What’s not to like about flip flops?
They’re fun, flexible and even fashionable. They’re attractively priced and they come in every color of the rainbow. If you’re a Floridian, this casual footwear is a must-have.
But Jimmy Buffett warned us a long time ago about the dark side of Margaritaville:
I blew out my flip-flop
Stepped on a pop-top
Cut my heel, had to cruise on back home
The statistics aren’t pretty. Of the 198,437 emergency room visits due to shoe-related injuries in 2014, 26,300 were associated with flip-flops, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Who would have thunk?
Researchers at Auburn University studied and scrutinized them in 2008. And when the test was completed, they concluded that wearing thong-style flip flops can result in sore feet, ankle and legs.
Innocent as flip-flops may appear, they can lead wearers to alter their gait, resulting in problems and pain from the foot radiating up into the hips and lower back. Overuse could lead to plantar fasciitis, a condition that causes severe pain in your heels.
Two years later, the University of Louisiana got into the act. You know how you sometimes you curl your toes just so to grab the flip-flop, so it stays on your foot? The Louisiana researchers found that when you do, you’re causing the muscles in the front of your shin to work even harder, and causing strain that doesn’t happen when you’re barefoot or in sneakers.
How could something so carefree be so cruel?
“Just remember you get what you pay for,” says Dr. Heidi Stephens, a Tampa General Hospital orthopedic surgeon and associate professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.
““If you buy a good sports sandal, and there are plenty out there, it will be a lot better for your feet than the plastic ones you get at a discount store.”
To be on the safe side, Stephens offers this advice:
- Be aware that flip-flips have no arch support. You increase your risk of tripping. If you wear them a lot, it can cause some damage. Most common is metatarsalgia (also known as a stone bruise), an extremely painful condition that can include inflammation of the ball of the foot.
- If you have significant neuropathy and can’t feel your feet, then you can’t feel if your heel is in the shoe. That exposes your feet to the elements and debris.
- They’re not safe to wear in crowds, putting you at risk of getting stepped on or picking up infections. If you have to flee, better plan on kicking off the flip-flips.
Like most things in life, Stephens says moderation is the key. “I’m not going to say horrible things about flip-flops,” she said. Flip-flops are perfect for the beach or hanging out by the pool. For walking long distances on hard surfaces? Not so much.
“You’re always better off with a back strap, some cushion and arch support,” Stephens says.
The surgeon just returned from a trip to the Czech Republic, where she did plenty of walking in cities and countryside villages. And she brought along two pairs of her go-to Dansko and Birkenstock sandals.
“If you invest a little extra money, sandals can be a safe and comfortable walking shoe,” she says. “Flip-flops have their place. Just use common sense.”