Do “toe sneakers” really help your feet?

Have you seen these “toe sneakers” that seem to be everywhere? They’re a cross between running shoes and gloves, and remind me of those silly striped socks we used to wear as kids. As this craze passes throughKentucky, I’d like to tell you about these odd little shoes from a podiatrist’s perspective.

Fans of these toe sneakers, which are mostly runners and fitness buffs at this point, say they like being able to feel the road beneath their feet. They also claim the shoes allow the foot to move the way nature intended it, so therefore, they must be better for your feet.  While they’re right about feeling the road, rocks and all, the other claims are as of yet unsubstantiated.

Vibram's Fivefingers toe sneakers.

NPR’s “All Things Considered” did a story about these crazy kicks recently and interviewed Dr. James Christina, the director of scientific affairs for the American Podiatric Medical Association.

According to Dr. Christina, “It’s not something that’s going to be good for everybody. There are going to be certain people that will do very well with the minimalist-type shoe that don’t need a lot of support for their foot and will find it very comfortable. There are other people, depending on their foot type and the mechanics of their foot, how their foot operates when they run or walk, that really need the support of a shoe, and in some cases, they actually need extra support such as an insole or a custom-type orthotic device.”

My thoughts, exactly.

I would not recommend these shoes for patients who have a foot condition that requires orthotics, such as arthritis, flat feet, high arches, short leg syndrome or bunions, because they will not offer the support that your feet need and may actually make the problem worse. I’d also steer clear if you’re experiencing any kind of foot, ankle, knee or back pain; if you are prone to ankle sprains; or if you are significantly overweight.

I also wouldn’t recommend them for anyone in the U.S. Army, which recently banned them because they “detract from a professional military image.”

But if you are healthy, have never had any kind of problem with your feet, and aren’t in the Army, you can try them out. Just proceed with caution and start slow. Your feet may need time to adjust. If you begin experiencing any discomfort or pain, I suggest switching back to your normal shoes.

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