A topic that always seems to get attention in the news when the weather gets nice is the danger flip flops pose to public. There was an article published a few days ago on CNN.com that labeled flip flops as a “common culprit of America’s foot pain“. Living in California I am lucky enough to have the option of wearing flip flops year round. Contrary to the message of that article, I feel like wearing flip flops has helped with some of the ankle and knee problems I’ve had in the past. According to the experts quoted in the piece, here is a list of why they consider flip flops so bad:
1. There is inadequate cushioning when walking on hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete. This is similar to the argument against going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes. Recent studies have shown however, at least for running shoes, that added cushioning may actually cause greater impact forces through the feet and legs.
2. They lack arch support causing misalignment of the knees, hips, and back. I’ve written before about how there is no science behind the idea that we need arch support. I prefer shoes that have little to no support built in.
3. They are unstable which can lead to tumbles, twisted ankles, and broken bones. I feel this has more to do with balance and ankle stability then it does with wearing flip flops. If someone is wearing highly supportive and rigid shoes all the time then it’s possible they’re balance is not as good as it would be if they spent more time barefoot or wearing less supportive shoes.
4. They cause the wearer to grip the flip flop with their toes leading to an unnatural gait. This is only a problem if the flip flop is too loose or doesn’t fit properly. I make sure when I buy flip flops that they are the correct size and fit the outline of my foot well, then there is no need to try to hold them on with your toes or alter your gait in anyway. The ones I get are usually not expensive either. It’s usually the pricier ones that have many of the features I try to avoid in shoes.
5. They either bend too much or too little. A podiatrist interviewed for the story said that a shoe should bend only where the foot bends. I’m not even sure what this means. My feet can bend in several different places and in many different direction. The soles of our feet are adapted to molding to uneven surfaces and are not just a simple hinge joint. I now try to spend the majority of the time in shoes with highly flexible soles that allow the muscles in the foot to do the job they are designed for.
6. The straps can cause friction and lead to blisters. Again, this has more to do with the fit of the shoe or the material used. The same could be said for any ill-fitting shoe.
7. They offer no protection from bruises, cuts, and nail punctures. What?!? I guess this is a somewhat valid point. I’m not sure how many of shoes I have that could actually withstand a nail puncture. It’s always important, no matter what’s on your feet, to pay attention to where you are stepping and yeah, flip flops are not the ideal choice for places where there may be a lot of nails lying around…like a construction site.
The article also interviewed the owner of a flip-flip store who not surprisingly suggested, “spending the extra money on a pair with deep heel cups, high arch support and comfortable toe support” (my italics). This goes back to the question of whether we actually need any of that stuff in our shoes. I think it’s a bit ridiculous seeing flip-flops with huge built-in arch supports and air bags in the bottoms. The reason there’s a market for this is likely because people are so accustomed to wearing rigid stability or motion control shoes with elevated heels.
The article did mention a few benefits of flip-flops or instances when the experts thought wearing them may be appropriate like in a health club locker room or prevent catching any bad germs or at the beach to prevent burning your feet on the sand. People with diabetes, who often have poor circulation in their feet and delayed would healing, also need to be cautious about protecting their feet from cuts and infections.
One of the greatest upsides to wearing flip flops is the ability to easily slip them off when you are somewhere that allows you to go barefoot. The general mindset over the last few decades has been that going barefoot is bad and that foot motion has to be controlled by shoes and inserts. Personally I’ve seen how beneficial it can be to do more barefoot activity or at least wearing less supportive shoes.
Flip-flops are certainly not as evil as this article would have people believe and it will undoubtedly take a while for the medical community to warm up to the idea that maybe stability shoes and orthotics are not always the answer. Free your feet!
Photo by: erules123