For a large number of Australians, thongs are an essential summer staple. We don’t think twice about putting them on – they’re easy to wear, convenient, don’t cost an arm and a leg, and you’ll already have them hanging around the house anyway. But what are they really doing to our feet – and why do so many feet hurt when wearing them?
Today, our foot experts at Sole Motion Podiatry weigh in on the price you may really be paying when you choose thongs for your everyday wear.
1. Consider what thongs really are
Having a quick duck over to the Merrian-Webster dictionary about how to define a ‘shoe’, we’re presented with this first definition:
“an outer covering for the human foot typically having a thick or stiff sole with an attached heel and an upper part of lighter material (such as leather)”
Thinking about thongs, they don’t quite fit the bill. They aren’t designed to cover the feet or have a stiff sole. They aren’t made from good, durable or supportive materials – just the standard rubber in most cases. What they are designed to do is protect only the soles of our feet from immediate damage from things we may otherwise step on – in our backyard, in public changing rooms, and so on. Which can be great when you’re hanging the washing and don’t want to stand on something sharp – but beyond that, and being very frank, they’re a piece of rubber held to the bottoms of our feet by two straps.
2. The position of your feet in thongs
Traditional thongs offer no foot, heel, ankle or arch support in any way. This means:
- Your feet will be sitting in their flattest state, which for many is a big cause of existing foot problems and pains
- Your ankle can roll from side to side freely as you walk, straining the ligaments and tissues more than if you were wearing a supportive shoe, increasing your injury risk
- You miss out on the fantastic shock-absorbing qualities of good shoes. Instead, your feet take on all the stress and shock from walking and movement, and these forces are transmitted to your bones, joints, muscles and tissues
- You don’t get any protection around the sides of your feet, so can still incur damage and cuts
- Your toes work harder to grip onto the thongs during walking, which when done daily is a cause of claw toes and hammertoes
- Your feet and legs generally have to work harder when walking, compared to if they had some support and help from good shoes. This is a cause of many overuse injuries, which are largely preventable
3. This all means real risks to your feet
Putting the above two points together, this means that yes, it’s not surprising to us to see patients with a range of foot pains after wearing thongs most days. The most common problems we see include:
- Heel and arch pain – from the additional stress on the heels, the lack of shock absorption, and the minimal arch support
- Dry, cracked heels – with increased pressure on your heels and the tendency to dry out faster, many people experience dry, cracked heels – and the occasional pain that comes with them
- Back pain – good posture starts from the ground up, with studies suggesting that unstable and unsupportive shoes like thongs can lead to lower back pain
- Cuts, wounds and damage to the skin and nails around your feet – thongs only protect the bottom of your feet and even then they won’t stop anything thin and sharp like a nail. This is particularly dangerous if you have diabetes, impaired circulation, or nerve disorders that affect the feeling in your feet
- Hammertoes, claw toes and tendon contractures – from having to constantly grip the thong with your toes during wear
- Blisters – from the thin (and often flimsy) rubber straps, which can irritate the skin
- Ankle sprains – with no support around your ankle, you’re more vulnerable to the effects of uneven ground and your ankles rolling any which way they please
Our recommendation: Wear thongs in moderation
While we can’t recommend regular use of thongs as podiatrists, due to the known dangers, we will say that they do have a place. Here are a few tips for safer thong wear this summer:
- Only wear thongs for short periods, and when it’s necessary – don’t consider them an option for all-day wear
- If you’re walking to the beach, make the walk down in good, supportive shoes and switch to thongs when you hit the sand to help protect your feet from burning on the hot sand
- Use thongs when at public pools, gym showers and changing rooms, and anywhere you share similar public surfaces with others, to help avoid fungal nail and skin infections like Athlete’s foot
- Never wear thongs long-distance. It’s an easy cause of foot pain and injuries
If you absolutely love thongs and can’t not have a pair on the go this summer, try a more supportive and comfortable alternative like Archies. We have these available in-store, and love that they give real arch support, are made from better materials that mould to the feet, have better straps that mean you don’t have to constantly grip the base of the thong with your toes, and the straps won’t break or blow out. And yep – they’re podiatrist-approved!
And if you’re currently getting foot pain?
Regardless of whether they’re related to wearing thongs the last couple of months or not, our experienced podiatry team are here to help. We’re proud to help thousands of Point Cook residents recover from pain and injury, and stay healthy and active on their feet year-round.
Book your appointment online here or call us on 1300 FX FEET