how healthy are your feet

Summer Feet – How Healthy Are They?

I can’t help myself but it just comes out – “anything but flip flops”.

What?! But I always wear flip flops, I hear you say. I know – they are no longer the cheap way to simply protect your feet from cuts and scratches around the pool or to wear in the communal shower at the gym to prevent foot bacteria. They are now a massive industry – in 2011 alone, 210 million pairs of Havaianas (the world famous flip flop   brand) were sold worldwide. Flip flops are pretty with different colours, sparkles and beads. For men, they are sporty with big brand names behind them. They appear perfect to wear all day as summer footwear.

Looks can be deceiving. Pretty yes. Functional no. Healthy footwear NO. Now I am not saying never wear them around the pool or for short periods of time. I do own a pair that I wear on  the beach or pool on vacation but that’s it. You will never see me out for a day in flip flops, no matter how sparkly they are.

Here’s why – firstly the whole structure of a flip flop is never going to support your foot for a number of reasons. From a foot protection and injury aspect, there is no heel support. That means we have a greater chance of slipping sideways off the shoe, twisting our foot or ankle. In crowded spaces, someone could even step on the back of it (especially small children) causing you to fall. If we do slip off the shoe, the foot is exposed to potential damage and cuts on the ground. Plus you have that extra fact of the strap rubbing between the big toe and second toe which can cause painful blisters if you are walking for any length of time.

From a functional point, many of us have flat feet with low arches or pronated feet. A flip flop offers zero help in supporting your arch. The foot is going to collapse medially with each step. This collapse causes all the bones and muscles all the way up to the pelvis to roll inwards too. Start to imagine how this may impact your knee, hip and lower back.

In addition, the toes are put under great pressure to keep the shoe on. You know that feeling of gripping the toes when you walk. Try it now. Simply scrunch your toes up and hold that. Can you feel your ankle joint stiffen in response? Can you feel the top side of your foot tighten? The muscles of the foot run up the lower limb – so shin and calf to the knee. Now unscrunch the toes and notice all those muscles relax. The problem is that the foot should be able to spread and open with each step – in flip flops this can never happen. This means your lower limb muscles are forced to work overtime. Can we see some potential knee pain coming on?

We know that gait or walking patterns are hugely important for whole body health. The foot and its ability to function optimally is the major player in our walking pattern. And yet every summer, we slip on these innocent looking shoes and consequently prevent our foot from doing its job. The flip flops interfere with the natural extension and flexion at the ankle joint – a recipe for pain either locally or further up the leg.

So, what do I recommend? There are some really stylish, comfortable and functional sandals around now. All we need is something with a strap that holds the heel in place which in turn holds the shoe on. Your feet are then able to expand and contract as they should do. We can look forward to a summer of healthy feet – we just need the sun to go with it.

Have a healthy foot, healthy summer.

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