You Might Want To Flip-Flop On your Decision To Wear Flip-Flops

The summer months are approaching which means many people will soon be trading in their shoes for a pair of flip-flops. No longer are flip-flops exclusively used as footwear on the beach or at the pool, they have become a staple of every day summer attire. While flip flops are a comfortable, convenient, and cooler alternative to traditional shoes in the warmer months, excessive use could cause stress to your joints, which may lead to uninvited aches and pains.

In a 2008 study conducted by Auburn University, researchers discovered that wearing thong-style flip-flops can cause postural imbalances, which in turn can lead to long-term health problems of the knees, ankles, hips, back and neck. “Variations like this at the foot can result in changes up the kinetic chain, which in this case can extend upward in the wearers body… which can result in problems and pain from the foot up into the hips and lower back,” Head researcher Justin Shroyer says.

The problem lies in how flip-flops are used. While wearing them at the pool is unlikely to result in any major problems, far too often wearers rely on them in situations where a supportive athletic shoe would be more appropriate. I have seen countless cases in my office of patients reporting unexplained back, leg and ankle pain, only to discover that they had been biking, going on long walks or playing a sport in flip-flops over the weekend.

When people walk in flip flops they alter their stride to compromise for the lack of support the sandal provides. Flip-flop wearers tend to grip the shoe with their toes while walking, forcing them to take shorter steps. This modification in gait produces muscle imbalances and improper joint mechanics, leading to dysfunction in various parts of the body. Flip-flops also provide little to no arch support or heel cushioning for the foot. If the space between the foot and the ground is not properly supported, it will not absorb the force of impact as well as it should when walking, leading to overuse injuries.

Before you go tossing your flip-flops into a bonfire, just remember: like most things in life, use in moderation is just fine. Keep in mind however that flip-flops are designed for walking on flat surfaces for short distances, so remember to switch to a shoe with adequate support when doing moderate activities. If you do happen to overdo it and begin to experience symptoms, I recommend rest and ice to reduce inflammation, as well as chiropractic adjustments to correct any joint misalignments.

Have a happy, healthy Summer!

-by Dr. Kevin Mikalaitis

Published in the Longmont Times-Call (May 22, 2009)
and the Earthly Wellness Blog (April 2009)