‘Barefoot Science’ Insoles

If I was to invent an insole, maybe one with some fancy ‘bells and whistles‘ and then simply made the claim that it strengthens the muscles of the foot, would you believe me? What if I added the word ‘barefoot’ to the products name to make it sound impressive? Would you believe me then? Of course you wouldn’t as you are not that stupid!

That is exactly what a company has done: Barefoot Science, have made an insole that they claim strengthens the muscles of the foot, yet have produced not one shred of evidence to back up the claim. Why does anyone believe them, just because they say its true? The strengthening claim has been widely promoted on their website, on the “As Seen on TV” infomercials, in the marketing for the insole and even in a tweet from them:
barefootscience

If it was a “fact”, then where is the data that says they do, preferably from an independent source? I have searched their website and can find nothing that backs it up, except testimonials and a claim from a ‘Dr’ that it does (which should be red flags). I have no idea if they really do strengthen the small muscles of the foot or not, but if that claim is made, I would expect to see some data. The onus is on those making the claims to produce the data. Most countries have laws against making these sorts of claims in advertising. The Federal Trade Commission in the USA and regulatory authorities in other countries have taken to task many companies for doing exactly this (eg the recent Skechers $40 million settlement with the FTC for making health claims associated with their product that was not supported by any data; and not to mention the potential for class action suits such as the one Vibram are facing).

barefootscience2

Looking at design of the insoles and trying them myself,  the large ‘dome’ they have would tend to plantarflex the lessor toes, via the mechanism of dorsiflexing the metatarsals. Given that this is the role of the intrinsic muscles that they are claiming the insole strengthens, then if the dome does it, then the muscles do not need to do it, so the muscles would get used less, meaning they get weaker, not stronger. Of course this is still hypothetical yet plausible and I will wait for the company to produce the data before reaching a conclusion. Until I am convinced otherwise, these insoles belong in the snake oil category (the ‘As Seen on TV‘ should have been a red flag).

That tweet is certainly showing an extraordinary ignorance of flat feet! The EMG data on flatfeet show the muscles are very active compared to ‘normal’ arch feet, so the muscles in a flat foot are already strong as they are working harder. Perhaps they could explain what they actually hope to achieve by making them even stronger? We already know that weaker intrinsic muscles of the foot are associated with a higher arch foot (think, the ‘intrinsic minus’ foot that occurs in diabetic motor neuropathy; and the higher arched foot that develops in early CMT when only the small muscles of the foot is affected). So perhaps they could explain the mechanism by which strengthening the small muscles of the foot is the “only viable and reliable solution“, when theoretically, the weaker intrinsic muscles lead to a higher arched foot.

I still can’t work out what the word ‘barefoot‘ has to do with it. You have to be wearing shoes to use the insoles, that is not ‘barefoot‘ … don’t figure! And, of course, they throw in the “natural” fallacy for good measure in the marketing which should be another red flag.

I have no doubt that some people wearing these could get some therapeutic benefit, but there is no data as to if this is a placebo effect, due to the natural history of the problem, psychological perceptions of symptoms or really is a mechanical effect (see: Why Ineffective Treatments Sometimes Work). The mechanical effect, could well be a muscle strength change or could be a totally different mechanism. For example, the design and placement of the dome in the insole will theoretically improve the windlass mechanism of the foot and easily account for any therapeutic benefit claims, which as nothing to do with the strength of the intrinsic muscles of the foot. In the absence of data, I actually think this is a more plausible mechanism for any therapeutic benefits that might occur.

I have nothing against exercises to strengthen the muscles of the foot as they are probably helpful in a number of conditions, I just remain unconvinced that this product does it. We do know from the evidence that traditional types of foot orthotics actually strengthen muscles (2 studies) and does not weaken muscles (1 study) – which is contrary to what Barefoot Science state on their website (why do they ignore the published evidence and effectively, lie?). No study has shown that they weaken muscles. I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise.

POSTSCRIPT: There was a belated reply to the above tweet:
barefoottweet
Interesting that the studies are ongoing, but it still a fact that they work ….. don’t figure! How do they know the results of the studies if they have not been finished? How many times have, how many other companies claimed the exact same thing and never produce the studies? (The company behind the Circulation Booster is one that comes to mind! Same marketing techniques; same sorts of unsupported claims;claims made about studies being done and they never produce them; been there ….done that!). I have searched all the clinical trial registries for ‘barefoot science’ and many permutations of that and could find absolutely nothing (let alone 6), so will wait with baited breath to see what it is about.

