Sketcher settled a federal lawsuit for 40 million dollars for false advertising related to their “Tone-Up” shoes. They didn't make your butt look better. I'll be surprised if ultimately their settlements for ankle injuries won’t amount to more. The mere introduction of these shoes demonstrates how little attention the shoe industry pays to foot and body mechanics, and how some people should be warned by a label on the box to never wear a pair of these shoes.
I tried on a pair of Swiss Masai Shoes (MBT) soon after they were introduced. My first reaction was that this was a fad that wouldn’t last long because people were bound to injure themselves. I thought for sure that podiatrists and orthopedic doctors would step up and issue a warning.
A majority of the population have unstable feet. Our mission is to stabilize them by helping them use their muscles correctly. It appears MBT, Sketcher and others aim to further destabilize the feet, “toning” the muscles through forced and frequently uncontrolled over-use. Nike has been in the cushioning business for decades with their air technology, but to my knowledge Nike didn’t overtly jump overboard with the excessive “Tone-Up” cushioning. An Australian study, however, did document a significant ankle injury rate from using Nike’s air cushioning.
During our 20 years in business helping people with chronic foot and foot related body pain, we have observed that about 80% of the population structurally pronate. That simply means that if you stand totally relaxed on a flat hard surface, your ankles and heels tend to lean inward. Your feet are designed to pronate and supinate to facilitate the terrain, and slight pronation is helping your feet absorb the shock when your heels strike the ground. All of that is good, but as with most things, too much may hurt the cause. That’s true with pronation as well and is referred to as over-pronation.
The less known fact about over-pronation is that it often sets up neuromuscular compensation patterns. There are millions of people out there that are walking around with super tight calf muscles and even suffer from painful night cramps. That is often the result of their compensation for over-pronation. I don’t have a scientific study to present, but from being in contact with customers over 2 decades, it appears that about 60% of people who over-pronate, try to compensate for it by tightening their calf muscles to control the over-pronation. That often leads to supination, and if you are in this group, I would suggest you never even come close to trying out a pair of Sketcher "Toning Shoes" or anything else offering similar features.
To illustrate the negative effect of excessive cushioning, we have suggested people try to hit a golf ball standing on a mattress. Your feet and body would be so unstable, you’d be lucky to hit the ball at all. And now you want to put all that cushioning in your shoes? Probably not too many golfers out there playing in their MBTs!
Over-pronation causes a lot of tension in the body from internal rotation of the legs and forward rotation of the hips. Because it is often asymmetrical, the result is a functional short leg and un-levelling of the hips and shoulders. Our brain, via our eyes (visual horizon) and ears (gravitational pull) is seeking a stable, level horizon and of course, our brain responds adversely to pain and discomfort. Pain causes the brain to quickly conjure up and activate a neuromuscular compensation pattern. In relation to over-pronation, one of those patterns is attempted supination. This leads to muscle over-use and instability of the feet. It is easily observed by looking at the bottom or your shoes where you’ll see a propensity to wear harder from the middle to the little toe side.
We have noticed that this group of people, who we call "muscular bracers", are stiff and less agile. That may be because muscles that are always on and tense, over time, will become shorter and less mobile like hammer toes which are caused by "permanently" contracted muscles. From an anatomical perspective, the primary muscle supinating the foot has strong direct leverage while the lateral muscles that would protect the ankle from rolling out have less mechanical leverage to protect the ankle. Finally, the trigger for the instability is the fact that the foot comes through the swing phase and strikes the ground in a slightly supinated posture which is why most people wear down the outside of their heels first. Now, if you just apply good old fashioned logic, what do you expect to happen when you combine the lateral heel strike with stiff, weak muscles that are slow to respond with a completely destabilizing or excessively cushioned shoes? It’s simply a disaster waiting to happen for a lot of people for whom even a walk in nature or stepping off a curb is a challenge.
I suggest you never try these shoes regardless of your foot mechanics, but if you tend to supinate, don’t even give it a thought because it's an injury waiting to happen.
Gloves Off Series – We’ve had it with Podiatry dogma
After 20 years of working with people in pain and with responsible and caring professionals who care for people experiencing chronic musculoskeletal pain, we have had it with conventional thinking when it comes to your feet and your structural body. We may be risking the wrath of both the podiatry and footwear industries, but so be it. There simply is no rational reason for millions of people worldwide to suffer from chronic musculoskeletal pain. In this series we will cover better alternatives (not only shoes and insoles) to many ailments originating with malfunctioning of the feet. If you are interested in learning more from a clinically experienced engineer’s perspective on chronic pain in your feet and body, sign up for the blog at mortonsfoot.com and stay tuned.
About the Author:
Bjorn Svae is the owner of GRD BioTech, Inc. dba Posture Dynamics founded in 1998. Bjorn holds degrees in electrical engineering and business and has enjoyed a career in design, marketing and sales of diagnostic medical equipment as well as business consulting and entrepreneurship. In 1997, nine years after having undergone bilateral fractured meniscus knee surgery, he met Dr Rothbart and was fitted with an early edition of the forerunner to the ProKinetics Insoles. The pain which had reappeared in the left knee immediately went away and has never come back.