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Flip-Flops Fun but Beware of Foot Pain

Experts give flip-flops thumbs up for the poolside, thumbs down for foot pain

WebMD Feature

Once upon a time, flip-flops were cheap, rubber thongs that you wore to wash your car or schlep to the beach.

Nowadays, they're a summertime craze. No longer just dull drugstore specials, the sandals with the V-shaped straps turn up everywhere in eye-popping shades, from hot pink to lime green. They come adorned with spangles, flowers, and college logos. One company even created flip-flops with a built-in bottle opener.

Fun and fashionable, flip-flops have their place in your shoe closet, experts say. But they're not meant to be worn with abandon -- or else you may be courting foot pain.

Flip-Flops: Good and Bad

Jackie Hartnett, a young Northern California woman, owns five pairs, including some with a Hawaiian motif and a black pair with polka dots. Come rain or shine, she wears flip-flops. "They're really comfortable. I don't like shoes because they're so confining," she says. Her boyfriend accidentally steps on her toes, but to Hartnett, that's a small price to pay for the breezy feel of flip-flops.

"Flip-flops and sandals during the summer are very common and very popular," says John G. Anderson, MD, a Michigan orthopaedic surgeon and American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society spokesman.

What's their best purpose? "Flip-flops give you some basic protection to the bottom of your foot to walk around poolside or on a surface that may be warm during the summer," says Jim Christina, DPM, director of scientific affairs for the American Podiatric Medical Association.

They can also help prevent you from catching athlete's foot or plantar warts in public showers, according to foot specialists.

In contrast, it's a bad idea to play sports or hike trails in flip-flops, foot pain experts tell WebMD. Here's a quick primer on flip-flop safety.

No Foot Support Leads to Foot Pain

Unlike sturdy shoes, flip-flops aren't good for extensive walking because they offer no arch support, heel cushioning, or shock absorption, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). Wearers can suffer foot pain due to lack of arch support, tendinitis, and even sprained ankles if they trip.

Many vacationers find out the hard way. They can't wait to toss aside their wingtips or pumps to lounge in flip-flops all day long. But after a few days, some want to hurl the sandals into the garbage bin.

Why? "They let your foot be as flat as they can be," Christina says. "For some people, that's OK, depending on the structure of their foot. But if you have a foot that tends to over-flatten, then you're not getting any support.

"If [vacationers] are at the beach or Disney World and they're walking in flip-flops for days on end with no support, it's very common to see arch and heel pain," he says.

Don't overdo the flip-flops at home, either, Christina says. "Everything in moderation. As long as you're not doing a lot of walking, it's probably OK." For example, "To have flip-flops on for short periods of time to do errands, that's usually not going to be a problem."

If you have foot pain and need an alternative to flip-flops and their flimsy support, the APMA's web site recommends sandals from companies, such as Wolky, Chaco, Dansko and Rockport.

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