Updated 31 January 2020

Too-good-to-be-true shoe

Find out about the controversy surrounding the new FitFlop fitness sandal.

The FitFlop sandal, claiming to tone muscles, fight cellulite, and improve fitness levels, was released in South Africa last year. It was earlier released in the US and UK where, despite its steep price tag, it sold like hotcakes – The New York Times reported 18 000 pairs were sold in as little as three days and two women actually got into a brawl over who would get the last pair on the shelf.

Manufacturers claim that the success behind the FitFlop is a "micro-wobbleboard" in the sole that stimulates your muscles as you walk. It was developed by Dr David Cook and Darren James at the Centre for Human Performance at the London South Bank University.

This is what the FitFlop claims to do: "The FitFlop destabilises the foot slightly, creating a more continuous tension in the supporting muscles of the foot and leg … Every step you take in your FitFlops improves your core muscle strength, absorbs shock on your feet, knees and back, encourages better posture and stronger muscles, burns calories, mimics barefoot walking, but with a little bit more of a challenge, can help reduce cellulite and slim and tone your thighs, gets you that much closer to having longer, leaner looking legs, improves muscle tone, strengthens and tones muscles in the feet, legs buttocks, stomach and back, and increases muscle activity and circulation."

In addition, a press release by the promoters says that wearers suffering from a variety of ailments, including plantar faciitis (heel pain caused by straining the ligament that supports the arch), rheumatoid arthritis, back and leg pain, concur that there has been a notable change in their condition since they started wearing FitFlops.

Health24 tried them out

Health24 got their hands on a pair and decided to give this "wonder shoe" a go.

Our guinea pig has been wearing FitFlops at least twice a week for the last two months. Here's what she had to say: "They definitely do something. When I wear them for two consecutive days my legs feel a little sore - I don't know if they are just feeling tired or if they get a workout. The FitFlops are also very comfortable."

There have been no changes in her body weight since she started wearing the FitFlops and no visible/notable changes in any of her leg muscles.

What the critics have to say

"No shoe can do all that the FitFlop claims to do," says podiatrist Sean Pincus, executive member of the South African Podiatry Association and chairman of the advisory board to the University of Johannesburg, department of Podiatry.

"I am very wary of them – no results have been made available in a peer review publication. It is easy to put a name to a product and have it endorsed by someone, but as long as its effects have not been reviewed and confirmed by peers, I remain sceptical," says Pincus.

He warns that although the shoe could very well tone muscles, it could do so at a cost to your health. "It forces the muscles to work harder than they are supposed to, in the process straining and fatiguing the muscles." He also cautions that the "instability" of the sole might have an effect on the alignment of your pelvic bone. "Where's the evidence?" he pleads.

Pincus argues that there is no medical explanation for claims about the FitFlops relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. "Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease. There have been no reports on any patient getting relief from this disease by wearing a shoe. Not even those designed by podiatrists especially for foot ailments."

The verdict

The FitFlop sure is trendy, but without credible scientific evidence, it's hard to dish out R500 for a pair of slops that might, or might not do what they claim to do.

(Wilma Stassen, Health24, February 2008)

Read more:
How to spot a health hoax
The correct way of walking


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