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Why Thongs Can Cause Shin Splints or Foot Pain

Written by Dr Tristan Joss

Summer in Australia can be a time shin splints get to shine.

BBQs, cricket, and thongs (with a bit of shin splint action and foot discomfort), sounds about right.

This is a very common complaint we hear about coming into the warmer months, the flip flops come out and so does more foot and shin pain. NOT A COINCIDENCE!

Shin splints is an umbrella term for pain in the shin, there is a few things that cause this, but the main source of pain can be from overworked muscles at the front of the shin.

Plantar fasciitis refers to inflammation in the plantar fascia which is a piece of tissue that sits on the bottom of our feet. Not all foot pain is from plantar fasciitis but its common from wearing thongs. 

When we wear our normal shoes our foot doesn’t have to do anything to actually keep the shoe on the foot, when we are wearing thongs our feet actively have to try to stop the thong flying off our foot.

There are two main muscles that work extra hard when wearing thongs, the big muscle at the front of the shin right beside the tibia bone (shin bone) is called the “tibialis anterior”. Its partner in crime runs further along the outside of the lower leg, its called the “Peroneus longus” muscle. These muscles attach to different sides underneath the foot, and they act like stirrups around the ankle and foot. The tibialis anterior pulls the foot up and turns the bottom of the foot to look inwards, it also acts like a brake to slow the opposite direction. The Peroneus longus pull the foot down and turn the bottom of the foot outwards, it acts like a brake to slow the opposite directions.

Shin Splints | Plantar Fasciitis | Thongs | flip-flops

Why is the “braking” action important?

It is the braking action of the muscles that is under pressure when wearing thongs. Some people have arches in their foot that don’t come down evenly when that foot has weight through it. Sometimes the arch is high, and it won’t come down or sometimes its down already and cant go down any further.  This is lacking a good pronation in the foot. Because thongs don’t have any arch support which we might be used to in supportive shoes, the muscles are trying their best to support a good pronation by either acting like a break when the arch is flattening or trying to pull the arch back up when the foot is to flat or over-pronated. The plantar fascia is being stretched and shortened a lot more if the foot is overpronating without when wearing thongs which causes the pain on the bottom of the foot.

If you’re walking a lot when wearing thongs, the muscles will be under lots of strain trying to help the foot with pronation and supination and this can cause tightness in the legs and feet. 

So what can we do with arches that don’t pronate well?

Quite a lot, and you won’t have to give up the summer thong habit! Instead of just massaging the muscles on the front of the leg and hope the pain goes away, we teach the ankle and foot joints how to move up and down in the arch and rotate at the right times. This takes the pressure off the muscles and there is no need for tightness and pain. Your foot can do these things and they don’t have to stay “flat”; they just need to be taught how do move the most efficient way.


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