It never ceases to surprise me, the lengths people will go with bullshit lawsuits to scale their “moral pedestal” so they can grab some dishonest cash.
In case I am not being clear enough, let me be more blunt: the payout Vibram is making in order to settle a class action lawsuit about their shoe health benefits is utter bullshit. Let’s take a look at the claims that are in dispute, and we’ll use a little common sense. Here is what Vibram has claimed as health benefits from using its five-finger shoes:
(1) Strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs
(2) Improve range of motion in the ankles, feet, and toes
(3) Stimulate neural function important to balance and agility
(4) Eliminate heel lift to align the spine and improve posture
(5) Allow the foot and body to move naturally
Now, before I go into these directly, let me describe what these shoes do – they are designed to protect your feet while giving the feel of barefoot running. The only health hazard from barefoot running, assuming you are doing it correctly (Holy shit, doing an exercise incorrectly can lead to injury? Who knew?!), is from objects on the ground that can scrape, bruise, or puncture your feet. But wait a minute, isn’t that what the padding is for? Is this supposed to be a novel concept or something? Nearly anyone who has bought a pair of these shoes from a store (read: not ordered online) can tell you that they received a spiel about proper sizing and ensuring you have the right five-finger shoe (based largely off the padding) for the type of activity you have planned. In short, if you plan on running in the woods, you will need more padding than if you just run on a track, and so on.
Now that we’ve cleared that bit up, let’s start with the first claim. These shoes make it uncomfortable to run in a way that allows your heel to strike the ground – they are simply not designed for that unnatural running style. This encourages you to run on the balls of your feet instead, and use your ankles as a sort of shock-absorber. Most people who run casually do not really run like this, so they advise you to build up to your regular distance slowly. Why? Because your calves will hurt like hell for at least the first few weeks of running. Why is that, you ask? Because you don’t normally use your calves as much when you run. Your ankles and toes might be more tired as well, because you are using them more, too. Sounds a lot to me like you are work out more muscles in your feet, ankles, and lower legs when you run in these shoes. Now, what is it that strengthens muscles? Exercise, you say? Well, I guess then common sense would dictate this claim to be an accurate one. On to claim number two, then.
Improved range of motion in your ankles, feet, and toes. You are moving your feet, ankles, lower legs, etc. in ways you are not usually used to when you run properly in five-finger shoes. This means you are forcing your feet, ankles, and lower legs into a range of motion you do not normally engage in. Isn’t that essentially stretching? Perhaps not as good as stretching, but certainly in that direction. Stretching improves range of motion, and these shoes are at least partially stretching your tendons when you use them, which makes that claim accurate as well.
Now I cannot speak to the first part of claim number 3, but the end result stands. When you improve the strength of your lower leg tendons, and the ability of your ankle to function as a shock absorber, as well as strengthening your toes (essential to balance), you are naturally going to improve your balance. The improved balance and increased ankle strength and going to naturally make you more agile as well. Common sense, right? That claim is at least 50% correct.
Claim number 4 confuses me a little, I will admit. If however, they mean need for heel lifts to improve healing after Achilles tendon injuries, the reduction in heel lift claim stands. Stronger tendons are injured less often, which by extension would reduce your need for things to help them heel. Posture I cannot speak to – I have bad posture normally, and to me the only thing that improves it is simply not slouching and getting used to having good posture. Then again, I am not a physical therapist, so all I know are the things physical therapists have told me about running and other exercises. But the reduced need for heel lifts due to reduced injuries is just common sense, and that would make the claim at least 50% correct.
The last claim is about allowing the foot and body to more naturally. With regard to running (the primary intent behind getting these shoes), that claim is correct. Since they force you to run naturally, your feet and body will be moving more naturally when running. How common sense missed all of this I will never know. Perhaps it was objected to by lawyers seeking a quick payday.
At any rate, this is why I think the suit is a load of crap, and I hope if you have purchased a five-finger shoe you won’t seek a refund. I know I won’t, because I am not that dishonest. I can feel the difference when I used mine, and I am smart enough to be able to put one and one together and get two, vice the zero this dumbass suit resulted in.
(disclaimer: I do not work or speak for Vibram, and am not receiving anything from them for my above rant – nor would I accept anything for merely stating what I feel is the truth. All of this is merely my opinion on an event that has, to be blunt, pissed me off.)