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35 Responses to ‘Barefoot Science’ Insoles

  1. Craig April 8, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    Yes, I do l know that there is research on the Barefoot Science Inc website. Did you notice how old some of it is and it still has not been published in peer reviewed journals?; did you notice how many of the studies had no control group?; did you notice how many did not use valid outcome measures?; did you notice how many used the wrong analysis; etc etc etc

  2. Maikel April 17, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    And of course, the one and only conclusion from those 6 trials can be that these insoles work. They can’t use other results…

    Maikel Caarels
    Podiatrist
    The Netherlands

  3. Joseph July 25, 2013 at 2:39 am #

    Aline makes similar claims regarding their insoles by claiming they allow the foot to move naturally (i..e. barefoot/minimalist) inside of the shoe Any idea if this claim is accurate, or at least based on more reliable research than Barefoot Science?

    • Craig Payne July 25, 2013 at 8:37 am #

      Its all just usual nonsensical marketing hyperbole to fool a gullible public. There is no evidence for them either and, like the Barefoot Science system, they are all just foot orthotics. …. funny how those in the ‘barefoot community’ love these sorts of things because someone in the marketing department just put the word ‘natural’ in there somewhere to suck them in.

      The Aline system is just another way of doing the same thing; nothing special about it; nothing making it any better than any other way of doing it; no research to back it up – they just wrap it all up in a marketing package to make it sound as though it is something special or magical about it.

      As soon as I see products promoted with testimonials, by woo, snake oil, quackery and pseudoscience alarms bells go off.

      • ronald December 2, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

        I have flat feet and for years my feet hurt. I bought 2 pairs of barefoot science insoles and have been 4 years using them with no more pain. I don’t need some ” study” to prove me.

        • Craig Payne December 3, 2014 at 2:30 am #

          Where have I ever said they don’t work? It is the company that is making things up claiming all this “evidence” and “science” when they don’t. You do know what “science” is don’t you?

      • ronald December 2, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

        In answer to ? about the name barefoot science. Any fool can see that it means science concerning the barefoot. But I quess some are so blind that they will not see!

        • Craig Payne December 3, 2014 at 12:58 am #

          And exactly what that science might be?

  4. Elizabeth September 30, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    Well, after years of suffering and using lots of insoles(yes even custom made ones) I finally gave in…what did I have to lose.
    Reading the theory behind the Barefoot Science insoles was interesting…Everyday I say why did I wait so long…
    Barefoot Science insoles worked for me and still are…even all the athletics I do improved.

    So you can say what ever you want but I waited 5 years to try them and now you will never take them away…I’m one happy camper….lol

    I can walk one hundred miles and one hundred more……………

    • Craig Payne September 30, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

      I have never said they don;t work. Its just the nonsensical pseudosceintific woo and snake oil that is used to promote them I have a problem with. I notice NONE of all that research that @ArchActivation promised has appeared yet

  5. Shod runner November 7, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    I take this is tripe then?

  6. Mark Richard January 25, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Spot on Craig!
    I don’t agree with you on all subjects but this blog is you at your best and most useful.

    Credit where credit is due….

  7. Evans May 6, 2014 at 11:57 am #

    I take it you didn’t find this independent review? http://toesalad.com/reviews/a-review-of-the-barefoot-science-foot-strengthening-system/

    • Craig Payne May 6, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

      Are you freakin serious? Epic fail! Just goes to show how gullible that people are to believing the propaganda! There is nothing “barefoot” about these “orthotics” and the company has still not produced one shred of evidence that they strengthen muscles. Both Toe Salad and Barefoot Science have just made up a whole lot of stuff and use a wide range of logical fallacies. All the scientific evidence is that traditional foot orthotics either strengthen muscles (2 studies) or do not weaken muscles (2 studies). No study has shown they weaken muscles. Perhaps you could explain why they make this stuff up for?

      • msalvador29 May 24, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

        So wait, are we saying that Brian is sharing a false experience? Or are we saying that he liked the product and it worked for him but is promoting it using false scientific claims?

        I’m curious because I just went on google to try and find what the hell my insoles were. I’ve had them for a long time, maybe 5 years? But I’ve had the same pair and they’re falling apart. I didn’t know who they were from because my mom had just offered them to me for my back (I have scoliosis).

        They cured my scoliosis! My spine is straight! Lol I’m just kidding, still got it but I actually do hate not having these in my shoes. I transfer them into the pair I wear.

        Anyway, I’m asking because I want to know if this company is shit or not, the product seems to help me so I’d probably consider buying another pair, but maybe I need to look at more reputable companies for similar soles?

