Wobbly shoes? Are MBTs really good for you back?
They do look a bit strange, don’t they? Kind of like a boat, I think. But some patients swear by them.
Naturally there’s a plethora of studies referenced on the official website but what does it mean for the person who walks into my office with back pain?
If someone asked for advice I can give a standard answer: “Everyone is different, what works for a particular person at a particular time may not work for everyone all the time. If it doesn’t cause any damage then there is no harm trying it to see if it helps”. A very true answer but quite vague and not very helpful since these things cost about 200 euros per pair.
But I have tried them out, and I like them. Here are a few of my observations:
- it is difficult to stand on one leg
- you walk faster
- the direction of your step is exaggerated
The last point is the crucial one for me. The shape of the shoe means that if you step with a foot turned out to the side then you will end up going in that direction. If the following steps also have an out-turned foot then very quickly the legs will be very wide apart indeed. The end effect is that the wearer will learn very quickly to keep the feet parallel. This is great since it will take the pressure off the gluteus medius, the muscles muscles at the side of your buttocks which very often get over-worked with bad walking posture. Instead the glut max, the muscles in the middle of your buttocks will start doing the work that they were designed to do.
The increased walking speed is also very useful. This will give a stretch to the muscles at the front of your hips and also help to stimulate the glut max. It should also allow you to profit from the momentum of the movement.
With these shoes you are also nearly compelled to use both legs to stand, thereby preventing the ‘hanging-on-one-leg’ that we see so often causing problems.
Where to Buy
Eindhoven: Garden Shoes, Heuvelgalerie 229, http://www.gardenshoes.nl/
Brussels: Jogging+ Bruxelles, Rue du Luxembourg 6, http://www.joggingplus.com/
Nijmegen: VoetZorgCentrum, Nina Simonestraat 16, http://www.voetzorgcentrum.nl/
Arnhem: MBT Store, Bakkerstraat 51, Need to check this is still open.
There are other companies producing similiar shoes. For example Ryn Footwear (http://www.rynfootwear.co.uk/) ’Shape-ups’ by Skechers have a very appealing look but they have been marred by lawsuits over they claims of health benefits. Chung Shi’s (http://chungshiusa.com) are a similiar shoes, also making big claims.
The official website has loads of research papers.
Surprisingly, when you actually read the supplied abstracts, they don’t all over-whelmingly encourage the prescription of the shoes. One or two report some pain reduction and improvement in balance. My favourite was the study by Nigg et al (2005). This showed that just by wearing a good quality shoe pain from knee osteoarthritis could be significantly reduced, regardless of whether it was MBT or the other good quality ‘control’ shoe that the MBTs were compared to. Overall though, it does seem that some benefits may be gained from a decreased axial loading of the knee and hip joints. That would be good if that was the case. It might be. In any case, the claims shouldn’t be exaggerated, otherwise you end up in court like the producers of Shape-Ups who were over-enthusiastic with their claims.
It seems like the researchers were less interested in what I found were the key points: decreased glut med action due to decreased hip external rotation, increased hip flexor stretch and decreased hip flexor action due to increased stride length, and decreased tendency to hang on one leg while standing. If any one of these effects could be noted in even 10% of the patients then I would be delighted.
So would I recommend them to everyone? Certainly not. Like a lot of other health fads I expect that these shoes are very helpful for particular people at a particular time. There are some patient who I would send down to the local store to try on a pair and consider trying them out. These will usually be patients who walk with feet, knees and hips out-turned, and have a habit of hiking up their knees with every step. Perhaps I will send more people. We’ll see. If you’re curious if you could benefit then ask your therapist or just pop down to the shop to try them out. Let me know how it goes.
Have you used the MBTs? Please share your experience with others via the comments below.