You may have noticed a new trend in footwear – a new kind of shoe that might help both athletes and people with foot problems. What are these shoes – and what are the benefits? And can they really help people with foot problems?
Over the last five or so years, glove-like shoes have started appearing on people’s feet – most commonly seen on the athletic track, but also spotted on the feet of the rich and famous: actor Danny Glover is a fan of five-finger footwear, as is billionaire Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google; and actress Kate Hudson and son-of-Ozzy Jack Osbourne have both been photographed wearing them.
The minimalist concept of the design reduces the shoe back to something that follows the contour of the bare foot. Flexible soles follow the curves of the wearer’s foot underneath, tipped with individual sections for each toe. It’s as close to being barefoot as you could get while still wearing a shoe.
The most famous brand of these shoes is Vibram, who initially made their designs for outdoor sportswear, encompassing a variety of sports including sailing, kayaking, canoeing and hiking. They also developed shoes for walking, yoga and camping, creating a more casual shoe (it’s this kind you’d most likely encounter worn about town). Vibram first started making their shoes when approached by former running coach ‘Barefoot’ Ted McDonald. Their earliest shoes were naturally aimed at track runners, but the shoes were also marketed to yacht racing teams wishing to retain the barefoot experience of their sport, whilst still needing to maintain grip on the deck.
These five-finger shoes are certainly striking to look at. But are there any benefits to this kind of reductive design? Certain studies have been carried out as to their effectiveness to the wearer. An article published in Nature magazine suggested a significantly different strike (when a runner’s foot makes contact with the ground) between wearers of traditional running shoes against wearers of five-finger shoes or barefoot. Wearers of the five-finger shoe land on the middle or front of the foot, resulting in almost no impact collision. The result of this finding seems to indicate a decrease in the risk of ankle sprain, as well as a reduction in the condition known as plantar fasciitis – a painful foot condition suffered by many people in the UK where the tendons on the sole of the foot become inflamed and sore.
Although this is great news for anyone who is suffering with foot discomfort, it is very early days for the glove-like shoe. It is known that there are in fact dangers with using this kind of shoe if overused to begin with; advice to any new wearer of a five-finger shoe is to start slowly and don’t do too much too soon if using the shoes for sports. Additionally, people with a wide stride may be adding unnecessary stress to the calf muscles, Achilles tendon and arch of the foot.
To get the best from this innovative shoe, you’d need to get a pair properly sized for yourself, then follow the specific guidelines to walk or run in the correct manner. When used properly, evidence suggests that the shoes provide a greatly improved and more comfortable experience. Serious wearers might want to consider booking an appointment with a local podiatrist or chiropodist to get an expert opinion.