Toning shoes raise health concerns

HOUSTON There is no doubt toning shoes are becoming very popular. You can find them in most stores, but Consumers Reports found some people are being injured while wearing them.

The commercials for a variety of toning shoes make it look so easy to get in shape. 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," Dr. Avitzur said.

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

He said, "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."

But 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," said physician's assistant Kara Lombardo. "Had back pain for probably three or four days."

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 Dr. 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," she said.

Bottom line -- 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.

We spoke with Skechers and got their response to the Consumer Reports story.

Leonard Armato, President of Skechers Fitness Group, explained, "Like other shoes that have natural built-in instability, like high heels, or roller blades or roller skates, Shape-Ups are slightly unstable. That's what gets you the fitness benefit. But you have to follow the instructions. That's why every box of Shape-Ups comes with written instructions and a video telling you how to use the product."

Skechers went on to say the shoes have been sold by companies around the world for more than a decade with no significant reports of injuries until recently.

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