Could Summer Flip Flops be Causing Your Pain?

             Flip Flops Foot Pain

Unlike sturdy shoes, flip-flops aren't good for extensive walking because they offer no arch support, heel cushioning, or shock absorption, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). Flip-flops are a mainstay of summertime footwear, but they can be painfully bad for your feet and legs, new research shows.  Flip Flops let your feet be as flat as they can be.  For some people, that's OK, depending on the structure of their foot. But if you have a foot that tends to over-flatten (over pronate), then you're not getting any support.

Researchers from Auburn University in Alabama studied the biomechanics of the flip-flop and determined that wearing thong-style flip-flops can result in sore feet, ankles and legs. “We found that when people walk in flip-flops, they alter their gait, which can result in problems and pain from the foot up into the hips and lower back,” said Justin Shroyer, a biomechanics doctoral student who presented the findings to the recent annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis.

You may be asking: What kind of injuries could a flip flop cause?  Well, to begin with, there is really nothing wrong with flip flops if you wear them to the beach or in the locker room shower as an alternative to going barefoot.  The problems begin when people wear them day in and day out all summer long. 

Thin rubber flip flops have no arch support whatsoever and walking in flip flops forces you to change the biomechanical pattern of the way you walk. You begin to use muscles and joints in a different way and if you do so repetitively, you are setting yourself up for joint and muscle strains. This can lead to common conditions such as Plantar Fascitis, Shin Splints, Metatarsalgia, Morton’s Neuroma, Achilles Tendonitis, Calf Strains as well as generalized foot and lower leg pain from overuse.  Think about how your toes have to squeeze every step to keep the flip flop in place. You can try it right now if you have a pair of flip flops to experiment with. If you compare that to what your foot does while in a regular shoe like a running shoe, you can see the difference in how your muscles and joints are working.

Many people continue to wear flip flops even after they feel pain which can then cause the body to compensate and left untreated can lead to knee, hip and back pain.  On top of the joint, muscle and other soft tissue strains that occur because of this repetitive motion, many are susceptible to injuries from trips and falls while trying to move quickly in these awkward floppy pieces of rubber.  Ankle sprains, stubbed or broken toes and falls are common when people try to run in flip flops.  Upwards of 200,000 people visit their health care provider or end up in hospital every year after falling or developing repetitive strain injuries associated with flip flops!!

Here are some things that you can do to keep your feet safe and healthy this summer:

-If you insist on wearing flips flops, choose those made with firmer materials that have stiff soles and bend only a little.

-Wear your flip flops in moderation. To the beach is fine or if you are going somewhere and you know you won’t be doing much walking.

-Even better, switch your flip flops for a sport sandal that has more support for your arch and that has a strap around the heel to take pressure off of your forefoot. (if there is a strap around the heel, your toes won’t have to scrunch as much to keep the shoe on)

-To avoid injuries such as sprained ankles or falls, avoid running or jumping while wearing your flip flops.

-If you notice the edges of pain after some time flipping and flopping, get some ice on the painful area and consider switching to a more supportive shoe for a few days.  If you have foot pain and need an alternative to flip-flops and their flimsy support, the APMA's web site recommends sandals from companies, such as Wolky, Chaco, Dansko and Rockport.

As always feel free to contact one of our physical therapy clinics for a free injury screening!


- Melanie Erickson, DPT

Thursday, July 5, 2012