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Keeping your feet happy on a sun holiday


Andrew O'Brien

Not long after I moved to Ireland, I met a fellow Australian who had been living here for ten years. It was late spring and a lovely day outside, and as we chatted he asked me if I’d booked a sun holiday yet. The look on my face exposed me as a newbie and he laughed as he explained ‘the sun holiday’.
“Every year, people from Ireland book a holiday to somewhere other than Ireland, to guarantee some time in the sun,” he explained. “I know it seems daft, but you’ll learn.”
It did seem a little daft, but I have learned. And here we are, at that time of the year, when conversations have started to go in that direction: “Have you booked anywhere for the summer?”
Having gotten used to the idea, I have also become accustomed to the complaints people have when coming back. There are the obvious ones - “It feels like I never left.” Don’t complain! At least you had a holiday. The ridiculous ones are - “It was too hot.” Don’t book a sun holiday in July then! And the ones that wake me up - “My feet are killing me. Sandals/flip flops/cobblestones must be bad for your feet.”
Anyone who has met me in the clinic, or read one of my previous rants, will know that I tend to disagree with ‘conventional wisdom’ when it comes to shoes and feet. So, I thought it worth using this week’s article to provide a few guidelines for those going out to ‘pick up a few bits for the holiday’.
Flip flops, while not being the best shoes, also aren’t inherently the worst, or at least aren’t bad for the reason you think. Most people would think that the problem with flip-flops is that they are dead flat and have no arch support, but that’s not quite true. If you truly needed arch support, several million years of evolution would have developed it for you. Which is what you have, in the shape of the intrinsic muscles in the feet. If you wear supportive, cushioned shoes for 50 weeks of the year, those muscles might get weak, or at least used to being supported.

No support
A flat shoe with no support will force the muscles in your foot to stretch and do some work -  no bad thing - but may also leave them a bit sore after a fortnight of walking to and from the beach. The bigger problem with flip flops is that you will tend to grip them with your toes, which could eventually affect the alignment of the big toe. It’s probably not an issue if you only wear them on holidays, but a strap around the back to hold the heel in place immediately removes the need to grip. If you’re far to cool to be seen wearing sandals, why not just wear your flip flops more often before you leave to get your feet used to them?
Interestingly, someone asked me this morning about a pain under the ball of her foot that comes when walking in light, thin, Converse-type shoes that holiday-makers love. The assumption again is that the thin, flat sole is the problem, which is partly correct. What she didn’t realise was that the width, or lack thereof, was the bigger issue. When you squash your foot into a too-narrow shoe, the metatarsal heads of your middle three toes drop downwards and start to carry weight, whereas in a perfectly healthy foot, most of the weight goes through the big toe.
Drop these non-weight-bearing structures into a position where they are forced to take weight and put them in a shoe with very little protection in the sole and they may well start to get sore. Especially if you walk on cobble stones, where the pressure is concentrated in smaller areas. Don’t blame the stones, they were there first!
What can you do then, to help your little feet through the holiday? Buy shoes that are wide enough and get used to them before you go. Maybe take two pairs that are significantly different, rather than several pairs that are much the same.
Or you could just avoid anywhere that requires wearing shoes. That’s where I’m going. I just hope it’s not too hot!

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.