07/23/2008 05:12 am ET Updated 5 days ago

Flip-Flops: Not A Good Idea For Sports And Exercise

As evidenced by Prada's entry into the flip-flop market, the use of this type of footwear is no longer limited to walks on the beach. Flip-flops, which can range in price from a few dollars at the local grocery store to hundreds of dollars at high-end, Madison Avenue stores, are now being worn as everyday footwear. Many wearers consider them to be both a stylish and comfortable option to sneakers or shoes. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the potential problems that the-more-than-occasional-use of flip-flops can cause. They are particularly dangerous when wearing them for exercise or sports as they offer very limited support to the foot, ankle, and lower leg.

Originally marketed for use at the beach or pool, flip-flops provided the necessary protection from the hot sand or ground during quick walks and allowed for easier on and off than sneakers. When used in this context, the lack of arch support provided by the footwear probably isn't that much of a problem. However, persistent use puts more stress on one's arch, which can lead to a variety of problems.

The arch of the foot is maintained by a complex interplay of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Its role is to serve as a shock absorber during our gait cycle. Sneakers or other shoes with arch supports help feet work more efficiently by taking some of the stress off the previously-mentioned tendons and ligaments. Without arch support, the tendency in most people is for the foot to role inward when it hits the ground, which is called pronation. When the foot pronates, the arch cannot function as a shock absorber, causing abnormal stresses to other areas of the foot, ankle, and above. Chronic, overuse injuries, such as tendonitis can occur as a result. Frequent flip-flop wearers often complain of pain in their heel, arch or Achilles tendon region.

A few studies have implicated increased foot pronation with anterior knee pain (a common complaint in runners), hip pain, and back pain. It makes sense that people inclined to develop these problems may hasten the process with frequent flip-flop use.

More acutely, the lack of support provided by flip -flops can also lead to more severe injuries such as ankle sprains or fractures. People wearing flip-flops need to be particularly careful when walking on uneven surfaces. The lack of support provided by the footwear allows the foot to roll in any direction it wants, potentially leading to ligament tears or broken bones.

People prone to infection, such as Diabetics or those with circulatory problems, need to be particularly careful when wearing flip-flops. The lack of skin protection can lead to skin breakdown that can serve as a entry point for infection.

While all of this may sound scary, it is important to reiterate that in moderation, flip-flops are fine. People should just avoid wearing them for long periods of time. Additionally, they shouldn't be worn when walking long distances or on uneven surfaces. Please leave them home and do not bring them to the gym, tennis or basketball courts.


For more information about sports medicine, visit the Joe DiMaggio Sports Medicine Center.

Mission statement: Manhattan's Joe DiMaggio Sports Medicine Center is devoted to rendering the very best non-surgical foot and ankle care, specializing in effective, non-intrusive methods as a primary objective. At the same time, the Center is affiliated with the world renowned Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), affording traditional surgical and other options. The HSS, located in New York, has been recently rated the Number One hospital in the country for orthopedics by the US News and World Report. The Center also offers the expertise of orthopedic surgical and non-surgical clinicians in all areas of care.

The Center is named after American sports icon Joe DiMaggio, whose heel spur disability remains one of the most well-known sports injuries in history.