There’s no denying it. There’s no sandal that signals summer quite like the flip-flop! But are these no-fuss flats as harmless as they seem? Research shows that despite their easy-going appeal, wearing flip-flops for an extensive period of time can cause a wide variety of physical ailments, ranging from plantar fasciitis and muscle soreness to lower back discomfort. Doesn’t quite “foot the bill,” huh?
We are constantly bombarded with the recommendation of taking “10,000 steps a day.” So how close do we really get? Studies found that the average American adult only makes it a little more than halfway. So if you walk between 5,000 and 7,000 steps per day, you are an average American! Think it doesn’t matter what you wear on your feet? A 2012 survey found that 78% of American adults over the age of 21 report having had some sort of foot pain or issue at some point in their lives, and over half of them reported having such issues at the time of the survey. And while no shoe can claim to be perfect across the board, flip-flops may very well be the riskiest choice of them all (except maybe for stiletto heels or Elton John’s platform shoes!).
In a recent study, researchers compared the effects of wearing flip-flops and athletic shoes on 39 male and female college students. The flip-flop wearers took shorter steps and struck their heel to the ground with less vertical force than when in sneakers, causing an abnormal gait pattern where they would sway from their natural rhythm. The reason? Most flip-flop wearers tend to clench their toes around the thong portion of the flip-flop to keep them from flying off. However, performing toe curls constantly can lead to repetitive stress on the foot and ankle.
What’s the problem?
Even though flip-flops provide some cushioning benefit over bare feet alone, studies show that they’re responsible for throwing human walking kinetics out of whack! The body is forced to compensate, and what starts as stress on the arch, heel, and the rest of the foot can eventually work its way up to soreness in the calf, knees, hips, and lower back.
Among the most treated flip-flop induced injuries is plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tough connective tissue along the bottom of the foot that affects nearly 2 million Americans each year. This starts out as acute heel pain that is oftentimes brought on by excessive flip-flop wear, with sedentary or overweight wearers even more susceptible since their arches are already under strain. This turns into a chronic condition for roughly 20-25%, making the plantar fasciitis even worse.
Are there any positives about wearing flip-flops?
Well, summer is upon us! And it’s not all doom and gloom on the flip-flop front. Here are a few ideas to consider when picking out a pair to rock for the warm weather:
- Opt for leather–Sure, the plastic ones come in every color of the rainbow, but a soft, high-quality pair of flip-flops is less likely to cause irritation, including blisters.
- Wear selectively–Walking on the beach? By the pool? Making a quick run to the grocery store? Then flip-flops are certainly appropriate. Mowing the lawn? Playing soccer? Taking a 5-mile walk? That would be a NO!
- Find the right fit–Make sure that your heels and toes don’t hang off the edges of the flip-flop. Also, make sure that when you bend the flip-flop from end-to-end that it bends where the ball of the foot hits, not at the arch!
- Time it right–Replace flip-flops every 3-4 months (so they should really be replaced after each season), and only wear them for short periods of time.
And last but not least, whatever you do, please don’t wear them with socks!
There you have it. Summer is officially in full swing. And as always, if you have questions about footwear or anything exercise-related, or if you or someone you know needs some guidance in how to start an exercise program, progress one to stay active, or just where to begin to get physical activity into your daily routine, call me at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at www.wildermanphysicaltherapy.com to schedule your FREE 30 minute Discovery Visit to see how Physical Therapy can help. Don’t delay–schedule now!