Consumer Reports reviews safety of toning shoes

June 3, 2011 6:09:44 PM PDT
We've all seen the commercials for pricey toning shoes that bring the promise that you'll get in shape fast, all you have to do is lace them up and walk. Sales of toning shoes totaled more than $1 billion last year -- about three times that of the year before. Consumer Reports health took a look behind the claims. Just because they're popular doesn't mean they are safe or effective.

The commercials for a variety of toning shoes make it look so easy to get in shape. They promise that you can tone your muscles, strengthen your core, tone your hamstrings. But, as more people buy them, Consumer Reports medical adviser Dr. Orly Avitzur is hearing more frequently about injuries.

"One patient was breaking in a pair of toning sneakers, and less than 45 minutes after putting them on, felt her ankle turn and a bone break," said Avitzur.

Dr. Joel Buchalter, an orthopedic surgeon, says that's no big surprise. He says toning shoes are intentionally designed to create instability.

"If you take a patient who is elderly or someone who has a balance issue and you put that shoe on them, you're looking for disaster," said Buchalter.

Even younger people complain of problems, including the physician's assistant in Dr. Buchalter's office who bought some Skechers' Shape-ups.

"I was scrubbed in surgery, wore them for several hours. Had back pain for probably three or four days," said Kara Lombardo.

Skechers instructs people to wear the shoes for short periods of time at first to give the body time to adjust. As to the health benefits? The company says two studies it sponsored show improvement in fitness, but, Avitzur says another study tells a different story.

"An independent study by the American Council on Exercise found no significant difference between exercising in toning sneakers as compared to regular sneakers," said Avitzur.

The bottom line is the health benefit touted in the commercials is uncertain, but the risk of injury is very real. Consumer Reports Health says if you have any balance or medical problems in your legs and feet, avoid toning shoes altogether.

New injury statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission show that even younger people in good physical shape have had problems, some of them serious. Since just March, the CPSC has received 36 complaints about toning shoes.

Skechers released a statement to 7 On Your Side about their shoes. Sketchers president Leonard Armato said, "Skechers is always concerned about the safety of its products, and the Company is confident that Shape-ups are safe... We encourage our customers to follow the enclosed instructions and exercise common sense... Like other footwear products that inherently have some instability, Shape-ups are safe if used properly."

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2010. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

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