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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

Beware of Foot Injury

Remember Jimmy Buffett's tune, Margaritaville?

"I blew out my flip-flop

Stepped on a pop top

Cut my heel, had to cruise on back home"

Because flip-flops offer little protection, you're at greater risk for stubbed toes, glass cuts, puncture wounds, or having a heavy object smash your foot, experts say.

"I am well aware of the potential downsides of these shoes," says Bret A. Nicks, MD, a Wake Forest University emergency physician. "It is fairly frequently that we see someone come in with either a broken toe or torn nail bed from direct blunt trauma to the exposed toes."

For people with diabetes, any foot injury can become serious, even leading to amputation. Flip-flops and sandals aren't a good option, Christina says. "They really need the protective function of something that covers their toes. I'd much rather see them in Crocs or something that has a covering on top." Crocs are lightweight, waterproof, clog-like shoes.

Flip-Flops and Backyard Football

Don't run or play sports in flip-flops, Anderson says. Instead, always wear proper sports shoes.

The orthopaedic surgeon has treated people who ran or jumped in flip-flops and suffered sprained ankles, fractures, and severe ligament injuries that required surgery.

"They're meant for walking on flat surfaces," he says of flip-flops. "They're not meant for playing Frisbee or backyard football or a soccer game. They don't really offer you the support that an athletic shoe would offer you.

"Unsupported feet take a lot more stress than supported feet," he adds. "If you try to use your flip-flop as an athletic shoe, you're asking for trouble."

Snakes in the Grass

Some people wear flip-flops to do yard work, which in rare cases can prompt a trip to the emergency room for injuries from outdoor equipment.

"Inevitably, throughout the course of the summer, we will see a handful of patients with minor to severe foot or toe injuries from lawn mowers, weed eaters, shovels, and aerators," Nicks says. Podiatrist Christina has even seen people accidentally scrape the skin on their feet with power washers.

Another danger: insect and snake bites. Emergency room physicians on both sides of the country report seeing adults and children with snake bites to the feet while wearing flip-flops or sandals.

In North Carolina, Nicks warns against wearing flip-flops or sandals when hiking in areas that copperheads inhabit.

In Southern California, Sean P. Bush, MD, FACEP, has treated several children for rattlesnake bites. The creatures can enter residential yards when urban sprawl pushes up against wilderness, he says. Bush is a venom expert and professor of emergency medicine at Loma Linda University School of Medicine.

If snakes pose a problem in your region, denim pants and close-toed shoes or boots offer better protection, he says.

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