Why I Think the Vibram FiveFingers Lawsuit is a Total Joke
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of barefoot/minimalist shoes in general, and Vibram FiveFinger (VFF) shoes specifically. I’ve blogged about them countless times before, and I’ve even been interviewed by a VFF fan site. I think they are incredibly beneficial for the body, and that by wearing them, one can increase function, decrease pain, and improve one’s overall health.
However, it came out this week that Vibram has a bit of a situation on its hands (or should I say its feet?). Runner’s World magazine has reported that Vibram has settled a $3.75 million class-action lawsuit over false health claims that its running shoes yield health benefits.
In the settlement, first filed by Valerie Bezdek in March of 2012, Bezdek claimed that Vibram deployed deceptive marketing and falsely advertised the following benefits from wearing its shoe, without basing its claims on any scientific research:
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
My goal with this post is to discuss each of those claims using, of all things, common sense. What a concept, huh?
Let’s get started.
–Vibrams will strengthen the muscles in the feet and lower legs
Common sense says that you have to use a muscle in order to strengthen the muscle. How many people do you know who, as they become sedentary, lose more and more muscle tone and definition? Their muscles begin to atrophy if they aren’t using them. It’s the old use-it-or-lose-it scenario.
If that’s the case, then isn’t the opposite of that true as well? If you’re using a muscle more, which VFFs allow you to do as I’ll explain later, then you’re strengthening the muscle more. It makes perfect sense.
Have you ever been to the gym and seen someone get in better shape by simply staring at the weights and thinking about using them? I didn’t think so.
–Improve range of motion in the ankles, feet, and toes
Take a look at the following pictures:
Notice anything different between the two sets? The top pictures are showing what our feet look like when in a typical shoe. The vast majority of shoes have a closed/narrow toe box and don’t allow the foot to spread and move properly. The pictures on the bottom show someone who spends the vast majority of time (possibly all the time) barefoot. Notice how the toes have spread, and the foot is wider, which equates to more range of motion in the foot. If the toes are moving better, the foot will move better, and the ankle will move better. The muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia are all in a more neutral position and able to function as designed.
–Stimulate neural function important to balance and agility
It’s no secret that the body is a stimulus-response organism. A good example of this is when you step on a thumbtack or put your hand on a hot burner. There is a very quick neural response that happens as you pull your foot or hand away from danger. However, if you were wearing a cast on your foot or hand and you stepped on a thumbtack or touched a hot burner, you’d feel nothing, because the cast would be preventing proper neural function.
On a similar scale, the VFFs allow the foot to be stimulated, whereas other shoes have a “casting” effect on the foot. A lot of shoes are designed to stabilize your foot artificially, like a cast does. Your local shoe store puts you in an anti-pronation shoe or an anti-stabilization shoe. They’re trying to adapt the shoe to your compromised foot position. Stabilization shoes trap the foot, not allowing it to move properly, and as a result, shut down proper neural function. Just as your muscles atrophy when you don’t use them, your neural function diminishes when you don’t use it properly. However, use the neurological system properly, and you’ll actually increase its ability to function. Again, this is common sense to me. If you’re able to use your own muscles for balance and agility, instead of allowing a shoe to mask those qualities, you’ll stimulate and increase neural function.
–Eliminate heel lift to align the spine and improve posture
Uh….hello! Does Valerie Bezdek not know what wearing heels does to the body and its posture? Just in case she has forgotten:
Obviously, this is a more-extreme example than a 12MM heel lift that a typical running shoe might have, but the physical change that happens in the body still applies. When you elevate/lift the heel, there’s a domino-effect that impacts the entire musculoskeletal system. By eliminating the heel lift, the body is as at least given a fighting chance to align properly. There might be other factors that are impacting the overall posture and function–occupation, hobbies, injuries, etc.–but why not start with as neutral a base as possible?
–Allow the foot and body to move naturally
Again, let’s go back to the “cast” example from above. When you’re in a cast, your body is NOT moving properly, because it CAN’T move properly. It’s in a cast. Only when the cast gets cut off can your body move properly.
If you think you aren’t wearing a “cast” on your foot when you have your normal shoes on, think again. To prove this point, let’s do a little test. Take your shoe off and bend it. If you’re wearing a “cast,” it’ll most likely look like this:
The only movement comes from the ball of the foot to the ends of the toes. From the ball of the foot to the heel, you’re essentially in a cast, and the foot isn’t moving like it’s designed to do.
However, if you’re wearing a barefoot/minimalist shoe and you bend it, it’ll look like this:
Again…notice the difference. It’s night and day in terms of how much the foot is allowed to move! Is there any question that barefoot shoes like VFFs (those are Vivo Barefoot shoes in the picture) allow the foot to move more? Do we really need “science” to tell us that? Come on, Valerie! Use common sense!
My official stance (and all of Egoscue for that matter) is that I will NEVER tell our clients to wear “more” of a shoe, to brace their foot, or confine their foot. The foot is designed to move, and “normal” shoes simply don’t allow that to happen. I, for one, won’t be filing any claim to get Vibram to pay me money, and I hope you won’t either. Instead, I hope you’ll buy another pair of VFFs because of how beneficial they are to your health!
If you’re wanting to get the most benefit out of your VFFs or any other minimalist shoe, be sure do download the Four Free E-cises to improve your overall function and movement.