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Weekly Feature: Flip flops

September’s approaching quickly and that can only mean the warm days of summer won’t be here forever. Are you living vicariously through your summer footwear in an attempt to get the last few beach days in?

Year after year, studies are done on the trendy footwear that many folks wear consistently throughout the summer months. And, year after year, many of the same conclusions are drawn. We’re talking about the sandal referred to as the “flip flop.”

The flip flop is an open-toed design that has a flat sole and y-shaped strap. The strap passes between the wearers big and second toes and back to both sides of the foot in order to hold the sandal on the foot. (idigwebsites, 2013)

Traditionally, flip flop-like shoes were made from a number of different materials, unlike the common rubber soles we see today. Ancient Egyptian sandals were made from papyrus and palm leaves, while rawhide was used by the Masai in Africa. In India, wooden sandals were the common choice for footwear, whereas in South America, the leaves of the sisal plant provided twine for sandals. The Japanese and Chinese cultures used rice straw, while the indigenous populations of Mexico used the yucca plant.Cameron Kippen, Dept of Podiatry, Curtin University of Technology, Perth (PecheBlu, 2006)

In the 1950s, American soldiers brought back Japanese zori as souvenirs after World War II. A zori is a flip flop type shoe that was first used by the Japanese during the Heian period between 794-1185 BC. These shoes were used to assist Japanese children when they were first learning to walk, according the Encyclopedia of History in Japanese Manners and Customs. (idigwebsites, 2013)

As this footwear style entered into American fashion-wear, flip flops came to represent the informal lifestyle of Californians in general and surf culture in particular. Although these cheap, rubber sandals were initially the essence of summer beachwear, fashion in the last twenty years has changed to the point where casual dress is appropriate in most situations.

However, although flip flops are now entering the workplace and are used as common everyday footwear, it doesn’t mean they should be worn in place of proper footwear. Researchers at Rhinebeck, a New York-based facility that deals with pain relief of the musculoskeletal system, offer some insight into why flip flops should not be worn as everyday footwear.

    • Most flip-flops do not offer arch support. Continuous walking in them may cause the calf muscle to stretch, straining the Achilles tendon. Regularly wearing shoes without support can hurt your knees, hips and back.
    • Generic flip-flops are thin and flimsy. This causes your feet to hit the ground with more intensity, which is more jarring to bones and joints.
    • Flip-flops and other backless shoes cause toes to “over grip” in order to keep them on your feetThis can throw your gait and balance off, greatly increasing the risk of tripping.
    • Flip-flops can aggravate deformities such as bunions and hammertoes, and contribute to plantar fasciitis.
    • The thin rubber thong between the toes causes frictionThis can result in irritation, blisters, and abrasions between the toes that may become susceptible to infection.
    • Diabetics should be particularly wary of wearing flip-flops if they have disease-related neuropathy. This means they won’t be able to feel any irritation until there is a significant problem.
    • Flip-flops leave feet totally exposed, making cuts and scrapes more likely. In addition, their thin soles are easily punctured by shards of glass, nails, splinters and so on.
    • The rubber soles on flip-flops are porous. This makes them a breeding ground for fungi, bacteria, and other germs, which can lead to athlete’s foot, warts and other problems. (Toronto Star, 2014)

Researchers fro Auburn University in Alabama, studied the biomechanics of flip flops and determined very similar results to those from Rhinebeck.

“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. (Parker-Pope, Tara, 2008)

The study was conducted on 39 college-age men and women who were asked to wear flip flops or athletic shoes. Researchers then had the participants walk a platform that measured vertical force was their feet his the ground.

The study found that “flip-flop wearers took shorter steps and their heels hit the ground with less vertical force than when the same walkers wore athletic shoes. People wearing flip-flops also don’t bring their toes up as much as the leg swings forward. That results in a larger angle to the ankle and a shorter stride length.” (Parker-Pope, Tara, 2008)

Shroyer found that, although flip-flops are best worn for short periods of time, like at the beach or for comfort after an athletic event, they are not designed to properly support the foot and ankle during all-day wear.

Vancouver podiatrist, Roy Mathews, says that flip flops often force the wearer to scrunch their toes to grip the thong at the wrong time in the gait cycle. Mathews also adds that people tend to wear their flip flops long after the sandals have worn out, which causes further loss of support for the foot. Wearing flip flops can cause a number of foot ailments including: “plantar fasciitis — a common cause of heel pain involving inflammation of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot connecting heel bone to toes — to shin splints and metatarsalgia, marked by pain and inflammation in the ball of the foot.” (Graham, David, 2010)

Researchers at Rhinebeck also found that other common footwear can be damaging to your feet, knees, and back.  The traditional ballet flats, often worn by young girls and women, present the same problems as flip flops in terms of lack of support. Because of their flat soles, they offer no arch support, which can throw your gait and balance off.

Although the proper athletic shoe offers great support and comfort, wearing sneakers without socks is also unfriendly to your feet. Keep your socks on or you’re more likely to create an environment that is friendly to breeding bacteria. This can, in turn, cause issues such as athlete’s foot or other problems.

Finally, rubber or plastic clogs are not designed to be worn for long-term, real-world wear. Researchers noted that unless you’ve purchased a name-brand, expensive pair, your feet could be a breeding ground for numerous types of bacteria and fungi issues. (Toronto Star, 2014)

When it comes to simple, airy summer shoes, sandals are a better choice. However, if you insist on flip-flops, be sure to invest in a good, well-constructed, quality pair that offers support. The best option is to seek out a pair of sandals or flip flops that contain an orthotic foot bed. Visit us in store to see what options we have available to fit your summer lifestyle. Keep your eyes peeled for some upcoming information about our in-stock sandals.FootFoundation

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