Are Vibram Five Finger Shoes Safe?


There is a debate in the athletic and academic world about minimalist shoes safety and efficacy.  I tend to fall on the anti-establishment side of most things in life.  Naturally, I have gravitated to the minimalist and ancestral theories of running and foot mechanics. 

So, the Vibram Five Finger shoes appealed to me, granted with a huge amount of skepticism.  Honestly, it took three years of seeing my students wear them and test them in those crazy looking shoes, to believe that they might be okay for normal people.

After three years of fighting the ugly shoes, I finally drank the Kool-aid and purchased a pair.  I have, to be honest, I am thoroughly shocked that Erin is still with my because they are profoundly unattractive.  But they truly are the most comfortable shoes that I have ever put on my feet, by the time the weekend comes around I am craving time in my Vibrams.

Obviously, I have become a fan of the odd looking shoe; I take the health of my feet and the shoes I wear very seriously.  I feel most of my patients should do the same because there are 26 bones per foot, making 52 total and there are 206 bones in the body.  So, doing the quick math, 1/4 of your bones are in your feet, that means there is a lot of input to your nervous system, which means taking care of your feet can be imperative for your health. 

Plus, your feet are what relate you to the earth and how most of us get from one place to the other. Understandably since Vibram recently settled their lawsuit, I get asked if Vibram Five Fingers are safe.

In my clinical and personal experience yes, they are very safe when you have healthy, well-adjusted feet, and you do all of the recommended exercises on the Vibram Five Fingers website.  They also should only be worn for short intervals at first. The Vibrams have had some bad press because if you don’t have healthy feet and properly train those feet, just jumping into the minimalist shoes, trying to run miles you normally did you will hurt yourself.  

Improper training or not easing into these shoes can potentially leading to shin splints, plantar fascists, or bone marrow edema.  All of which can happen to run in any shoe. Bone marrow swelling the main reasons the safety of Vibrams is questioned. 

In my opinion, this is a poor interpretation of the research.  This because when you understand bone growth physiology and stresses that remodel the bone, you start to understand that the bone marrow swelling was due to the bones getting stressed and over time they would have led to stronger bones.  This is the reason that you have to build slowly into the Vibrams and not just put on the new shoes and run the same mileage that they were running theirs over padded shoes.

So wrapping it up, I believe the Vibram Five Finger shoes are amazing, but you have to do the exercises that strengthen your feet, and you have top ease your feet into wearing them.  In fact, my foot shrank 1/2 of a size because of the increased contraction of the muscles. Please share your experiences with your Vibrams if you have a pair.

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