Last Friday Adidas was sued over their adiPURE Trainers, which are toe-shoes (I refuse to call them “barefoot” running shoes). Unlike the suit that Vibram’s filed against Fila for patent infringement, this lawsuit against Adidas is for injuries the Plaintiff received wearing the shoes.
I think those of us in the barefooting community are all pretty much aware that suddenly switching to toe-shoes carries the risk of stress fractures.
Well, this guy, and I suspect the general public, don’t know it.
Here’s the story from Reuters: Adidas sued over ‘barefoot’ running shoe claims.
The story claims that the shoes did not increase training efficiency and decrease the risk of injury as advertised. Furthermore, it says that there were no warnings about this.
Here’s what the Adidas shoes look like:
From various comments around the Internet, it seems these are somewhat different than the other toe-shoes in having a thicker sole, and a couple of customer reviews suggest that they even have some degree of arch support.
Anyways, I went and got a copy of the complaint.
It is really rather interesting.
First, this is a class-action lawsuit. That means that Joe Rocco is suing on behalf of every customer who was injured. It still needs to be certified as such by the judge, but that looks fairly likely to me.
The complaint itself is actually a pretty good compendium of all the claims and counterclaims about whether barefoot running and “barefoot” running is better or worse than shod running.
You can see the complaint for yourself here:
Some of the claims from Adidas that Rocco thinks are false are from the product information:
Go barefoot without being barefoot while wearing the adidas Men’s adiPURE training shoe. Restriction free movements from your heel to your toes increase muscle activation delivering a positive impact on your workouts. The second skin upper has a flexible sock like fit while the OrthoLite sockliner provides cushion and anti-odor protection. Increase your strength, agility, and balance with this barefoot shoe from adidas.
Paragraphs 20 through 23 do state the present state of the research. For example:
Presently, no publicly available sound scientific study has shown that barefoot training leads to health benefits distinct from what conventional shoes provide.
I should also note that the complaint has extensive footnotes.
It also highlights the current position statement from the American Podiatric Medical Association.
Another interesting thing in the complaint is that it claims that while Vibram provides warnings about switching to minimal shoes, Adidas doesn’t do so. Vibrams have a hang tag that says
If you are running in FiveFingers for the first time, we encourage a very gradual transition to ensure a safe and pleasurable experience. Please visit our website for resources related to natural running and training.
And the Nike Free has an instruction pamphlet on how to adapt to the footwear.
Rocco says that he personally suffered “compound fractures in his foot”. (I suspect this is not correct, since the definition of a “compound fracture” is that the broken bone pierce the skin—I suspect they mean multiple fractures here. But who knows?)
As I mentioned before, the complaint is worth looking at just for the footnotes, which point to many of the current articles regarding the minimal shoes safety controversy.
But the real thing is the lack of warning. As Paragraph 30 puts it
Defendant has reaped profits by leading consumers to believe that there is reliable scientific data backing up their claims that adiPURE can strengthen muscles and reduce the risk of injury. Consumers intending to use adiPURE would not have paid the amounts charged for adiPURE or would not have purchase adiPURE at all had they known that there is no scientific evidence supporting Defendant’s major health benefit claims, and that they were more likely to suffer foot injuries when training in adiPURE due to the decrease protection the shoes provide the foot than conventional athletic shoes.
This gets back to the whole thing that we barefooters know that regular shoes weaken the feet. Certainly going barefoot strengthens the feet, but Adidas’ claims seem to suggest their shoes help the whole body.
As I have written quite a few times before, the muscles, tendons, and bones in your feet just don’t get exercised in shoes. But you have to be careful when just taking them off not to overdo it. And these sorts of minimalist shoes do not give you the right sort of feedback right to your sole to know when you are overdoing it.
I think there is a good chance of a pretty substantial payout by Adidas, in which they make some sort of settlement. If it is true that they included no warnings about transitioning the way Vibram and Nike do, when you combine that with their claims of greater strength, etc., that puts them in a very weak position—kind of like a shoddie suddenly exercising heavily without shoes.
We’ll see where this goes.