It’s Toe Clever: The New Topo Running Hoof Shoe
Posted by Jenn F. on Friday, February 15th, 2013
Several years ago the running world was rocked by the Vibram FiveFinger shoe: footwear designed to emulate barefoot running. The barefoot controversy notwithstanding, the five-finger shoes saw huge sales. Tony Post, Vibram’s creater and a former professional runner, firmly extolled Vibram’s good qualities, like any good father would. To illustrate the strange appeal of the weird looking FiveFingers: my sister got a pair and she’s not even a runner. She thought the design looked cool paired with a miniskirt. Kids! Well, now Tony Post is up to his old tricks, this time with the Topo, a strange hoofed hybrid that separates the big toe, like a traditional Japanese tabi. Is this just a marketing scheme? Are their any podiatric benefits to Post’s Topos? Is it too soon to tell?
While barefoot running enthusiasts are quick to tout its many benefits—better mid and forefoot striking, accommodation by the knees and hips to reduce impact, more natural gait—opponents cite injury, dangerous road conditions, and biomechanics. There is no overarching consensus on the matter, though there are some excellent arguments on both sides. Many experts believe the question of which is better has a different answer for different people. To sum up: if you have any injuries, pain, or numbness, barefoot or FiveFingers aren’t for you. But if you have healthy feet, good joints, and are willing to take a leap, FiveFingers may help your body respond to the road, helping you avoid injury while you get in touch with your prehistoric roots.
So what about these hoof shoes? Well, since they haven’t been officially released yet, there isn’t a lot of data to go on. Early pre-release reviews cite the benefits of the Topo’s free four-toe box. Like in a regular running shoe, the foot can spread naturally. This is one problem I’ve always had with FiveFingers. While they purport to emulate barefoot running, in point of fact they restrict each toe’s movement considerably. It’s both uncomfortable and potentially damaging, since anything that inhibits natural movement has the potential to cause stress on the bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles of the feet.
While Topos allow four toes spread out comfortably, the big toe is given range of motion, helping to create an “anchor point” offering a “stronger connection to your footwear.” I’m assuming that means the Topo’s split will help keep the foot from sliding around in the shoe. We know that a good, snug fit helps support the foot, so this is good.
In conclusion, while the low profile, light weight, and split toe of the Topo will probably appeal to barefoot and minimalist runners everywhere, a traditionalist still won’t be satisfied by its lack of support and padding. From a podiatric perspective, we’ll have to wait and see how the new product plays out but expect injury rates will probably be similar to those seen with the FiveFingers.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.