Vibram, the Massachusetts based manufacturer of the Vibram Five Finger running shoes, has recently settled a class action lawsuit regarding its claims of health benefits of its shoes. The Five Finger shoes resemble gloves in that the toes have individual pockets, and the shoes are made of thin material and provide minimal support. They are also referred to as minimalist running shoes.

 

Vibram Lawsuit

Vibram Five Fingers Shoes

 

The lawsuit was filed by Valerie Bezdek in March 2012. The lawsuit states that Vibram was advertising the shoes deceptively and made claims about the benefits of the footwear without any scientific evidence to back it up. The specific benefits that Vibram was touting include:

 

  • Strengthening muscles in the feet and lower legs
  • Eliminate heel lift to improve posture
  • Improve balance and agility by neural function stimulation
  • Provide increased range of motion of the feet, ankles, and toes
  • Allow more free, natural motion

The amount settled via the class action suit was $3.75 million.  The shoes normally cost over $100 per pair, and runners who have purchased the shoes since March 2009 may be eligible to submit a claim form. A refund of up to $94 may be obtained, although the amounts in most cases will probably be between $20 and $50 based upon similar historical cases.

Additionally, Vibram will be prohibited from making unsubstantiated health claims about its shoes in the future. The federal settlement states that “Vibram will not make any claims that FiveFingers footwear are effective in strengthening muscles or preventing injury unless that representation is true, non-misleading and is supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.”

The American Podiatric Medicine Association released a statement regarding the outcome of the case. They stated that “Barefoot running has been touted as improving strength and balance, while promoting a more natural running style. However, risks of barefoot running include a lack of protection, which may lead to injuries such as puncture wounds, and increased stress on the lower extremities.”

It is broadly accepted that switching to a minimalist shoe requires a transition period, and the running style needs to change as well. The Five Finger shoes are a zero-drop minimalist shoe, which means that the heel is very close to the same level as the front of the foot. This is quite different from traditional running shoes which have the heel 12 to 15 millimeters higher than the front of the foot. Traditional shoes are made for heel-strikers, while minimalist shoes are made for landing on the mid-foot area. There are transition shoes which are meant to be a bridge between traditional and minimalist running shoes.

On the Vibram website, the company posted a letter to its customers with vague reference to the lawsuit. The letter mainly acknowledged appreciation to its supporters through this difficult period. It also highlighted the company’s commitment to delivering a quality and innovative product. Some of the company’s long history in the field was mentioned, and they seem ready to put the issue behind them and move forward.

A recent post on this website discussed the problems that many runners have been experiencing with minimalist running shoes. This post can be found in the post archives at http://heelpainrelief.net/barefoot-running-issues/.

A website has been established to give those affected the opportunity to file a claim form in regards to the class action lawsuit. The website is located at https://www.fivefingerssettlement.com.

 

 

Image courtesy: flickr/ Steven Erdmanczyk Jr

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