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Research: firefighter boots may cause injury

Similar to injuries seen in skiers, firefighter footwear has caused back, knee and hip injuries

CANBERRA, Australia — Firefighters in Canberra are suffering from injuries commonly seen in skiers, but their boots are to blame.

University of Canberra assistant professor Wayne Spratford said the boots worn by firefighters are a root cause in an abnormally high number of back, knee and hip injuries.

“We looked at their boots and found they used a boot that constrained the ankle — basically the ankle can’t move,” Spratford told the Canberra Times.

In a research project with Australian Capital Territory Fire and Rescue and the Justice and Community Safety directorate, the university is using motion-capture technology to determine how different footwear impacts force travelling through a firefighter’s body as they carry out drills.

“Your ankle acts as a shock absorber to your body and if you constrain it, it can’t absorb the forces. And the forces that occur get pushed further up the chain of the body, so rather than the ankle absorbing the forces it goes into the knee, hip and lumbar — a bit like how a ski boot works,” Spratford said.

The research will compare how a fixed-ankle boot and flexible-ankle boot influence the ankle, hip, knee and lumbo-pelvic regions.

“We’ll use reflective markers and 3D analysis that will allow us to model their movement, then we’ll tape force vectors and model those and run those through each joint,” Spratford said.

The fire department initially adopted the fixed-ankle boots to combat a high number of ankle injuries.

Used for the first time to monitor how boots affect firefighters, the professor said it is likely the research will be used to create a boot with a hinge and shorter shaft.

“There’s been studies done into how other sporting shoes constrain the ankle but not firefighting boots specifically, and doing firefighting activities.”