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Five-Finger and Rocker Shoes. Are they gimmicks?

Shoe gimmicks come and go.  Think the kangaroo pocket shoe, Reebok pumps, heelies, Nike Air, and more recently, the rocker and five-fingered shoes.  Is there any value to these most recent shoe gimmicks?  The answers might surprise you.

Rocker Shoe
Rocker shoes are marketed to tone your buttocks, thighs and calves as well as burn three times more energy and relieve joint pain.  The claims of toning and burning more energy may be true but is relatively insignificant when looking at number of calories burned every day during normal activities.  But, the joint pain relief is accurate for individuals with arthritic feet and ankles.  By rolling through a shoe, you are not bending your foot or joint as much, decreasing the stress across the ankle and foot by 20 to 30 percent. Looking for buns of steel?  Exercise in any shoe is going to help you reach that goal.

Five-fingered shoes
You’ve seen them out there; the glove-looking shoes worn to the park for walking or running.  The premise of these shoes is that people did not really start having foot issues until highly cushioned shoes became common.  The cushioned shoes are said to make you walk and run differently, causing weaker muscles and encouraging jarring heel strikes.  The five-fingered shoes cause you to walk or run softer, take shorter strides and have a flatter foot – as you would if you were barefoot.  In fact, it is as close to running barefoot as you can get while still having a sole thick enough to protect your foot from dangers like glass, nails, rocks, etc.  However, if you are not used to walking or running barefoot, then a quick transition to five-fingered shoes can put stress on parts of your foot you are not used to working and cause injury.  The best advice; transition gradually and give your body time to adjust.

Dr. Corey Thompson is a fellowship trained foot and ankle surgeon practicing with Wake Orthopaedics.