        • Craig Payne May 24, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

          Where did I say they don’t work? The company are making up the claims about the product – and the fan boys are gullible enough to believe what they are saying. There is nothing “barefoot” about them and there is nothing “science” about them either.

  8. Peter S September 9, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    Mr. Payne, you’ve been shouting “NOTHING BAREFOOT ABOUT THEM” troughout this tread. I get your point about gimmicks and so forth but it seems to me that your very negative attitude is purely based on some sort of frustration with orthotics? I’m a long time sufferer of running injuries and have had success with barefoot running in re-building my feet, but the thought of a reversed orthotic has been on my engineering mind a long time. If you make a mold of an arch support, wha do you have, something close to Barefoot-Science. To me it seems like a logical and straight forward approach. I also understand (willing to see their point) in that barefoot meaning to augment the proprioceotive nature of barefoot action in the unnatural environment of a shoe. I have not tried these yet but sure will as soon as possible.

    • Craig Payne September 9, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

      My frustration is:
      1. The gullibility of people to fall for their woo in the marketing claims
      2. They just make stuff in their marketing that is contradicted by the evidence
      3. There is nothing ‘barefoot’ about them
      2. There is no ‘science’ behind them

      None of that means that they do not help some people and I proposed an alternative mechanism as how they could.

      I also notice from that tweet I embedded above, that another year has passed and the company has still not come up with that promised research.

      • Ellen October 1, 2014 at 8:51 am #

        Just a thought, combining a few things.
        Could you call insoles ‘barefoot’ if they decrease the toe-heel drop to zero? So basically they should be higher in the front, toe and midfoot and lower at the back, heel.
        In this way, only looking at the picture, it looks like Barefoot Science does this, making the barefoot part ‘true’?
        Thinking about it, I would find it interesting what such a ‘barefoot’ insole would really do in a normal shoe.

        • Craig Payne October 1, 2014 at 8:54 am #

          They are really no different to any typical foot orthotic with the exception of the more posteriorly located really large metatarsal dome … that does not come close to make it “barefoot”.

          • Ellen October 2, 2014 at 9:15 am #

            I only went by the picture and have no material to compare it to.
            But you do agree that if there were insoles that make the drop zero they could be called ‘barefoot’? Are there insoles/foot orthotic that do that?

          • Kevin A. Kirby, DPM October 2, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

            There are no such things as “barefoot shoes” and no such things as “barefoot orthoses”, just like there are no such things as “naked clothes”. By definition, having something covering your feet means your feet are not barefoot. Anyone using those terms “barefoot shoes” or “barefoot orthoses” are only doing so to promote a promote a product…this is a classic marketing ploy that seems to only appeal to those who want to believe this type of nonsense in the first place.

          • Ellen October 3, 2014 at 8:29 am #

            @ Kevin A. Kirby, DPM, That it is a marketing term, so much is clear, but that’s not what I was trying to ask. If orthoses make the toe-heel drop from a shoe back to zero, could you call it something barefoot related? Or natural? Or at least somthing like that, because it is trying to simulate the foot as you would walk on it barefoot. (Clothes don’t do that, so you can’t compare it with that.)
            Anyhoo, I don’t think such orthoses exist, so I don’t worry too much about it, I was just wondering about it.

  9. Therese October 1, 2014 at 6:14 am #

    My mom found Barefoot science at the Calgary Stampede many years ago and, while I love her very much, she has a tendency to fall easily for psuedoscience schemes as evidenced by her current fascination with the bloody-type diet. So, she bought into the foot strengthening claims and the wholesale claim that the insoles could actually create an arch for your foot and bought the whole family a pair each of insoles. Being all of twelve, I listened to my mother and used the insoles as told.

    Truth be told, they did help. I have a flat left foot that I didn’t know about until I was 18. The whole six years in-between I wore the insoles and they helped with some left foot and leg problems I was noticing when I was around 13. They always reappeared when I didn’t wear the insoles and disappeared when I did so I figured they did help.

    At 18, when I realized I had a flat left foot I realized there was something fishy going on. If the BFS insoles supposedly could create an arch for wearers or at least reduced the tendency for flat footedness when not wearing the insoles then why did I still have a flat foot after nearly 6 years of wearing these things? Shouldn’t it have gone away or been much greatly reduced?

    So of course I did some research and found out there are a few causes for flat feet and my best self-diagnosis is that I have a flexible flatfoot that’s likely genetic or due to something that happened from when I was a toddler and had no control over things like my own footwear. No amount of Barefoot Sciencing was or is going to create an arch for me.

