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Safety recall of sport shoes?

Dr. Foot Solutions - Monday, July 16, 2012

Safety recall of sport shoes? Possible, but unlikely, says Podiatrist and Footwear expert Bronwyn Cooper


Car manufacturers routinely perform safety recalls, as defects could be lethal. Defective design parameters in sports shoes are unlikely to lead to death, but can result in misery for wearers, costing many hundreds of dollars in therapy/ treatments and alternative shoes.

Healthcare practitioners routinely see patients whose clinical symptoms are caused by and/or made worse by “structured” shoes, including those marketed for walking. These can have serious health and mobility implications, especially for middle-aged and frail aged, due to:


• inability to walk or run comfortably

• interference with balance


Resulting in:


• loss of general fitness, muscle and joint health

• weight gain

• increase incidence of falls


Healthcare practitioners and shoe store staff “training” comes from the very companies who promote their own products. Many clinicians do not recognise the association between structured shoes and their patients’ problems, simply because they don’t have alternative footwear in clinics for patients to try which can provide immediate and valuable feedback to the clinician. Shoe companies naturally don’t tell the full story about ongoing injury rates.

Modern sport shoes were only developed around 30 years ago, from very late 60s. Yet their hypotheses of motion control, heel elevation, support and excessive cushioning were never proven to reduce injuries. More importantly, the effects on wearers’ movement patterns and balance over five, 10, 20 or 30 years have never been monitored.

Many structured shoes lead to altered walking and running gait patterns and posture, yet many healthcare practitioners have not been trained to recognise their influence on patients.

Coaches and health professionals can easily look and listen to the foot strike impact of their injured clients. Simply having the person try an unstructured walking shoe that restores correct postural alignment of heel to ball of foot can provide immediate feedback to both the wearer and clinician.

Time and time again, Bronwyn’s patients immediately report both “feeling better” and “less pain and discomfort”, due to changed joint and tissue loading.

There is no excuse for multinational shoe companies to continue to sell products that are adding to people’s problems. Major shoe companies’ research have shown for years that allowing a foot to function “naturally” is the way to go. Nike produced their first “Free” model in 2004. The explosion of minimalist features that the majority are now producing is evidence that they know what people should be wearing for good foot function. Footwear experts throughout the ages have advised against “structured” features. And as far back as 1991, The American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy on footwear empahsised this:


Shoes for Children: A Review

(Lynn T. Staheli: From the Department of Orthopedics, Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, Seattle; and Department of Orthopaedics, University of Washington, Seattle)


1. Optimum foot development occurs in the barefoot environment

2. The primary role of shoes is to protect the foot from injury and infection

3. Stiff and compressive footwear may cause deformity, weakness, and loss of mobility

4. The term “corrective shoes” is a misnomer

5. Shock absorption, load distribution, and elevation are valid indications for shoes modifications

6. Shoe selection for children should be based on the barefoot model

7. Physicians should avoid and discourage the commercialisation and "media-isation" of footwear. Merchandising of the “corrective shoe” is harmful to the child, expensive for the family, and a discredit to the medical profession


The Canadian Podiatric Medical Association (CPMA) issued similar recommendations. Yet here in Australia, Sport Medicine Australia and the leading authorities in sports podiatry, and physiotherapy do not have position statements on this hugely important area of public health policy.

And so it is left to individual “experts” to express opinions on shoes, and they can’t agree. In June, US Podiatrist and worldwide authority Dr Richard Bouche at AAPSM seminar gave Hoka One One runners a ringing endorsement as part of the treatment plan for certain forefoot conditions.

Yet at another AAPSM event back in February, the local speaker influenced the audience of Podiatrists with his comments that he disliked this brand. My own experience accords with that of Dr Bouche; I also recommended Hoka One One for certain pathology. I stock them in my specialised footwear range, as do a number of the Podiatrists and Physios. I don’t believe this second speaker understood this lightweight type of rocker at all. Another example of the subjective knowledge-base on this topic.

To illustrate the current absurd situation with one example, ASICS’ July 2012 catalogue has 186 individual shoes listed, four for netball alone. This company believes in “sexing” shoes, through “Gender Specific Trusstic Technology”, which “recognises normal periodic changes in the shape of the woman’s arch”. This is not followed by any other company. One of their newest walking models, Melbourne OA, has been developed specifically to do the opposite to what previous models did— it encourages pronation!

If the marketing hype tells us that certain models are good for us, the opposite is also possible, they can also definitely be wrong for many people. Major brands like Adidas, Brooks, New Balance, Nike, Saucony, Mizuno, Skechers, Reebok, Merrill, etc are all producing minimalist or “barefoot function” models now.

Also a number of specialist “barefoot/ minimalist” brands such as Altra, Vivobarefoot, Vibram Fivefingers etc are gaining significant market share. All these allow wearers to reclaim correct movement patterns and foot function.

The costs to the community in both dollar terms and healthcare costs plus impaired mobility is so great that a formal investigation is warranted, much like the US Federal Trade Commission “Orthopaedic Shoe Industry Investigation” of 1948. This was in response to the unsubstantiated claims made by many children’s and adult’s “health” shoe manufacturers of that time. Once again, a case of everything old is new again!

If you think your exercise shoes could be part of the problem, experience the difference now and judge for yourself. Don’t wait for that recall, it may never happen!

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