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Flip-flops: Fashion statement or pain in the foot?

​​​​​​Flip-flops are a fashion staple for many today. Assorted colors at a low price make them fun and easy to have in abundance. But the low price you pay for fashion today may return as a higher price for foot pain tomorrow.

Young people, who wear flip-flops more often than other footwear, are increasingly complaining of heel, arch and foot problems. Often treated with anti-inflammatory medication and rest, these patients are advised to wean from their flip-flops to footwear with more arch support and cushioning. Tendonitis, Plantar fasciitis (a painful inflammatory condition of the foot) and stress fractures are the most common conditions of flip-flop wearers.

Flip-flops give no support to the bottom of your foot leaving it to twist and turn. This can lead to sprains, breaks and falls. The thin, flat soles have virtually no shock-absorbing qualities.

Researchers at Auburn University have found flip-flop wearers actually take shorter steps, placing more stress on the body, and posing a higher risk of muscle and joint pain in the legs, knee, hip and back.

Toes were another issue in the same study. You scrunch your toes to keep the flip-flop on. This can cause throbbing and tenderness in the toes. Because the foot is not lifted as much, wearers start walking with the classic flip-flop shuffle.

Heel pain is increasingly being seen in 15- to 25-year olds, a group that normally doesn’t have this issue. Flip-flops being worn to school every day have been cited as the main cause.

The funky sandals are fine for their original uses - walking by the pool, beach or on warm surfaces and in public showers to prevent athlete’s foot and plantar warts. They are not intended for all-day wearing or for exercise.

Tell your physician if you experience arch pain, foot pain or other discomfort while wearing flip-flops. Flip-flops have been linked to foot blisters, sores and nasty fungal infections from the strap rubbing between the toes. Additionally, worn out flip-flops can make wearers roll an ankle or develop tendonitis.

Your foot fashion need not result in pain or injury. Good sandal alternatives to check out are Keen, Clark’s and Eastland sandals. Don’t let foot fashion sideline you today or tomorrow.

Share comments or questions on this information. E-mail sports.medicine@marshfieldclinic.org​.

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