Remember that in last August I tried the Vibram FiveFingers and was less than impressed? Now the company has to take back its health statements and give you a refund!
“It’s For Your Best!”
When you put on Vibram FiveFingers you not only have to live through the ridicule of the public. More often than not pain as well.
But the pain was to be endured. It was only there because we had “atrophied” our feet’s muscles from using over-engineered running shoes. Run barefoot, the argument went, and those muscles will come back. Your feet will be healthier for it.
Vibram, Inc., synonymous with barefoot-imitating running shoes, told us that if we’d just stick with it, it would “reduce foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles.”
Get Up To $94 Back
Already in August last year I wrote about my skepticism toward barefoot running in general and Vibrams in particular, but a Florida woman took it much further. I applaud her for it.
She said, “dear people at Vibram, hold on a second, do you have any scientific evidence for that?” and filed a complaint against Vibram’s grandiose FiveFingers marketing message.
Turns out that Vibram was a bit bare-handed backing up their statements. They agreed to settle with her.
From now on, Vibram, Inc. won’t claim that their shoes do any of the following (found in the plaintiff’s original complaint (PDF)):
(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, and (5) allow the foot and body to move naturally. At various times, defendants’ website added that wearing FiveFingers would improve proprioception and body awareness, reduce lower back pain and injury, and generally improve foot health.
In addition, anyone who bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers after March 21, 2009 can claim up to $94. Head over to their freshly set up website, which will go live May 14, and file your claim. For up to two pairs you can do it without proof of purchase.
But what does Christopher McDougall say about all this, the guy whose 2009 book Born to Run started the whole barefoot running craze and made the claim about the atrophied foot muscles? He says this:
It’s just complete horseshit. It’s complete make-believe. Yet we all buy it. When you start looking at the scientific evidence, you realize there is none.
Without context, what do you think he is talking about? Barefoot running or regular running shoes? It’s the latter.
According to him in the same interview, the burden of proof about being useful lies with the running shoes. Those need science. He and barefoot running apparently don’t; his claims in Born to Run were centered around an obscure Indian tribe that runs with naked feet.
And there is scientific evidence against barefoot running, even against Vibrams specifically. A 2013 Utah study had 19 runners switch to Vibram shoes over the course of ten weeks. They ended up with more bone marrow edema (precursors of stress fractures) than the control group using regular shoes (PDF).
The website who was first to break news of this settlement was Runner’s World. They have a peculiar stance toward the plaintiff:
It was never disclosed if [the plaintiff], who filed her suit roughly one year after purchasing her pair of Vibram Bikilas, tried to first seek a refund for her FiveFingers prior to initiating the lawsuit.
Was suing a logical or over-the-top reaction for a product that didn’t perform as advertised? Will the suit help to better police a corporation or does it leave consumers not responsible for applying common sense to a marketing boast that sounded too good to be true?
“Applying common sense” because it “sounded too good to be true”? Never heard that when they reviewed the Bikila model:
It’s Your Feet That Make The Decision
In the wake of the Massachusetts decision, the American Podiatric Medical Association, people who really know their stuff about feet, put out a succinct statement:
While anecdotal evidence and testimonials proliferate on the Internet and in the media about the possible health benefits of barefoot running, research has not yet adequately shed light on the immediate and long-term effects of this practice. The American Podiatric Medical Association […] encourages the public to consult a podiatrist with a strong background in sports medicine to make an informed decision on all aspects of their running and training programs.
You could translate it into “have a little sense! ”