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Are Flip-Flops a Flop?

(Fig West Chester, August 2012)

Flip-flops. I don't know about you, but these little babies are a staple in my out-of-work wardrobe, especially when my toes are in presentable fashion after a pedicure. But, after catching an episode of Dr. Oz the other day, I figure I better think twice about how often I slip on those comfy little flops.

Dr. Oz, in only a way that Dr. Oz can, single-handedly convinced me that I should never wear them again. Well, I wouldn't really go that far, but he at least prompted me to do a little research of my own and write this blog entry.

John Gose, Director of Physical Therapy at The Chester County Hospital, shared some flip-flop insight with me. "With little to no structural support, flip-flops are a 'no-no' in my world," explains John. "The little slap of rubber that separates your foot from the ground does little to help your posture or even protect your foot from harm."

So, I thought, "Huh. Weren't our feet designed to roam the earth long before shoes and especially flip-flops were invented? Why now do we need to be so concerned with footwear?"

John agreed. We were created to roam the Earth's natural surfaces shoe-free. But, when we were created, there were no paved roads, laminate floors or cement sidewalks. These hard, dense materials wreak havoc on our bodily structures. A small sheet of rubber is ill-equipped to absorb the shock created when we stroll on these surfaces.

Flip-flop casualties can range from a stubbed toe or lacerations from a stone or piece of glass that can easily get under your foot to overall foot pain from lack of support, tendonitis, sprained ankles and even bone spurs from the constant pounding. Additionally, the lack of foot and ankle control provided by flip flops, starting at the arch and losing control through the ankle, causes poor knee, hip and even back mechanics that eventually will lead to injury to one or more of these areas.

So, because we cannot get around by skipping through prairie pastures and lush forests, we must prepare our feet -- and our bodies -- for the impact of the surfaces on which we travel.

John suggests that if you have to wear flip-flops, fine. Just don't over-wear them. Use them when showering in a community shower stall or trudging through the sand in search of a superior spot at the beach. But leave them at home when you are walking long distances or doing anything active.

John recommends that everyone's go-to footwear should be a pair of running or tennis shoes. He says that they offer arch support, protect the top of your foot from any dropped items and have overall good structure. Just remember to wear a cushioned pair of socks to wick the moisture away from the foot. An option for summerwear might be sandals that have built-in arch supports and control straps that strap around the back of your ankle.

If you are not ready to lace up every day during the summer months, a more substantial sandal with broad straps and adequate support or even the now popular Crocs would suffice.

-- Julie Funk, MS, RD, CDE, LDE

Last Updated: 9/11/2012