Doc Talk: Comfy flip-flops can lead to foot problems

07/09/2013 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:17 AM

Summer is here and flip-flops — the airy sandal held on the foot solely by a simple band between the two biggest toes — are back in full force. And that means foot problems.

Flips-flops come in a variety of styles and many women wear them both with their casual attire and with formal wear. But, while the popular footwear provides basic protection against hot pavement and catching athlete’s foot, flip-flops offer nothing in the way of foot support. They offer no arch support, heel cushioning or shock absorption. People who sport flip-flops for extended periods of time can suffer foot pain, tendinitis, plantar fasciitis and even stress fractures — not to mention blisters, stubbed toes and more serious injuries.

Wearing flip-flops forces the wearer to scrunch his or her toes to grip the flip-flip band at the wrong time in the gait cycle. The action shortens natural stride and forces the foot, hip and leg muscles to work harder, which can result in other muscles shutting down. For example, hammer-toes, a condition in which the toes are bent in a claw-like position, are the result of years of compensation from the small foot muscles.

The lack of arch support in most flip-flops can cause plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the thick band of tissue along the bottom of the foot that causes a stabbing pain, especially in the heel. Other injuries include shin splints and metatarsalgia, which causes pain and inflammation in the ball of the foot. People with flatter arches are more prone to such overuse injuries because they require more support for their muscles and ligaments.

One of the most serious problems is overuse injuries such as stress fractures of the metatarsals, the five long bones that reach out to the toes. A stress fracture happens after constant, repetitive stress to the bones.

Because flip-flops leave the feet unprotected and exposed to the elements, wearers are more prone to cold toes, sunburns, stubbed toes and blisters. Serious injury can occur when people wear flip-flops for inappropriate tasks, such as mowing the lawn.

You don’t have to quit wearing your stylish flip-flops, but take these precautions for when you do wear them:

• Limit wearing flip-flops to short periods of time. When you know you will be walking a great distance, change into appropriate walking shoes with proper support.
• Don’t use a flip-flop as an athletic shoe. They are designed to walk only on flat surfaces. People who run or jump in flip-flops risk sprained ankles, fractures and severe ligament injuries.
• Don’t wear flip-flops to cut the grass or operate equipment. They dramatically increase the risk of stubbed toes, lacerations and puncture wounds, or having a heavy object hit your foot.
• Avoid driving in flip-flops. According to the American Automobile Association, flip-flops increase the risk of car accidents because they impair a driver’s control if they come off the foot and lodge under the brake or gas pedal. Put on a suitable pair of shoes to drive.

The bottom line is wear flip-flops sparingly. Rather than footwear, think of them as a foot ornament to be worn in moderation.

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