If you thought stilettos were killers, wait till you hear about the damage caused by the lowly flip-flop.
It’s not just stubbed toes and blisters; the ubiquitous summer sandal is being blamed for myriad injuries, from chronic foot and ankle pain to falls, back injuries, escalator mishaps and car accidents. General practitioners, podiatrists and emergency room physicians are run off their feet caring for patients who have hurt themselves in footloose flip-flops.
The rise in flip-flop-related injuries may simply be due to their enormous popularity. Many men and women own multiple pairs because they are convenient, inexpensive and fashionable. And although they were once relegated to beaches and cottage country, they are now acceptable in offices by day and downtown clubs at night.
Tread carefully, experts say.
Flip-flops provide the foot with “no support whatsoever,” says Vancouver podiatrist Roy Mathews.
Wearing them all summer long can cause problems particularly for people with high arches or flat feet, he says.
Flip-flops force the wearer to scrunch their toes to grip the thong at the wrong time in the gait cycle, Mathews says. What’s more, he adds, people tend to wear their flip-flops long after the sandals have worn out, causing a further loss of support for the foot.
Foot ailments range from 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.
Add to that injuries that occur when people wearing flip-flops decide to play Frisbee or touch football, says Mathews. A tumble while wearing unsupportive footwear can lead to sprains and ankle fractures, he says.
Joanne Banfield, manager for trauma injury prevention at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, says flip-flops belong on the beach. And, she adds, people should not be driving while wearing them.
“There have been episodes of horrific collisions caused when someone was unable to brake because their flip-flop became caught,” says Banfield.
“Simple slips, trips and falls can be catastrophic,” she warns.
She compares the injuries associated with flip-flops to such repetitive stress issues as carpal tunnel syndrome. “They can lead to poor posture and back problems.”
Keri Rose, a 46-year-old mother of three visiting Toronto from Texas, wears flip-flops all the time.
“We wear a lot of flip-flops in Texas,” she says, admitting she often drives while wearing them. “I have several pairs but I try to buy better quality versions.”
Marc Dubé, a 35-year-old Toronto salesman, doesn’t wear his flip-flops to work or while driving, but reports a feeling of pressure at his heel and up the back of his legs if he wears them for long walks. He has owned inexpensive pairs from Old Navy and designer brands like Diesel, but says that regardless of brand, “they can be treacherous on rainy sidewalks.”
FitFlops, about $80, are thicker than the average flip-flop, cup the heel and provide the foot with some arch support while promising to tone muscles.
Banfield says there are limited statistics about injuries related to flip-flops because it’s often not determined immediately that an injury is directly related to wearing the sandals.
“Someone could have a hairline fracture or a sprain and never attribute it to their flip-flops,” says Banfield.
Denyse Boxell, project leader for Safe Kids Canada, says many youth seek medical assistance after their flip-flops get wedged in escalators at the mall. Between 1990 and 2006, there were 1,070 escalator-related injuries in Canada; 85 per cent of those involved kids under 14 years. One to 2 per cent of the 1,070 injuries were related to footwear — rubber clogs, flip-flops, sandals and loose shoelaces, says Boxell.
Justin Shroyer, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Louisiana, is known on campus as the flip-flop guy, because of his area of expertise on the subject of the flimsy footwear. He hopes he can make the world a better place with a better flip-flop. He has two provisional patents on designs that “help to keep the flip-flop on the foot better.”
Shroyer’s research has revealed that flip-flop wearers take shorter steps, hold their ankles at a different angle and make the muscles at the front of their shins work harder.