Why Crocs & Clogs May Be Bad For Your Feet & Health
Everyone knows chefs love a clog. But just how healthy are they for your feet and posture?
A couple of years ago a report claimed the old wooden clog of the Dutch peasant actually chipped the bones. Some medical experts said that even when made of more flexible modern materials, clogs are not a good choice if you are on your feet for any length of time.
But this didn’t put chefs off their favored footwear. Last summer we reported on our international survey of what chefs prefer to wear on their feet. The survey showed that few chefs were impressed by the bad press clogs were getting, as they consistently came up on top. A clear sign of just how much chefs love them.
So what is the real story? Are the papers sensationalizing, making a meal out of a research report for fashion-bashing journalism? Afterall, they have been known to “warp science”.
Are chefs right to worship the clog? Or are they storing up trouble for a crippling future?
Here we look into the stories, and the medical advice and try to work out what whether we should or shouldn’t worship the clog.
Misquoted Research on Clogs
There has long been controversy over the clog. It has a rep for being a healthy footwear option, supported by podiatrist recommendations. And then other foot professionals damn the style, claiming it can even be damaging for your feet, legs and back.
A study published in 2017 appeared to support the naysayers. When a cemetery in Amsterdam had to be moved, Dr Waters-Rist took the opportunity to study the remaining bones.
She found a higher than usual incidence (13% compared to the usual expectation of 1%) of a condition called osteochondritis dissecans. This is where parts of the bone break off leaving craters, “as if chunks of bone have just been chiselled away,” Waters-Rist told Science Daily. What was startling, as well as the high incidence, was that it occurred only in the foot bones.
As these 19th century people were cattle farmers, the researchers concluded that it was the tough and repetitive work, hammering, stomping and kicking with their feet, that led to impact injuries.
This hard manual labor, combined with wearing the traditional wooden clog day-in, day-out, probably led to parts of the foot bones breaking away. This is because the clog is inflexible so it doesn’t absorb shock and it restricts foot movement.
This led the Daily Mail to say, “long-term loyalty to wooden clogs can chip away at your foot bones,” when what they should have said was “long-term loyalty to wooden clogs and a lifetime of hard manual labor on a 19th century cattle farm in Amsterdam can chip away at your foot bones.
What Dr. Waters-Rist said was that her research shows how footwear can damage our bones. So we do need to think carefully about what we put on our feet, especially when we are standing on them for the best part of the day.
So what is the real problem with clogs?
In our survey of what chefs like to wear, two chefs said pretty much the same thing, one about their Dansko clogs the other about Birkenstock’s. “In the first week of wearing them, your feet will scream.” “The first week sucks while they retrain the way you walk”.
Let’s remember what pain is: the body’s way of telling you something is wrong. And if your shoes are making you walk differently, well, is that right?
For Dr Waters-Rist, one of the problems with clogs is how they restrict the natural movement of your foot. The foot naturally bends to press on the ball of the foot to propel you forward. Clogs, instead, make you kick your foot forward, “it changes the way you walk”, and not for the better.
But the main problem, pointed to by many foot specialists, is how clogs fail to secure the heal. As Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Dr. Pedowitz says, because the heal is insecure making the foot less stable, “keep away from clogs… Yes, clogs are often a comfortable choice for those who are standing for many hours at a time, due to the open, or low nature of the heel cup and elevated heel. However, they are inherently less stable.”
“Keep away from clogs… Yes, clogs are often a comfortable choice for those who are standing for many hours at a time, due to the open, or low nature of the heel cup and elevated heel. However, they are inherently less stable.” David I. Pedowitz, M.D.
For Dr. Megan Leahy, talking specifically about Crocs, “When the heel is unstable, toes tend to grip, which can lead to tendinitis, worsening of toe deformities, nail problems, corns and calluses. The same thing can happen with flip flops or any backless shoes as the heel is not secured.”
These types of shoes are fine for pottering around at home or going to the beach, but should not be worn for professional use, for 8 to 10 hours a day.
What is more, adults tend to trip and fall much more in these shoes. This is particularly not good in a professional kitchen where according to Dr David Pedowitz, slips and falls are more common. These can lead to ankle sprains and even fractures.
According to the good folk at Natural Footgear (a team promoting natural, foot-healthy choices), clogs cause or contribute to many foot and toe problems, including neuromas, pantar fasciosis, and ingrown toenails. And they do this because they “hold your foot and toes in an unnatural, compromised position for many hours at a time.”
In fact, clogs tick every box of “harmful shoe design elements”.
- Rigid soles: This mean little “tactile feedback”, which gives you a sense of the ground you are walking on, leading to poor footfalls and ankle injuries. But the main problem here is the unnatural and deformed position they holed your feet in.
- Heel elevation: With your heel held above your forefoot, your foot arch is destabilized and you put more pressure on the ball of your foot. And your foot is less stable, meaning it can roll from side to side.
- Tapering toe boxes: Clogs may have a “wide toe box” but this is often just at the ball of the feet. Your toes need to be able to spread.
- Toe spring: This is where your toes are elevated above your forefoot. The rigidity of it in clogs immobilizes your toes in an unnatural position, contributing to foot tendon imbalance and tight toe extensor muscles over time.
Two Types of Clog
But of course, to the untrained eye, a clog is a clog. To those in the know, there is a big difference between a professional clog and one produced for the fashion market.
So just because the American Podiatric Medical Association approves of the Dansko clog for professional wear, it does not mean all clogs are ok.
Professional clogs have a completely different structure, low heels and rubber soles for example. They also have the crucial “energy return”. As Alexander Technique instructor Hope Gillerman puts it: “When you are standing on a wooden sole, it is a firm support that triggers your nerves and muscles in your feet to spring into action.” .
But, she says, that doesn’t mean you should be using them for long distances. A rigid sole “can’t give you enough movement to enable you to walk or run with a complete gait.” This makes wearers drag their feet “which causes more postural problems,” she said.
What Shoes to Wear – Professional Advice
When you are choosing what to wear in the kitchen, or if your feet are suffering and you need to rethink what you slip your tootsies into, it’s not always easy to find the professional advice you need. Here is a summary of the advice our medical professionals gave to help you decide. You can find the full article here. A good shoe, fit for working in all day should:
- protect the foot against hot liquids or heavy objects
- be wide and stable to avoid ankle or foot sprains during quick rotation and movement
- be well-cushioned enough to tolerate potentially hard flooring
- have anti-skid soles to avoid slipping on wet or oily floors (e.g. anti-slip restaurant shoes)
- have good support going up to and even above the ankle
- have shock-absorbing cushions
- fit well, not too small or too narrow and not too wide
It is not all about the shoe. Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Courtney Grimsrud reminds us that stretching is important. Low back, hamstring and calf stretches and strong core muscles are important in keeping pain and soreness at bay.
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I have had metatarsalgia for many years. The “gripping” of the toes that Leahy complains about actually brings relief. So does the shock absorption. I have a high inflexible heal, as do many people with this condition and arch support is not needed. If I had not discovered flip flops, my life would be much worse. Crocs are wonderful, but I drag my toes sometimes and they catch, so I have not worn them in a long time. However, teaching on a cement floor, as I am now, is going to make me take those out. Just not going to wear them on the street.