Health: Flip-Flops Can Cause Foot, Leg and Hip Problems

Health: Flip-Flops Can Cause Foot, Leg and Hip Problems

Dick Moss, Editor, Physical Education

Do you have students with foot pain that just won't go away? For example, arch and heel pain that is persistent even though they are receiving treatment? Your first inclination will be to examine their sports activities and footwear. But in fact, the main problem may be what they're wearing in their day-to-day activities.

And the main culprit may be flip-flops. That's right, those cute thonged flip-flops that students wear to class, may be causing their pain to persist.

Recent Research
Recent research conducted at Auburn University and reported at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, illustrated the dangers of flip-flop wear. Observations and force plate measurements were made of 39 flip-flop-wearing college-aged men and women.

The main problems were the fact that the toes were forced to curl and the feet point inward on every stride in order to keep the flip-flops on the feet. This produced an unnatural gait and an unaccustomed point of contact with the ground - while wearing footwear with little cushioning and no arch support.

The result can be pain in the feet legs and all the way up into the hips and lower back. This occurs, said researcher Justin Shroyer, because, "Variations like this at the foot can result in changes up the kinetic chain, which in this case can extend upward in the wearer's body."

Also seen as a problem was that the constant gripping of the toes produced unnatural stress on the plantar fascia beneath the arch of the foot. The result is potential strain and inflammation.

Is Barefoot Better?
Your students might argue that wearing flip-flops is the same as walking barefoot except there's a little more cushioning. In fact this isn't true. The problem with flip-flops is that they force the toes to curl and the gait to change with every stride. In contrast, barefoot walking allow the toes to remain in a natural position.

Do Flip-Flops Have a Place?
Must flip-flops be banned completely from your athletes' wardrobe? In fact, no - they still can be worn on the beach and in situations in which little walking will be performed. However they should never be worn when there is the need to walk more than a few feet, and especially when the athlete is already experiencing foot problems.

A Better Alternative
A better alternative is a sandal with a heel strap. The strap will keep the shoe on the foot without the need to curl the toes. And a sandal with some arch support in addition to a heel strap is even better.

1. Dr. Wendy Weimar & Justin Shroyer, Auburn University Department of Kinesiology, Presented at the 2008 annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine and reported on the Auburn University News Wire, June 3, 2008.
2. Christopher Wanjek, "Flip-Flops Bad for Feet." LiveScience, June 24, 2008.

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