Are toning shoes unsafe? Reports of injuries raise concern

Consumer Reports News: May 25, 2011 06:08 AM

Ads for Skechers Shape-ups and similar toning shoes suggest they can help give you a firm behind and shapely legs. But our recent analysis of complaints to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's new product complaint database suggest the shoes could send you to a doctor’s office or even an emergency room.

We looked at complaints reported since the database started, on March 11, 2011. As of May 22, 2011, 36 people reported injuries associated with toning shoes. That’s more than for any other single type of product in the database. Most of the reported injuries were minor, including tendinitis and foot, leg, and hip pain. But 15 of the reports were of broken bones, some requiring surgery.

Why so many reported injuries? Our medical experts explain that these type of toning shoes have rocker-style bottoms that are designed to cause instability, forcing users to engage muscles not normally used while walking. But that instability might also lead to turned ankles, nasty falls, and other injuries if you are not extra careful.

The risks might be greatest in older people and those with balance issues or problems with their feet or legs, our experts say. But relatively young, healthy people aren’t immune to risk, the reports to the CSPC suggest. The average age of the people who reported injuries to the database was just 46 and ranged from 25 to 67, and some described themselves as being in excellent physical shape.

The rocker design is not unique to Skechers. Other brands with similar designs include Avia, Champion, Danskin Now, New Balance, and shoes sold at Sears/Kmart. Reebok also has a slightly differently designed toning shoe, but it also causes instability. The above mentioned brands were also cited in injury reports filed with the CPSC.

Steve Lamar, Executive Vice President of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, a trade group to which Skechers belongs, told us that the injuries often stem from misuse of the shoes. He said these are exercise products and that there is risk with any exercise.

He emphasized the importance of following the manufacturer’s instructions, which say that users should “stand up straight, keep their weight centered, place their feet parallel and hip-distance apart and walk at a comfortable pace, being sure to plant each heel firmly and roll forward on to the toes.” There’s no warning about chewing gum at the same time.

In addition, Skechers says to wear the shoes for 25 to 45 minutes a day for the first two weeks and then, if you’re comfortable, to gradually increase the time by five to ten minute a day. Moreover, they warn that Shape-ups are designed for low-intensity activities such as standing and walking and not for running or vigorous sports.

It’s clear from many of the complaints filed on these shoes that consumers did not follow the directions. That’s not surprising since, in our opinion, we think many consumers are likely to use these shoes like any other sneaker.

Our Take: Our medical experts say that there’s little evidence that Shape-ups and similar rocker-style shoes are more likely than other athletic shoes to promote physical fitness. If you want to tone your legs and buttocks, we think you’re better off spending time in the gym than wearing shoes that could send you to the couch with your foot in a cast.

For our recommended shoes and tips on choosing a pair, see our Ratings of athletic shoes in the subscription section of this web site.

Don Mays

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