Just last week, Old Navy stores nationwide created long lines and crazed consumers vying over sales tables of this $1 footwear. Warmer weather and the summertime vacation season prompts an annual burst of function over fashion, or fashionable yet mostly bare feet. It’s a subject that has fostered flaps over presidential-appearances, rows of dress shoes languishing in closets or under desks, and infinite wardrobe makeovers.
So when is the right time to wear flip-flops?
With the July 4th holiday weekend summoning summer wardrobe in full regalia, it seemed high time to address the issue with a foot and ankle expert such as UPMC orthopedist Stephen F. Conti, M.D., who just this week returned to his former hospital system.
Q: Are flip-flops OK to wear in summertime? Are there certain people who can wear them, or certain people who definitely cannot?
A: Flip-flops should be worn in the summer in moderation. For many people, they are more comfortable than closed-in shoes – particularly in warmer weather. Problems arise in patients with certain foot issues, such as those with flat feet, which require an arch support. Flip-flops provide little such support, with sometimes as little as fractions of an inch of material between your feet and the ground.
Q: Are there certain varieties of flip-flops you’d recommend? Some come dressy with a heel. Some are just rubber with a small post between the toes. Some are rubber, some are thatch. Any designs or materials that you condone or warn against?
A: Flip-flops come in a variety of different shapes and constructs, and their quality is usually reflected in the price. Less-expensive types tend to be flat with only a single post between the first and second toes to hold the flip-flops to the foot. The slightly more expensive types usually have built-in arch supports and tend to hold the foot in place with a strap across the metatarsal. It’s probably best to wear in moderation — if not avoid, for many people — the less-expensive flip-flops with the single post because it can lead to damage to the ligament of the first and second toe. They also do not provide arch support, which can cause issues after long-term exposure.
Q: Is there a time limit to wearing flip-flops per day? Wouldn’t they cause flat feet from too much usage?
There is no time limit I can cite for wearing flip-flops during the course of a day. It’s more based on the first level of activity. Someone who is just doing a minimal amount of walking locally should be fine. But the rule of thumb is to do in flip-flops only those activities that you would do in bare feet
Q: Is there a certain terrain or topography that are forbidden for flip-flops? Besides mountain-climbing, of course.
While flip-flops provide a bit more protection than merely barefoot-walking, one should not use flip-flops during extensive periods of walking or on a uneven ground. Also, slippery surfaces are a danger because failure to put the ball of the foot directly onto the flip-flop might cause serious slips, falls or harm.
Q: Sometimes you see people wearing them in cold weather or even snow. Is this wise?
They should be seasonal footwear only.
Q: Are there any other medical conditions or issues that could arise from wearing flip-flops?
Flip-flops may cause dermatologic conditions because of the materials from which they are constructed. People should choose carefully and be aware of any skin irritations they may suffer from certain materials. Also, due to sweat and exposure to moisture, flip-flops should be cleaned regularly with soap and water.