Dr. Tyson Green, Podiatric Specialist
If summer heat shifts your fashion focus to your feet, then it's important to get in step with foot health as the summer season kicks off. Summer is prime time for certain types of foot problems, and my office is flooded with patents experiencing heel pain, arch pain, sprains, and other conditions related to summer footwear and activities.
While spike-heeled stilettos and strappy sandals may seem like the obvious culprits when it comes to foot pain, flip flops – which have become the everyday summer shoe of choice for many – actually cause more problems. Many people believe wearing flip flops is a way to give their feet a break, the opposite is true. To fully understand why this type of footwear is so bad for your feet, you have to think about the mechanics involved with every step you take.
Our feet bear our full body weight and play a big role in maintaining our balance. Each time your foot hits the ground, the arch is supposed to be "locked" to absorb shock. That's why good footwear is structured with an arch support. Flip flops, however, have a spongy sole, so when the foot hits the ground, it roles inward, and this locking mechanism is released, and the arch flattens. The sponge sole of the flip flop allows the arch to roll inward. This is called pronation, and it leads to problems such as pain in the heel, the arch, the toes and in the forefoot. It can even lead to the development of 'flat feet' which can contribute to many other musculoskeletal problems, including hip and back pain.
In addition to pronation, flip-flops and other flat and/or flimsy sandals with minimal structure, don't hold the foot in position like most shoes do, which forces the wearer to overuse tendons and muscles in the foot and ankle to hold them on. This can lead to tendinitis and ankle sprains.
This doesn't mean you can't wear flip flops at all, but they should be worn only for short periods of time; and try to choose one of the newer styles that do include some arch support.
Flip flops should not be your only summer foot fear. Those pampering pedicures intended to keep your feet looking their best for sandal weather can have unintended results if caution is not used. Pedicures are becoming increasingly popular. A recent American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) survey of women ages 18-49, found that nearly 50% had received a professional pedicure by the age of twenty-five. And while pampering and grooming your feet promote good foot hygiene, this is only true if you choose your salon carefully.
The most important factor to consider is how they sterilize their equipment. It should be treated in an autoclave. This is the same type of sterilization process used in medical facilities and is critical for preventing infection. The way you'll know if a salon uses autoclave is if a sealed pack of instruments is opened when they begin your treatment service.
Skip the foot soak, which is a very common source of fungal infections. Unless you know for certain that the foot tub is cleaned with an antibacterial solution after each client, don't put your feet in. Smoothing rough skin with a pumice stone or emery board is fine, but don't allow a pedicurist to use a razor for this purpose. This can lead to cuts and infection. And don't have your cuticles trimmed. Your cuticles are the nails' last defense and should only be gently pushed back. Cutting them provides an opening for bacterial and fungal infections.
Other tips for safe pedicures include:
- Trim nails straight across, following the natural shape of the toe. Rounding the edges can lead to painful ingrown toenails.
- If you are having a manicure and pedicure done at the same time, separate instruments should be used for each to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Do not apply polish is your toenails are discolored or cracked.