The serious dangers of flip flops

As the weather warms up, many people have a tendency to switch their footwear from supportive sneakers to flip-flops. Despite their popularity, flip-flops can cause serious problems to your foot and serious injuries to your body.

When it comes to foot and ankle pain, the biggest cause is improper footwear. Although there are no good statistics in the United States about flip flop-related injuries, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service has reported more than 200,000 patients treated a year for flip flop-related injuries at an estimated cost of more than 40 million UK Pounds ($62 million).

Here are some pitfalls to be mindful of when wearing flip flops.

Every summer, there is a significant rise in plantar fasciitis problems. The lack of support from flip flops causes abnormal stretch to the plantar fascia in the arch, leading to heel pain.

Also, to grip the thong of the sandal, the wearer’s toes need to be scrunched at the wrong time in the gait cycle. The action results in a shortened stride, forcing the leg musculature to work harder. This can result in the development of hammertoes and claw toes, shin splints, or muscle pain.

Because the thin flexible sole of the flip flop offers little shock absorption, it increases the mechanical stress on your foot bones, which can lead to stress fractures.

And let’s not forget the risk of serious injury from tripping over flip flops. Many emergency room visits are required for blunt trauma to the toes, which are completely unprotected in flip flops. Common injuries include torn toenail beds or toe fractures, in addition to ankle sprains or even fractures. Worst of all are the foot injuries seen in people wearing flip flops when cutting the grass, where severe lacerations and even amputations can occur. Driving in flip flops also poses a danger if the driver’s foot slips off the brake or the loose flip flop gets stuck under one of the pedals.

Flip flop thongs also frequently cause blistering, particularly between the big toe and the second toe. The flip flop itself has been shown to harbor thousands of bacteria and fungi, which can then lead to infections.

So if you’re going to sport flip flops this summer, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Choose a flip flop with a thick, firm, inflexible sole (optimally with arch support) for maximum support.
  2. The addition of a back strap can aid the fit of the flip flop and decrease muscle stress and toe scrunching while walking.
  3. Limit the amount of time and walking that you do while wearing your flip flops.
  4. Avoid activities such as running, bicycling, cutting grass, or walking in areas where the foot may be exposed to sharp objects. Avoid wet slippery areas where a rubber sole offers no grip.
  5. Don’t drive wearing flip flops.
  6. Replace your flip flops when they get soiled or worn out. It’s worth the investment to prevent injury.

Steven M. Raikin, MD, is a the director of foot and ankle services and a professor of orthopedic surgery at Thomas Jefferson Medical College.