Hooray for summer! Winter clothes are banished to the back of the closet and our favourite summer t shirts, shorts and flip flops are loving fully being the spotlight. Unfortunately, your beloved flimsy, airy, and innocent looking footwear have been darkly scheming and conspiring against you.
Today the sun is shining brightly, songbirds are belting out the hits and the joy of strolling in open-toed footwear in the warm mid-summer sunshine is impossible to resist. You slip on your favorite slaps and pad off happily down the street. The warm air feels good flowing past your toes and the trademark “flip-flop” rhythm officially sounds off the epic summer you’re having. Thoughts of running and training outdoors fills your mind and you smile. Life couldn’t be better. Unfortunately, your “innocent” little flip flops have something very different planned for you this summer.
You see, instead of improving on last winter’s 5 km race time, or performing a new personal best lift in a back-squat, your calves will begin to feel tight and restricted.
Your once-efficient and effortless turn over will seem more plodding and difficult. Your deep squat position will feel awkward and more difficult to achieve.
The bottoms of your feet will ache in the morning and will be throbbingly tender. Multiple visits to the massage therapist, physio, and chiropractor will replace hot dates and romantic dinners.
Surreptitiously, your summer slaps have changed the way you walk into a shuffling, unnatural and biomechanically inefficient pattern. You’ve become Frankenstein’s monster!
Flipflops are sinister in their subtlety. Rather than allowing the big toe to extend on the toe-off phase of walking, your flipflops force your toes to scrunch down into the sole in order to keep them on your feet. Just try running in your flip flops for a few paces and this action becomes even more pronounced. If the slaps are not held firmly in place by the scrunching action of the toes, they fly off in unpredictable ways; yet another cold and calculated plan of the evil beach shoes.
The result of this action is that the plantar fascia gets repeatedly and microscopically sucker-punched by your flip flops and may become inflamed and irritated over time.
There is a “windlass” mechanism in effect when the heel rises and the big toe extends in the toe-off phase of walking – see this video. This position provides key support to the foot in this phase by pulling the plantar fascia tight and increasing the integrity and stability of the medial longitudinal arch.
Your flip flops encourage a mechanically unstable foot position in the toe-off phase. Ankle sprains and stumbles are much more likely to follow, to the fiendish delight of your flip flops. It is not just the feet that fall victim. Following the important fascial chain up the back of the leg, the reactive gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis-posterior and other tissues also feel the strain. Sadly, the cruelty doesn’t end there. Your hips and low back will also feel the full wrath of your faux – daisy bedazzled footwear.
Now that the curtain has been pulled back to expose the plot against your feet, should you banish your summer footwear from your wardrobe altogether? Not necessarily. Limiting the use of flip flops to very short durations is just fine. Better yet, consider using sandals with heel straps so that the footwear will remain on the feet even passively.
Hey, Jesus and The Buddha didn’t just wear heel straps just because they looked “super sweet”. That was divine and deep knowledge of foot and fascial mechanics in play. There are many other footwear choices available that give that “barefoot” feeling without abusing your soft tissue. To become more enlightened on this topic, make an appointment to see your healthcare professional or simply ask yourself “What would the Buddha wear?”
Photo by stevepb from Pixabay