Crocs and Escalators a Dangerous Combo

Ten-year-old Chloe Johnson of Kansas City was afraid of sharks -- something that she made well known to her parents during a 2005 vacation to Florida.

But it was only on the way back from the vacation, in Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, that she received an unexpected bite -- from an escalator.

"She was not goofing around at all, but she must have been standing in a way that brought her left Croc shoe into contact with the side of the escalator," recalls Chloe's father, Neil Johnson.

"I started hearing her squeal, and my immediate reaction was, 'Oh goodness, what now?'" he said.

But the pain Chloe experienced was all too real. The shoe had been bitten and twisted by the escalator mechanism, wrenching her foot along with it.

By the time she had limped off of the top of the escalator, helped by her parents, blood from her seriously injured toe began seeping out from the shoe.

"Her left big toe was mutilated like you wouldn't believe," Johnson said. "I sat on the floor and held her foot somewhat elevated, with blood running down my forearms."

Fortunately Chloe recovered fully. "It's a little disfigured, but she played soccer all through last year," Johnson said. But in recent months, a growing number of reports have joined those of Johnson's family as more children worldwide are experiencing foot and toe injuries from wearing the popular shoes on escalators.

According to foreign media reports, there have been dozens of reports in Asia as well of the shoes getting jammed and twisted in escalators, often resulting in serious foot and toe injuries in children.

On Sept. 7, Japanese government officials warned of the dangers associated with the shoes getting stuck in escalators. The officials cited 39 reports of such incidents in recent weeks, and most involved small children as young as 2.

And some stores and other areas where escalators are present are taking notice, posting warnings for those wearing the shoes to avoid the moving stairways entirely.

Thus far, however, reports of such injuries made to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have been spare. A spokesperson for the Colorado-based company, Tia Mattson, said the reports highlight "really just a few isolated incidents."

But some doctors say the shoes may be an accident waiting to happen for young wearers.

"There seems to be some potential for injury there," said Russell Volpe, professor of Orthopaedics and Pediatrics at the N.Y. College of Podiatric Medicine in New York City, who adds that he has nonetheless not yet seen any patients with these complaints.

"As we are starting to hear with this Croc story, we may hear more about traumatic foot injuries. They do expose the foot to risk."

Others note that the problem may have less to do with shoes and more to do with escalators themselves.

"I don't know if it's a shoe problem or it's an escalator problem," said Donna Alfieri, associate professor of Primary Podiatric Medical Sciences and director of Clinical Research at the N.Y. College of Podiatric Medicine. "In general, I think you have to be careful when you get on and off the escalator anyway because people do have injuries if they're not careful with where they place their footing."

A Growing Trend

Crocs began marketing its first model in November 2002 -- a single-piece, chunky rubber slipper that gained instant popularity for the informal comfort it offers.

Since then, the shoes have become available in 40 countries. The company currently manufactures about 4 million pairs of Crocs a month. And recently the shoes have been offered in their smallest size yet -- a 4/5 model for small children.

It is this smaller size that has some podiatrists concerned.

"It seems to be the smallest of children wearing them, so there seems to be a size issue. A small foot in a small Croc is going to be more easily caught in the teeth of the escalator and the side of the escalator," Volpe said. "They are also saying a big factor is that it's toddlers that are not standing still. If you plant your feet and stay away from those risk spots you are probably at lower risk of injury, but try and tell a 2-year-old that."

Alfieri agrees. "They're still learning how to walk," she said. "They may not be ready for that type of shoe, they need stability in their early gait development more than someone older."

The fact that Crocs is coming out with a winter line -- called You by Crocs -- has some worried that such injuries will become a year-round occurrence in colder climes.

Mattson notes, however, that these offerings will be a completely different type of footwear, as they will consist of a leather or suede upper combined with the flexible resin sole for which Crocs are widely known.

If the Shoe Fits...

And despite the recent reports, Volpe said that the main issue when it comes to wearing Crocs -- a pair of which he himself owns and enjoys -- is knowing where and when to use them.

"I don't think that Crocs could do much to the shoe to change it," he said. "I think that it's more the judgment of those wearing them and exercising the place they choose to wear them."

Johnson adds that his daughter often still wears her Crocs -- the very pair in which she was injured. These days, however, escalators are off-limits as long as the shoes are on her feet.

And Johnson said that the pair of Crocs he wears have helped him move around more comfortably, as their soft construction helps him deal with his painful plantar fasciitis.

"I think they're great," he said. "But any kind of shoe like that with escalators is just a bad combo."

Dr. Susan Kansagra contributed to this report.