Health & Fitness
DON'T LET YOUR FLIPS BE A FLOP Your favorite footwear could be hazardous to your health
By Mary Shedden | Tribune StaffNobody loves their flip-flops more than those of us who live in Florida.
Published: July 21, 2012
Published: July 21, 2012
They're so easy and breezy, such an obvious choice, especially as summer reaches its peak.
But the next time you reach into the closet and pull out your favorite pair, be aware: You could be opening a Pandora's box of podiatry problems.
Your favorite sassy and affordable flats are an unstable form of footwear, known to wreak havoc on arches, heels and toes, says Tampa podiatrist Marc Katz.
"It's a disaster waiting to happen," he says. "And sure, many people make it through just fine. But the shoes are a problem."
Katz knows his patients — heck, even his two daughters — won't trade a closet full of flip-flops for sturdy, sensible shoes. So he warns them about the risks and gives them some tips on keeping their dogs happy and healthy.
Tension for the toes: Wearing flip-flops may feel like the next-best thing to going barefoot, but your feet are working harder than you think. Flip-flops force a change in your walking stride. With each step, the toes pull down on the shoe to stabilize the foot against the ground. "Your foot has to step forward a little quicker. It's trying to keep the flip-flop on," Katz says. The result, Katz says, is toe pain and stubbed toes.
Bound for blisters: The classic flip-flop features two straps sprouting from between the first two toes. Katz says men especially complain about how it feels, but everyone dislikes how the rubbing triggers blisters. Problem is, there's no other place for toes to hang on to the sandal.
Arch of no triumph: Spend too much time walking in flip-flops, and the muscles that hold up the foot's arch start to fatigue. Arch pain comes when those muscles change the way they function just to keep you moving along. Runners, hyper-fast walkers and heavier folks will feel this more often, Katz says.
Plant this: The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons estimates about 15 percent of all adult foot injuries involve plantar fasciitis, that awful pain that comes from the tissue stretching from your heel, through the arch to the toes. Katz says it's impossible to ban flip-flops, especially in Tampa's tropical environment, so he offers a compromise: "I say if you're going to the beach, wear your flip-flops. If you want to run over to Publix and you're wearing flip-flops, fine," he says. "But don't take your four-mile morning walk in flip-flops. Don't walk around Disney in flip-flops. Don't go to New York and walk around all day in flip-flops, because you're just looking for trouble."
Fractured feet: Stress fractures, often on the top of the foot, typically don't come from an injury, Katz says, but from normal activity. Ibuprofen and rest won't be enough to help your foot heal properly. With a stress fracture, you might as well trade in your flip-flops for an immobilizing foot boot.
Domino effect: One flip-flop injury can lead to more problems, he says. "You start walking differently and then your ankle hurts, your knee hurts, your back hurts. It works its way up," he says. People with existing chronic health problems can unknowingly put themselves at risk, too, Katz says. Anyone with balance problems or foot instability should not consider flip-flops. Those with diabetes or circulation problems should be careful, as foot punctures and extreme pressure on the balls of your foot can lead to blisters and ulcers.
Hot foot: Everyone has, at one time or another, forgotten to put sunscreen on the top of their flip-flopped feet. The resulting sunburn is painful enough, but those blisters can evolve into even more serious problems, Katz says.
Be casual: Fashion flip-flops are here to stay. NPD Group, a retail industry watcher, says the inexpensive sandals continue to be one of the fastest-growing areas of the shoe business. Serious sandal fans can now find a supportive pair from brand names such as Orthaheel or Fit Flops. They're still not ideal, Katz says, but the arch support is definitely better. Katz says he has patients who are so devoted to their flip-flops that they will Velcro orthopedic inserts to their sandals. Others have tried sticking silicone arch pads to their feet. "All there used to be were plain old $5 flip-flops you could get anywhere. But now there are flip-flops that support to some degree," he says. "When I go looking, I'm looking for the ones that have some support. I can tell people that there's an alternative."
Be cautious: Flip-flops are not the proper footwear for yard work or backyard play. Katz urges common sense. If you're mowing, pulling weeds are using a shovel, pull on a sturdy pair of shoes. If you're getting ready to play catch, touch football or horseshoes, grab your sneakers. You can slip back into your flip-flops when you're done.
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