The Hidden Dangers of Chancletas

In the rush to get ready, Valerie, a forty year old female, mysteriously injured her foot. She thought it was karma, as she had been teasing her cousin about a similar injury that ultimately resulted in her cousin having a broken foot. Valerie had been running from the mirror, to the closet, trying to find the perfect combination of makeup and outfit, but suddenly felt a sharp pain in her midfoot. She stumbled and immediately fell in tears. There was no tripping or accidental slip involved. It just happened suddenly in a frantic moment. Her poor boyfriend confessed to me that he had been carrying Valerie on his back to get from room to room in their house because the initial pain was so bad, and it was actually starting to cause him low back pain. When I asked her what kind of footwear she had on, she told me she always wore her chanclas, or flip-flops. Valerie subsequently had x-rays performed which revealed a fracture. She almost lost it.

Chancletas are very versatile footwear. They’re extremely popular, particularly in warmer climates, where they are ubiquitous. Latinos know them well. They can be used as practical foot wear, a make-shift hammer, cockroach and bug killer, as well as the occasional disciplinary tool for an unruly child (we’ve all been there). They can be used indoors and outdoors and come in a variety of colors to match any outfit. Plus, they are extremely cheap and extremely comfortable. When I was a student, I got by weeks not having to wear anything other than my flip-flops during summers and springs. I would do everything in them, from running to catch a bus, or stretching out my feet at the library while studying.

The problem, however, is that flip-flops are unfortunately flat and provide no arch support for the midfoot. This can lead to an increase stress along the bones of the midfoot and with repetitive use, can lead to stress fractures. Stress fractures can be mild in terms of their presentation, or they can be excrutiating and treating them usually requires weeks of rest and wearing a big walking boot to prevent further injury.

Short of a stress fracture, wearing flat footwear can also affect the arch of the midfoot and can lead to things like a foot sprain, an ankle sprain, knee pain, low back pain, plantar fasciitis (or inflammation of the underlying foot), heel spurs and accidents. People tend to be less coordinated when wearing chanclas. Also, having an exposed foot can pose a danger when walking outside as all sorts of objects can potentially stab, burn, scratch or stub the foot. I can speak from personal experience, where I have managed to stub a toe or two and have actually had sunburn happen. I’m particularly careful around hot beverages.

Ultimately, wearing appropriate footwear is very important. When going for a walk outside, wearing a nice pair of sneakers is the safest way to prevent an injury. It’s never okay to wear chanclas to the gym. It’s never a good idea to run in chanclas. It’s never a good idea to wear chanclas outside when there is any sort of precipitation on the ground.

Fortunately for Valerie, after a visit to the orthopedics doctor, it was determined that she only had a sprain. Now, she can’t wear her cute shoes to match her floral dress because she’s locked into a walking boot for the next few weeks, but at least it wasn’t broken. And I’m sure that Valerie’s boyfriend was also quite relieved.

By: Dr. Juan Borja
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