The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Lawsuits and Injury: The Pseudoscience of Toning Sneakers

Posted by on Friday, February 22nd, 2013


You’ve probably heard of them: sneakers with curved soles purported to tone and strengthen your legs as you walk. They seemed too good to be true: a passive path to fitness, a way to control your your weight, and by extension your life, without sacrificing time or energy. Two years ago you could find them everywhere. They were prominently displayed in shoe store windows, advertised in magazines, and fashionably shown-off on television. Today, the public tells a different story, one of broken ankles, stress fractures, torn ligaments, and surgeries. But between then and now a whole fascinating saga has unfolded. It turns out the shoes aren’t just potentially damaging: they don’t do a darn thing for your figure.



Despite injuries and a stark lack of results, the toning shoe industry was a huge. All told, toning shoes accounted for $252 million worth of sales in 2010, up from $17 million in 2008. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Brooke Burke shilled for the shoes, while others like Julianne Moore wore them for weight loss. The shoes supposedly “activated” the lower body by keeping the wearer slightly off-balance. Advertising claimed the shoes would help the wearer burn 8% more calories than regular sneakers.

The first series of lawsuits were focused on false advertising, claiming that Sketchers made false claims about what shape-ups could do for the wearer, boasts that included toning legs, weight loss, and reducing stress on knees and ankles. Why did they make these claims? What possessed them to lie to the public? Well, as happens more often than we’d like, the claims were based on bad science. There were studies that investigated the efficacy of the shoes, but those studies were poorly conceived and executed. The results were inflated. The conclusions were false. I think there is an excellent lesson here: the existence of a study doesn’t mean a thing. It’s all about interpreting the results and examining the methodology. When in doubt, if a company that will benefit from positive results funded the study, beware.



Nepotism is also a bad sign. One of the doctors that Sketchers used to advertise Shape-ups was married to a Sketchers marketing executive. Bad form, Sketchers. While Sketchers was the first company to face legal action, other manufacturers of toning sneakers have had to face the music too. New Balance and Reebok are actively refunding consumers. Still, all three lines continue to sell the shoes.



Today, new lawsuits are focused on injuries suffered by toning sneaker wearers. If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you know how important stability is in a healthy shoe. Shoes that deliberately alter natural gait are injuries waiting to happen. Ditch those toning sneakers! Your feet will thank you for it.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. 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.