The season is upon us: time to bring those feet out of hiding, freshen up your pedicure, and slip into the flip-flops that have been languishing in the back of the closet since September. Former mainstays of the beach and the locker room, flip-flops have come into their own in the past few years, and can be seen everywhere from the runway to the White House.
Flip-flops originally had a specific purpose: protecting the bottom of your feet from hot sand or keeping them away from icky germs when showering at the gym or wandering around poolside. They were never meant to function as daily footwear, and the popular and cheap plastic-and-rubber type you pick up at the drugstore provide nothing in the way of support and stability.
Like anything else, flip-flops in moderation are fine. But here are a few reasons you might want to limit them to poolside or the beach this summer.
Flip-flops almost always have flat soles, with no shaping to offer support for your arches. A lack of arch support can cause overpronation, which is a fancy podiatrist word for when your foot rolls inward when you walk, putting excessive pressure on the sole and inner part of your foot. Overpronation can result in a world of hurt, from bunions to tendonitis to shin splints. And if you’re not already flat-flooted, habitual flip-flop wearing could actually cause you to become so.
Protect and serve
Flip-flops barely cover your foot. This can lead to painfully sunburned tootsies, but more seriously cuts, insect bites, broken toes, and worse. Emergency room physicians see a rise in foot injuries during the summer from people doing yard work in flip-flops, walking the dog, playing frisbee, and plenty of other activities better conducted in more protective foot gear. If nothing else, you’re prone to blisters between your first and second toes, not to mention the propensity to stub your toes, leading to dislocations, broken bones, and even severing of the digits.
Falling for you
Flip-flops offer no support for your ankles or feet, and this can lead to injuries that might not have happened in sneakers. They come off your feet easily, causing you to trip, slip, or fall, and lack of protection and support make you more likely to injure more than your dignity in the resulting spill. Broken ankles, stress fractures, and ruptured tendons are just a few of the risks; flip-flop wearers should beware of driving, using escalators, and running, just to name a few activities that have led to serious injury.
One team of researchers found more than 18,000 bacteria hanging out on just one pair of flip-flops, including germs that cause respiratory illness and serious skin infections. While it’s true that the soles of any shoe come in contact with a lot of gross stuff on a regular basis, think about how much of your foot is exposed in flip-flops — and how often you might touch them with your hands to keep them on your feet. Combine that with the greater likelihood of injury to the foot while wearing flip-flops, and you have germ-infested recipe for infection on your hands — or, in this case, on your feet.
Walk this way
Researchers at Auburn University found that wearing flip-flops changes the way you walk. While the difference is subtle, when you wear flip-flops regularly, it can lead to serious problems in your ankles, heels, and toes. You know how you scrunch your toes to keep your shoe on when you walk in flip-flops? That motion stretches the plantar fascia, the connective tissue that runs from your heel to your toes. Repetitive stress in this tissue can cause inflammation and pain in your toes and the bottom of your feet, along with heel spurs. Walking in flip flops also causes shorter strides and puts more force on your feet as they hit the ground. This also affects the way you move your hips and legs, and can result in hip and lower-back pain as well, potentially resulting in long-term damage.
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