The next time you spot someone who should really keep their socks ON, school them on the very-serious-not-at-all-alarmist consequences of flip-flops! From Encyclopedia Paranoiaca: The Indispensable Guide to Everyone and Everything You Should Be Afraid of or Worried About by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf.
“Ah, the casual, comfortable flip-flop: A symbol of summertime, an emblem of relaxation—and a harbinger of death?” So writes the Today show’s Laura T. Coffey in the lead paragraph of an article provocatively titled “Can Your Flip-Flops Kill You?” “OK, well, that may be overstating it a little bit,” Coffey confesses, “but not by too terribly much, health experts say.” The risks associated with flip-flops are numerous, and they are, indeed, serious.
First of all, according to a recent study conducted at Auburn University, when you wear flip-flops, you tend to scrunch your toes to keep the flip-flop on your foot while your heel is lifted in the air. This motion, the researchers report, “stretches the plantar fascia, the connective tissue that runs from heel to toe, causing inflammation, pain along the sole, heel spurs and tired feet in general.” Furthermore, according to the Auburn team, the flip-flop wearers they studied noticeably “altered their gait, taking shorter strides and turning their ankles inward, likely to keep the flip-flop from falling off.” Long-term ankle and hip problems, the researchers warn, will most likely be the result.
Second, notes Mallika Marshall, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital, “Flip-flops don’t offer much in the way of support: no arch support, no heel cushioning, and no shock absorption. That can cause foot pain, tendonitis, and even sprained ankles if you trip.”
A third reason wearing flip-flops can be dangerous, adds Dr. Marshall, is that “your toes and feet are exposed, making them susceptible to falling objects or people stepping on your toes. Doctors are seeing more nail injuries and broken or bruised toes, which wouldn’t happen if you covered the front of your feet.”
The fourth concern is a far more disquieting one—the fact that wearing flip-flops increases your risk of contracting a deadly melanoma. “Flip-flops…leave the tops of the feet dangerously exposed to sun damage,” cautions Dr. Rebecca Tung, director of the Division of Dermatology at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois. Compounding the problem, Dr. Tung advises, is that people frequently forget to apply sunscreen to their feet before they venture outside wearing flip-flops. “Skin cancer on the feet can be really dangerous because the spots are easier to miss, especially if they’re between the toes,” notes Mass. General’s Dr. Marshall.
And finally we come to our fifth and last flip-flop problem: the risk that you’ll contract a painful, or possibly even a fatal, infectious disease as a result of wearing them. According to Today‘s Laura Coffey, the University of Miami recently set up a mobile lab to test people’s flip-flops and found that they were covered with bacteria from fecal matter, skin, and respiratory germs, microbes that cause yeast infection and diaper rash, and, even worse, the germ Staphylococcus aureus, which, as Philip M. Tierno Jr., Ph.D., the director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, warns, “can make you very sick or kill you.” Not only can these germs easily get on your (mostly) unprotected flip-flop-clad feet, Tierno says, but, since flip-flops frequently need to be adjusted for comfort because “they flop around,” we touch them with our hands far more frequently than we do regular shoes. “Shoes perform two functions,” concludes Pennsylvania podiatrist Dr. Richard Maleski. “They protect your feet and support your feet.” Quite obviously, flip- flops do neither.