    I say ‘is’ because I still wear the insoles. After I realized the faulty claims behind the insoles, I tried a few other insoles, but none gave me the support I am used to from the BFS insoles and, in fact, brought back my foot and leg issues because of the lack of support where I needed it so I went back to them a few years ago to get the support I liked. And of course these have great support, there’s a great hunk of plastic where your arch should go when you hit stage 6, your arch has nothing to do but BE supported.

    I would say that BFS doesn’t do what it claims but instead is a very expensive set of arch supports. My best advice would be to not hold too much to the ‘science’ behind BFS and instead treat them as another set of commercial shoe inserts you might be interested in wearing. If they do indeed help you where other insoles do not, then by all means, keep wearing them.

  10. MarkusF November 21, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

    In the category of “these work” – I’ll throw my $0.02 in here…

    I’ll just say that I was on my 2nd set of orthotics 10 years ago and my knee pain would go away temporarily and then return shortly thereafter. I was frustrated as I sensed I was in a spiral.

    I was at my parents place in Canada when the Barefoot Science infomercial convinced me to at least give them a try…. Needless to say, there was an adjustment period similar to others’ experiences here but after that, my knee pain has never returned and I’m now planning my fourth order for more.

    Barefoot, shaman, snake oil, whatever… I don’t give a flying #### … these work!

    • Craig Payne November 21, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

      I never said they don’t work. I just said they lie and make stuff up.

  11. ronald December 2, 2014 at 10:50 pm #

    craig, you are an educated idiot!

    • Craig Payne December 3, 2014 at 2:29 am #

      So the best you got is to call me names. if that is the intellectual level you want to discuss this at as you are so incapable of actually discussing the issues, then you just proved me right. Thanks. Next.

  12. Charity January 8, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    Hi there! Just to encourage anyone who is considering trying these “Barefoot-Science” insoles, I’ll add my story. I have had leg/knee problems for over 30 years, gradually getting worse, diagnosed as arthritis? My legs by my 73rd birthday were “wearing out” it seemed. I would drag them around like wooden legs at the end of the day. Did exercises, had physical therapy and massage therapy, knee injections, leg braces, 3 different types of orthotics, prescribed by doctor, spent over $3000 and still stubbornly refusing knee replacements. Then found BFS.
    The man at the company replied to my email asking for details, gave me the science of it, and encouraged me that he has helped hundreds of people over 85! Also, they are guaranteed for 30 days or money back.
    Now what were my results? He recommended for me the 7 step therapeutic version. You are supposed to start with stage 1 and do each stage for at least one week. Stage one is hardly different than my regular shoes with arch supports. But I did it. And before that week was over, my legs were noticeably better! Now I am on stage 4, and getting better every week. I have laid aside my walking sticks, I don’t need them any more, and my friends are so happy for me. If you’re having leg issues, don’t hesitate to try them! I’m going to be skipping and running and climbing mountains again this year, and these cost less than a pair of “doctor approved orthotics”! Hope this helps someone.

    • Craig Payne January 8, 2015 at 8:13 pm #

      “gave me the science of it” … and exactly what was that “science”? … which is my point.

      • Sally February 8, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

        Craig, I truly think you need to get a life… So what if they choose a marketing brand that draws people in – the fact is, they work. I’ve been using them for years and it has made an amazing difference in my life. I walked in two 60-mile breast cancer charity walks that I could not have done without the barefoot science insoles. Who cares what the “science” is. They work and hence, they’ve been successful. If they didn’t work, then all of the marketing branding would make no difference. Let it go.

        • Craig Payne February 8, 2015 at 7:48 pm #

          For the upteenth freakin time…I have never said that they don’t work! There are plenty of testimonials that they do. There is also plenty of testimonials that they don’t work.

          They simply make things up about the science. Just because they worked for you, does that make it acceptable that they lie in the marketing? There are laws against that.

          Perhaps you should read this book:
          Reality Check, How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future’ http://www.runresearchjunkie.com/review-reality-check-how-science-deniers-threaten-our-future/

          • ryan July 18, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

            http://barefoot-science.com/proof/

            i think it would be appropriate to issue a restatement. Heres the science and results from a study with no ties to the company from the UK

          • Craig Payne July 18, 2016 at 7:12 pm #

            Nope; they still making stuff up.
            None of that research is any good. Lack of control groups etc etc
            Certainly not published in peer reviewed journals etc

  13. Enric Martinez December 15, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    Barefoot insoles? Awesome!

    I bought a few headless hats the other day to strengthen my scalp muscles to allow me to think better, with these insoles and the hats I will become a mix of Haile Gbrselassie and Albert Einstein in no time!!

    😉

    (Awesome site, BTW)

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