The Vibrams Settlement

Vibrams Settlement: People who bought these Vibrams FiveFinger shoes may be entitled to a refund

Vibrams Five Finger minimalist shoes. Vibrams Settlement.

Last week, the Vibrams Settlement story blew up on my Facebook page. I was immediately asked for my opinion on the Vibrams settlement by several different people. Here are my thoughts.

People are making a big of a deal out of this Vibrams settlement, but in my opinion it is a total non story. It’s pretty simple. Vibram made a claim they couldn’t back up with scientific research. The basics of the claim was that simply wearing Vibrams Five Finger minimalist shoes would strengthen the muscles of your foot and decrease injuries. The fact that Vibrams settled has nothing to do with whether the claim is true or not. And since Vibrams hasn’t admitted any guilt or wrong-doing, we really don’t know why they decided to settle. It’s possible that Vibrams felt it was cheaper to settle than to fight this lawsuit further.

The reality of barefoot shoes is this:
If your structure is solid and you have NO MOVEMENT DYSFUNCTION, then training barefoot/minimalist will make your feet stronger than training in highly structured shoes. If you are a loyal reader of my blog, you will know I consider this kind of a no brainer. If the intrinsic musculature of the foot is allowed to function properly, it will get stronger with training. Just like with any other muscle. And if you brace a joint (which is what an arch support does), the muscles of that joint will grow weaker. So with perfect structure and good bio-mechanical movement, Vibrams claim is true. However…

If you do have dysfunction in your structure and you train with this dysfunction, you highly increase your risk of pain and injury. Your shoes, any shoes from five fingers to Hokas, will not fix this problem. They may help hide the pain for awhile, but eventually the dysfunction will rule movement.

The reality is that If you have dysfunction in your structure and in your bio-mechanics, then It does not matter what is on your feet (minus a few obvious shoe choices such as high heels and flip flops, but that is another story altogether). It’s not the shoes that are the problem, it’s the dysfunction in the structure and mechanics that needs to be addressed. Add barefoot/minimalist shoes to a poor structure and poor mechanics, and you’re going to exacerbate problems and actually increase your likelihood of injury.

So if you have dysfunction in your structure and biomechanics, then the Vibram settlement claim is not only false, but also potentially harmful. Training minimalist/barefoot, will actually increase your likelihood of injury. To truly get the benefit out of moving barefoot/minimalist, you have to treat your underlying structural and bio-mechanical issues first.

My professional/experiential advice:
I do not recommend making a drastic transition to barefoot/minimalist shoes especially if you have movement dysfunction. Again, your number one priority needs to be addressing your structure and mechanics. Here is one of my favorite posts on the effects of attempting to train through dysfunction.

I do recommend a conservatively slow transition into barefoot/minimalist shoes for people with solid structural mechanics. I look for a shoe that does not control your natural movement, but allows natural movement to take place. Here are a couple of my favorite shoes that I recommend regularly Luna Sandals and Soft Star Shoes (affiliate links).

If you are interested in transitioning into a barefoot/minimalist lifestyle, here are a couple of articles I wrote that may help with your transition here, and here.

If you’re injured, don’t look for barefoot/minimalist shoes to fix your problems. There are no magic fixes. It takes work and you’ll need the help of a movement therapist. This is the type of help that I offer.

10 Replies to “The Vibrams Settlement”

  1. I have a 10 year research of reverse engineering elites feet and their unique use. running barefoot does not mean people are using their feet correctly, they still lack the necessary tension and connection to the glutes due to the shoe, the connection to the glutes are dormant.

    1. Chong, I would agree with you completely. There is a structural and biomechanical issue first. Treat the movement first. Then worry about the shoe.

      Jesse James Retherford

  2. Jesse, forgive me if I’ve missed it, but I don’t recall seeing you mention the difference between training with minimalist/barefoot shoes on rugged terrain–hiking trails, dirt paths, springy running tracks–and in the city, on asphalt or concrete.

    Our foot structure evolved to navigate irregular terrain, with lots of small joints to articulate over rocks, roots and bumps, and to leverage the spring you get from running on springy ground. Steady pounding on a hard, perfectly flat surface is not good for our joints. I generally cringe when I see people running in Vibrams down a concrete sidewalk.

    1. Hi Steph,

      Thanks for the response. We do not get our spring from the ground. It is naturally in our bodies. When we experience healthy efficient movement, the fascia, tendons, ligaments, and even bones work as one giant spring to absorb and release the elastic energy of movement. It is the breakdown in this spring, the inability to absorb and release impact energy, which causes pain and injury.

