Clinical Biomechanics Boot Camp  
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17 October 2009

Do MBT Shoes Work?

My first exposure to the Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT) was when they claimed to treat cellulite, so I immediately put them in the ‘snake oil’ category and dismissed them. However, that claim appears to have been recently removed from their website, but they still do make some extraordinary claims for the therapeutic benefits of the shoes. So do MBT shoes work?

Anecdotally, I have come across people who wear them all day and think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. I have also come across people who the shoes were absolute disasters in and they made the pain in their backs substantially worse. Personally, I have not tried them myself as they do cost a lot of money and I not prepared to spend that kind of money to find that they do not help me (not that I have a problem that they could help!).

Beno Nigg’s more recent research work and how they will activate muscles that we do not use very often and the theoretical benefits of this has started to change my mind on them. To claim that this improves gait is a bit of a stretch. The increase in muscle activity in those that wear MBT shoe has been well documented, but as far as I am concerned an increase in muscle activity is a bad thing – it is a sign of an inefficient gait, not an improved gait. However, it is speculated that it is the increase in strength from the use of some of the smaller muscles at times during gait when they are not normally active may be responsible for the reduction in pain and symptoms that do get reported. This would also lead to an improvement in stability when not wearing them. Limited clinical trials have shown that there is a reduction in pain.

Based on my reading of the research literature, the evidence and my understanding of the shoes, I not so dismissive of them as I was when they first came out with the cellulite claim. But do MBT shoes work? I think in the balance of probabilities that they do. I think they should be used for shorter periods during the day (the workout). I think they will be of greater benefit to certain sub-populations and better clinical trials are probably needed on them to identify those sub-populations.

There are plenty of MBT threads on Podiatry Arena.

Toning Shoes Today

Craig Payne


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