on Feet That Have Never Worn Shoes.” The        Journal of the National Association of Chiropodists 49 (1949): 26-30.

Trinkaus, Erik, and Hong Shang. “Anatomical Evidence for the Antiquity of Human Footwear:          Tianyuan and Sunghir.” Journal of Archaeological Science 35.7 (2008): 1928-933.

West, S. G., and J. Woodburn. “Pain in the Foot.” British Medical Journal 310.6983 (1995):       860-64.

[1] Trinkaus’ actual data for comparison were “habitually shod Euro American,” “habitually barefoot Amerindian,” and “shod, but robust Inuit.” His study focused on proximal pedal phalanges (Trinkaus 2008).

Published by Nikki M

Applied Anthropologist and Digital Dance Specialist

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