      The outside environment obviously plays a role, but we should be able to run on hard packed earth just as well as soft uneven ground. With dysfunction in the structure, pain and injury are just as likely on a trail as on concrete.

      My basic opinion on this is it’s all good. You should be able to run in all environments, and if you run, you should probably regularly experience running in all environments. In my eyes, getting stuck in one pattern is a bigger issue for many people than the surface they live upon.

      Jesse James Retherford

  3. Great read Jesse. I’m afraid this lawsuit plus injuries will only lead people further away from minimalist footwear and more toward bigger and bulkier shoes. I’m no expert in this but since practicing a proper running form (pose method) I’ve been injury free aside from a few minor things. It’s worked for me. You’re right there is no magic fixes or magic shoes. Funny because I own a pair of that exact model of vibrams in the picture.

  4. Aloha Jesse, I’ve been mulling your comments on this subject for a while, and realized this morning why I needed to mull rather than just saying, “yes! what Jesse says rings a bell for me.”

    I have bunions on both feet, and a right knee injury which I sustained almost 40 years ago. My compensation patterns – avoiding full pressure on right side – resulted in lack of support to my right shoulder and eventually repetitive use problems in that shoulder. I quit running when I went to massage school in 1996 because I tripped several times due dragging my right foot and went sprawling forward, further jamming my shoulder. It was no longer worth the risk. In my mind my patterns qualify as “dysfunction in structure”.

    That said, I continue to be very active – I’m a serious hula dancer, Pilates practitioner and I walk a lot.

    I started wearing barefoot shoes – first Xero sandals and then Soft Star boot last summer. Before that I wore Teva flip flops and Ugg boots. The Xero sandals felt so good that once I started wearing them I have worn them or Soft Star boots exclusively for the past almost year. I transitioned to barefoot footwear cold turkey.

    Barefoot shoes have been been wonderful for me in every way. I move more easily. I become more and more aware in my body all the time, and my movement dysfunction becomes less and less. Of course I also regularly pay careful attention to movement patterns.

    I understand that mine is just one example and I fully get respect that for some people with structural dysfunction, barefoot shoes cause more problems. For some of us however, barefoot shoes can be wonderful.

    Thanks for your great work.

    By the way, I’m about halfway through What the Foot which I heard about from you, and I love it!! I’m getting lots of new and useful awareness from reading it.

    1. Thanks for the wonderful comments Barbara. I transitioned to barefoot about 6+ years ago (at this point, I don’t even remember when). In that time, I’ve experienced both significant improvement in my structure and function as well as increased injury. I haven’t been able to really get into a sustained running program for 3 years now.

      My choice in shoes did play a role in both improved movement quality and increased injury risk. I got stronger in the parts of my structure where I functioned well, and had breakdowns in the parts of my structure that were already compromised. I’m now working on bringing back full structural balance and functionality into my system.

      I just took level one of Gary Ward’s Anatomy in Motion course, based upon “What the Foot”. As much as I loved his book, which I still consider the best book on movement to date, I love the course even more. I can’t wait for level two in three weeks. I’m a completely different therapist today than I was last week. I highly recommend it.

      Jesse James Retherford

  5. I transitioned to minimalist shoes a few years ago after frustration with always getting told I need strong ‘stability’ shoes, then getting shin splints so painful I couldn’t walk for days at a time. I started/quit running many times in my 30’s.
    Was reading Born to Run and telling my wife about it, so she bought me a pair of the Fila Skeletoes. (maybe not the most minimalist shoe, but pretty close).
    The very first time I ran in them, I realized I had been doing things wrong all these years. I HAD to shorten my stride, and land almost mid/forefoot, or it was painful. I wore them once a week for a bit, working on getting a stride that was comfortable and ‘felt’ good. It was a lot of work. Maybe 8-10 months if I recall, until I finally could ‘automatically’ find that smooth stride.
    I was then upping the mileage to ~30km mostly on concrete/asphalt and at the end of one 33km run, got back, and felt like I could do another one.
    I currently run in VFFs and while I’m not loyal to any particular brand, I do like them a lot.
    I’ve been injury free since the transition as well, save a few sore muscles. Now looking forward to my first “Ultra”.. 50k (small for ultra’s but big enough for me!).

  6. I live barefoot & only wear shoes when I have to go to town.UUnfortunately, I have really bad arthritis which dev in my teens. I’m now 58, & the fibromyalgia chronic pain & arthritis have raised my weight to 250 w little chance to exercise. My heart doesn’t pump the blood out of the heart well.
    So, exercise is almost impossible.
    I’ve had sciatica since childbirth in 1978 & it is miserable. Help

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