FitFlop Electra, $59.90, zappos.comAt last, the breezy days of summer are upon us. Instead of repeatedly checking the daily weather forecast to deliberate if we need a scarf or sweater for layering, we can enjoyably slip on some comfy shorts or an effortless sundress. For many of us, flip-flops become the go-to footwear to accompany such an ensemble, but as we've often been warned, these flimsy slip-ons do not always provide ideal foot support.
USA Today reports that Justin Shroyer, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, studied over 100 flip-flop wearers to uncover patterns in their feet and leg movements. While presenting his findings at the American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting in Baltimore this week, Shroyer explained some of the key problems with these shoes. Namely, he discovered that by trying to grip and hold flip-flops in place, people work the muscles in their shins much harder than when they're barefoot. He said that shortened strides while wearing flip-flops can also strain the lower legs.
"The more the shoe conforms to your foot, the better off your foot and leg will be," Shroyer told USA Today. "If it's loose, your foot has to work harder to keep your flip-flop on." He said that more structured flip-flops with deepened heel cups and defined arches can remove some of the stress from your feet and legs, but that a sneaker is still preferred when doing extensive walking or activity.
Orthaheel Wave Sandal, $54.99, orthaheelusa.comDr. Rock Positano, director of the Non-surgical Foot and Ankle Service at the Hospital for Special Surgery, confirms Shroyer's findings. "With no real solid support underneath the foot, it loses its shock-absorbing capabilities. The lower leg, shin, knee, hip, and back are overworking." Dr. Jacqueline Sutera, doctor of podiatric medicine and surgery for the American Podiatric Medical Association, agrees with Shroyer as well. "Wearing flip-flops will shorten your stride, so your leg and foot muscles have to work harder," she says. "This causes the need for compensation--sometimes from your knees, hips, and back. This could be bad news for people with previous injury in these sensitive areas." In addition, Dr. Positano says certain pathological foot types (like high and flat arches) predispose people to foot and ankle issues, and that soft flip-flops with no support accentuate these mechanical deficiencies. Some short-term issues related to flip-flop use would be heel and arch pain, tendinitis, shin splints, sprains, splinters, cuts, and toe injuries. Long-term problems might be stress fractures, bunions, hammertoes, and neuromas.
Sole Platinum Sandal Sport Flips, $69.95, yoursole.comAs Shroyer suggested, "not all flip-flops are created equal," says Dr. Sutera. "The wider the straps, the better. Also, try to get a sandal with a back strap. Back straps take some of the stress off your toes and decrease the demand for them to work so hard." She agrees that a more contoured flip-flop is preferable. "If you have arch support and can cup the heel, then the foot may not pronate as much." (Pronation is when the arch flattens out when we place weight on the foot.) "There is a certain amount of pronation that is normal, but over-pronation causes many, many foot problems. I call it "the root of all evil."
When it comes to brands, some are better than others. Those ultra-affordable Old Navy flip-flops may be appealing and available in every color, but your feet will pay the price if you're doing much more activity than sitting around at a barbeque. Dr. Sutera lists Crocs, Clarks, Born, Teva, and Birkenstock as acceptable brands for light to moderate use. For a higher end option, Dr. Positano is impressed with the offerings from Tory Burch, Chanel, Prada, and Bally. Here's a complete list of flip-flops given the APMA Seal of Acceptance.
Even with a comfortable flip-flop, you should limit your use to no more than a few hours of wear. "If you're hanging around the pool or going to the beach it's fine. They're not going to kill you," says Dr. Positano. "Where people get into trouble is when they use them all day, walking around, and standing for a long period of time." The worst scenario, perhaps, is what Dr. Positano refers to as the "Disney World fracture." "You have a person who's already walking more than they're accustomed too. Pair that with foot gear with no support, and you have the quickest way to arrive at the vacation from hell. Trips are ruined because people develop stress fractures, knee problems, and hip and back problems."
When in doubt, Dr. Positano offers up some simple but important advice: "The bottom line is wearing flip-flops is no different than wearing three-inch high heels. Be sensible. Know how to wear something and when to wear it."
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