Thongs are synonymous with the Australian summer. (Credit: Getty)

Thong fears unfounded, says study

  • BY Jessica Passananti |
  • April 27, 2012

The much loved Aussie thong could be good for the development of feet, allowing them to grow naturally.

FEAR NOT YOUNG thong-wearers. Australia's iconic sandal may not be as bad for development as previously thought. Podiatrist Angus Chard, from the University of Sydney's Footwear Research Department, has found that walking in thongs is similar to walking barefoot, which experts say is the healthiest option for growing feet.

Thongs (known as flip-flops and jandals in other parts of the world) are as much a part of the Aussie summer as noisy cicadas and juicy mangoes. And, luckily for daily beach-goers, pro-surfers, students and others, the new research suggests thongs can be worn guilt-free in the Australian sunshine.

While enclosed shoes might cause flat feet or toe deformities, Angus's data suggests that wearing thongs actually builds muscle in the developing feet of children and teens.

Thongs make your feet stronger

"One of two things is likely to happen as a result of wearing thongs: one is that your feet may become stronger, and two is that your feet may suffer muscle overuse if worn too long," he says.

Angus, who has twenty years of experience working in the field, presented his findings at the International Foot and Ankle Biomechanics conference in Sydney earlier this month. "They are preliminary but solid findings," he says.

Angus's work contradicts previous podiatry research: a 2008 study from Auburn University in Alabama, USA, suggested thongs can lead to orthopaedic problems. In tests of 100 walkers, Dr Justin Shroyer found that people wearing thongs took shorter steps and their heels hit the ground with more vertical force than people wearing runners.

"The short and sweet of it all is that people do walk differently when wearing thongs, compared to sneakers and barefoot," Justin says.

Angus, however,  says he's confident in his findings which he made using 3D camera motion-analysis technology. This tracked the movements of thirteen thong-wearing kids, between the ages of 8-13, in a biomechanics lab.

Like walking barefoot

Even though they were wearing thongs, the children were essentially walking barefoot, with nothing enclosing their arch or toes, he says. The only difference is that they had to walk in a way that prevented the thong from sliding off the back of the foot.

While thongs build muscle, supportive school shoes change the way your feet work, says Angus. "Thongs alter barefoot motion far less than traditional supportive shoes."

Dr Trent Salkavich, from Sports Podiatrists Sydney a medical practice in Olympic Park, still urges parents to use supportive shoes for their children. "A sandal with three support systems connecting the midfoot, rearfoot and forefoot allow your child's foot to be [fully] supported," he says.

Angus acknowledges that looking at motion alone does not allow him to make clear overall arguments in pathology. His team plans to analyse the kinetics and movement of the joints, which will help gain a greater understanding of children's overall foot development. "It is all a part of a larger study," he says.

There are 33 joints, 28 bones and 16 muscles in each foot, so considering that there are 206 bones in the body, an astonishing number of them are below your ankle.

Why we shorten barbie, footy and arvo
Top ten Aussie songs
Great Aussie pubs
Iconic images: Australia's larrikin days
Is it time for a new Australian flag?
Australian Geographic's 100 Australian Icons
More stories on people and culture...