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 '60s that were once used during backyard 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 advertising. 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. The long-term effects of flip-flops can cause serious injury.
Probably the biggest cause of foot and ankle pain is improper footwear. Many experts claim that flip-flops are the most dangerous shoes on the market because of their lack of support. Typically, there is a significant rise in plantar fasciitis problems during the early summer months as people transition from supportive winter-type shoes to flip-flops. The lack of support causes abnormal stretch to the arch which leads to heel 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; however, the dangers of flip-flops should not go unnoticed because flip-flops can cause other serious problems.
RISKS OF EXPOSED TOES: Flip-flops expose your feet to thousands of bacteria, such as staphylococcus, and viral (including warts, human papillomavirus, and contagious fungal infections such as athlete’s foot and toenail fungus). A past study at the University of Miami discovered that flip-flops harbored thousands of bacteria. Exposed toes are also subjected to blunt trauma, torn nail beds, or toe fractures. The friction caused by the toe straps on the skin can also lead to terrible blisters or open wounds.
FOOT PAD PROBLEMS: The rubber or fabric strap that extends from the toe post to the sides of the flat rubber sole does not sufficiently hold the foot in place. Consequently, movement of the foot on the base of the flip-flop causes blisters and a burning sensation in the foot pad.
INJURED TENDONS: Repetitive toe gripping can also cause the tendons that connect the muscles to the bones to become inflamed, torn, or ruptured. Improper arch support can cause the foot to flatten out or over-pronate, resulting in plantar fasciitis. Extreme heel pain can also result because the heel is able to rise off the back of the shoe in a repetitive manner. The thin layer of rubber does not provide ample shock absorption. Typically, a lack of support adds to soft tissue pain and ultimately to bone pain. Long-term arch and heel pain can lead to bone spurs and extreme ankle pain.
INJURED BONES: Stress fractures in the bones of the feet can result from the lack of shock absorption and proper cushion for the feet. They are also unstable and nonsupportive 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 also result in ankle sprain or fracture.
ALTERED GAIT PROBLEMS: Flip-flops cause you to walk different (altered gait) than your normal walking pattern when wearing supportive shoes. Stride patterns are shortened and the normal weight bearing (from heel to toe) is altered. Flip-flops alter your bio-mechanics and posture too. When your feet do not provide the proper support, your body joints have to compensate and may result in problems in your ankles, Achilles tendon, knees, hips, and lower back. An altered gait can also hamper your balance and increase the risk of tripping.
HELPFUL HINTS: Overall, flips-flops are not a safe bet and can cause serious foot problems; however, if they are to be worn consider limiting their use and selecting a higher quality flip-flop that provides arch support and a heel cup.
Sandals are a better choice than flip-flops because they offer more support and protection. The best designs have soles that extend beyond the toe box and provide a strap across the mid-foot and back of the heel.
Parents should be aware of the problems that flip-flops present for their children. They should not be worn when playing outdoors activities like running and bicycling.
Seniors should pitch their flip-flops for higher quality sandals that provide better support and stability. This will help prevent foot problems and reduce the risk of falling.
As a wise blogger on 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 heel pain, plantar fasciitis, and ankle arthritis, call Dr. Sigle at 217-787-2700. The Foot & Ankle Center of Illinois clinics are conveniently located at St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur, IL, and at 2921 Montvale Drive, Springfield, IL. Visit myfootandanklecenter.com to obtain information from the patient education library on these subjects.