Opinion on Vibram Five Fingers Lawsuit

If you have not heard yet, Vibram USA Inc. has settled a class action lawsuit to pay back consumers who bought their FiveFingers footwear after March 2009 for claiming false health benefits.  The premise for the suit is that the shoemaker claimed wearing the shoes could strengthen foot muscles and serve as an injury prevention strategy.  Vibram USA did not have scientific evidence to directly support their claims.  The $3.75 million set aside for consumers to claim as a refund will be available in the near future.

Marketing is what companies do to attract consumers to buy a product, so would I expect anything less from Vibram? No. Is the $3.75million a big deal to them? I don’t know, but it was probably worth the cost of making the deceptive claims.

My question: At what point do consumers start to understand the quick fix for injury is a myth? If you honestly believed a wholesale change to running “barefoot” would prevent injury, I’m sorry…Go get your money.

The truth is, the marketing claims were not necessarily 100% wrong, but neither were they totally accurate.  Deceiving? Sure.  Vibram’s issue is making claims based upon anecdotal evidence and applying it a large group of people.  Wake up! They are not the only company or individual’s doing this.

I personally used FiveFingers during the winter of 2008 to run “barefoot” on frosted field turf as I recovered from an Achilles injury.  Did it help me?  Probably, but not in isolation. I consulted with a physical therapist and coach, chose proper nutrition, cross trained, progressively returned to running, and worked on my running technique and proprioception.  Did I buy another pair?  Yes, FiveFingers were really comfortable to wear on field turf when it was cold out.

Would I recommend FiveFingers to a client?  It depends.

Footwear is not a magic bullet.  Strengthening, injury prevention, and rehabilitation is rarely attributed to a product, new exercise, or stretching technique.  It is multifactorial, and it is depends on the individual.

Don’t be duped next time.


No, I will not be asking for a refund.




2 thoughts on “Opinion on Vibram Five Fingers Lawsuit

  1. Amanda Toop says:

    The belief in a quick fix and further more – a purchasable solution to a problem is very endemic to our society. Vibrams are ugly as hell but I still kind of want some because I like the general idea of walking around barefoot and not picking up parasites.:) I think when it came to the barefoot movement a lot of people didn’t see the full picture – perhaps barefoot running is not an ideal way to rehab an active injury? Perhaps you should consider easing in over time? Perhaps to gain the full benefit of running barefoot you should run on a natural surface and not sidewalks? I saw a woman run full tilt past me on my morning run last week wearing vibrams on the sidewalk and I really cringed.


    • Erik B, DPT MS says:

      Yes, there is definitely an issue of timing and purpose when it comes to what is appropriate for an injury. There is good clinical evidence to support eccentric loading of the Achilles tendon to “fix Achilles Tendinosis,” (see reference) which is pretty close to running barefoot with a mid foot striking pattern. Maybe this is the leap Vibram USA was trying to make.

      Thanks for the comment, Amanda.

      1. Carcia CR, Martin RL, Houck JR, Wukich DK. Achilles pain, stiffness, and muscle power deficits: Achilles tendinitis. Clinical Practice Guidelines Linked to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health from the Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010:40:A1-A26.


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