Health Column: It’s time to retire those old flip-flops

(Credit: flickr/ Consumerist Dot Com)
(Credit: flickr/ Consumerist Dot Com)

You either love ’em for their easy breezy fit or loathe ’em for their unappealing sight and smell.

I’m referring to flip-flops — the unofficial footwear of summer. 

If you couldn’t have guessed, flip-flops — or thongs, as some call them — don’t offer much support for the feet and, area foot experts said, can actually increase one’s risk of injury.

“We’ve made flip-flops into a new fashion statement,” said podiatrist Dr. Edward McLaughlin of McLaughlin & McLaughlin in Riverhead. But “when it comes down to flip-flops,” he added, “they are essentially a shower shoe.”

Because the heel of the shoe is meant to flop around, it offers no arch or heel support, Dr. McLaughlin said, explaining that sandals with some type of heel strap are the more sensible way to go.

“When you’re tied into a shoe with a back to it, you can’t bend your foot up as much,” he said. Shoes without a back allow the foot to bend completely, exposing the ball of the foot and creating irritation.

“We tend to overextend ourselves when we don’t have a little bit of resistance [at the heel],” he said.

The human foot consists of 26 bones, 56 ligaments and 38 muscles, according to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. This maze of matter offers multiple movement points that enable us to adjust to varying terrain.

But with flip-flops, many of those moving parts are making moves they weren’t designed for, explained Dr. Patricia Nicholas of Lite Step Podiatry Wellness in Wading River.

People tend to drag their feet or grip with toes to keep their flip-flops on, she said, causing “imbalance and greater risk of injuries.”

Wearing flip-flops continuously can contribute to a number of foot-related problems, including heel pain, cuts, scrapes and abrasions. They can also contribute to more severe conditions such as hammertoes — or permanently bent toes — bunions, back and leg pain and tendonitis, she said.

Now let’s couple those cuts and scrapes with the undeniable germ pool that inhabits a pair of thongs.

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Miami in conjunction with NBC’s “Today” show found that a single pair of flip-flops can host more than 18,000 types of bacteria.

When testing random flip-flops worn by Florida natives and taken off their feet in the street, researchers found traces of bacteria from fecal matter, skin and respiratory germs, as well as Staphylococcus aureus — staph infection — which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.

If worn for three months or more over the course of an entire summer, according to the study, 93 percent of flip-flops would have fecal bacteria on them and 20 percent of them would have E. coli.

So it can be said that flip-flop lovers should probably avoid touching their shoes and unwashed feet as much as possible.

I guess it’s a good thing they slip on so easily.

Miller_HeadshotGot a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at [email protected]