An argument that once took place in biomechanics labs among “gait scientists” has now stridden into the courtroom. A class action suit has been filed in federal court against Vibram USA, Inc. regarding its advertising claims about barefoot running. (See here). The debate over barefoot running has been raging over the last several years. Even today, many shoe manufacturers are looking for new ways to increase the cushioning and stability of their running shoes. The barefoot trend however, is causing manufacturers to market shoes with literally no support and no cushioning. Barefoot “enthusiasts” argue that running barefoot “allows you to land on your forefoot, directly below your center of gravity, resulting in optimal balance, increasing stability, less impact and greater propulsion . . .” and can increase muscle strength such that a person to run faster with fewer injuries. Although there have been some studies linked to the claims made by the barefoot shoe manufacturers, there have been no controlled studies on point. Furthermore, the research seems to focus separately on those runners who run barefoot and those who run wearing shoes yet the advertising claims seem very definitive regarding the likelihood of injury. (See here and here).
There may very well be valid science that supports barefoot running. The problem is that novice runners are being unfairly influenced by claims that have yet to be fully substantiated and are experiencing injuries in the process. At this point, the only valid claim that can be made in regards to barefoot running shoes is that they may have benefits as training aids. Because of the enormous cult-like following of barefoot running, it will be interesting to see how this lawsuit affects shoe makers’ willingness to create, market, and sell products that are likely the source of much liability.