Debate continues over five-toe shoes

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SARASOTA, Fla. – Vibram USA, the company that manufactures five fingers running shoes, has agreed to settle a class action suit. But are they hazardous to your health?

Fans of five finger footwear swear by them, while the medical community say they cause injuries. Should the glove-like shoes be sporting a warning now that a lawsuit alleges the company made false and unsubstantiated claims about their health benefits?

Shoes of the five-toe variety are often spotted on the beach, the mall, even the gym.

“I do everything in them. Sometimes I wear them all day.” Dawn Hochberg of Sarasota says she started wearing Vibram toe shoes almost three years ago. “I wear them if I'm on any of the machines, I wear them outside running, I wear them lifting weights, I wear them jogging. I wear them all the time.”

But could these toe shoes result in a footing faux pas?

“I think they're a travesty for the most part. Some people can do well in them; certainly like anything there are people that do well, but for the most part they're dangerous.” Injuries resulting from the toe shoes affect otherwise healthy people, including athletes, says foot and ankle surgeon Dr. Daniel Howard. “One was a track star for her high school. She ran in these and actually ended up fracturing both of her heel bones.”

Think of the difference between a glove and a catcher’s mitt, says Dr. Howard. “If you look at these particular shoes, they have no support whatsoever. The bottom of the shoe is very thin.”

But that is why muscle activation techniques specialist Michael Massanelli wears them. “What’s cool about them is they offer no support.”

He says we've been told we need support only because we've been given support. “You take an internal muscle and give an external support, the muscle becomes weak. As the muscle becomes weak, you become reliant on this external support.”

So have we been getting it all wrong with wearing sneakers, arch supports and orthotics?

“These actually make your feet work, making them stronger,” says Massanelli.

And for some, Dr. Howard says they are what he calls ‘BTN’ shoes – better than nothing. “Who I think they're great for are people that wouldn’t wear shoes anyway. There are certain people you cannot capture and put into shoes, and for those people they're better than nothing.”