Flip-flops are not good for walking because they do not provide an adequate cushion for the heel, proper shock absorption or arch support. (File/AP)
July 5, 2014 9 a.m.
As we approach the warm summer months, many people have a natural tendency to pitch their shoes in favor of sandals and flip-flops. Although sandals and flip-flops have been around for centuries, their popularity has grown and become a part of the mainstream. The cheap rubber thongs of the sixties that were once used during back yard car washes and beach outings have become a summer craze. They have transcended from the drug-store specials and are sold everywhere. Today, flip-flops are fashionable and used for everyday wear. It is not uncommon to see runway models and movie stars wearing designer flip-flops, or professional athletes promoting them in television commercials and magazine ads. People of all ages are using them for almost any occasion. It seems like everyone has a couple of pairs on hand to wear for different occasions. Despite their popularity, flip-flops are not a safe bet for anyone, at any age, especially seniors.
Probably the biggest cause for foot and ankle pain is due to improper footwear. Typically, there is a significant rise in plantar fasciitis problems during the early summer months as seniors transition from supportive winter-type shoes to flip-flops. The lack of support causes abnormal stretch to the arch, which leads to heal pain. We also see a considerable amount of tendonitis in other areas of the foot and ankle as well as arthritic pain in the middle of the foot caused by non-supportive shoes.
Flip-flops are not good for walking because they do not provide an adequate cushion for the heel, proper shock absorption or arch support. Also, flip-flops alter gait (walking) patterns, resulting in structural problems and pain that migrates from the feet upward to the hips and back. As we age, our ability to accommodate uneven ground declines, and so does our basic stability. Flip-flops are highly unstable and non-supportive and may lead to much more serious problems, especially if the tip of the flip-flop on the non-supporting swing leg catches the ground. This often results in a blunt trauma to a toe, a torn nail bed or toe fracture. It can even lead to a devastating fall resulting in a sprain, fracture or trauma. In some cases, this can be life threatening.
Overall, flip-flops are not a safe bet for seniors; however, if they are to be worn, consider selecting higher quality flip-flops that provide better support, comfort, function and quality. Crocs, Cudas, Deep See and PecheBlu are considered to be best of class.
Sandals are a better choice than flip-flops for seniors because they offer more support and protection. The best designs have soles that extend beyond the toes to protect the toe box and a strap across the back of the heel. I recommend sandals manufactured by Merrell and Keen. The American Podiatric Medical Association website also lists sandals produced by Dansko, Rockport, Chaco and Wolky.
As a wise blogger for The New York Times once posted in response to an article on flip-flops and foot pain, “Long live flip-flops and those who know how to master their use.” Enjoy your summer by making safe and sensible footwear selections.
For more information on pain relief from tendonitis, heel pain, plantar fasciitis and arthritis of the foot and ankle, or to find a board-certified foot and ankle surgeon, go to myfootandanklecenter.com to obtain information from the patient education library on these subjects.