During the summer, flip-flops are a staple, especially here in the U.S. They’re lightweight, easy to slip on and keep your feet cool in warm temps. They also come in a variety of styles, fabrics, colors and prices – from your $3 Old Navy pair to your $100 Havaianas.
While your flip-flops may give you a stylish look for the boardwalk, could they be setting you up for a trip to the podiatrist later on?
Why are flip-flops bad for your feet?
According to Austin Matthews, DPM, a podiatrist with Banner Health Clinic in Wyoming, wearing flip-flops may be airy and nice, but they provide you inferior environmental protection, which can open you up to injuries and accidents.
Many flip-flops are thin and flimsy, which makes it easy for glass, rocks, thorns and other dangerous objects on the ground to poke through or get into the flip-flop. They also tend to fit loosely which means that your feet have to work harder to keep them in place.
“When your feet have to work hard to keep flip-flops on, you can set yourself up for overuse injuries,” Dr. Matthews said. “Prolonged wear can also affect your gait and posture, which can lead to stress not only to the foot but also the ankle and rest of the body.”
While some people may not experience symptoms right away, flip-flops can cause or worsen a number of foot problems, including:
The plantar fascia is a shock-absorbing bowstring-like ligament that connects your heel bone to your toes. When you walk in flip-flops, your feet flatten as your arch collapses simply because your flip-flops lack arch support. This causes the bowstring in your arch to stretch out and cause tiny tears in the ligament. Over time, you may feel a stabbing arch pain and/or heel pain.
[Also read “Plantar Fasciitis: How to Avoid This Common Injury.”]
One of the most serious problems with flip-flops is a stress fracture of the metatarsal bones, the long bones leading out of the toes. Traditional flip-flops lack support for the bones in your feet. Stress fractures occur due to repetitive microtrauma, or injury, to the bones from standing or walking long distances in flip-flops.
Constant gripping with your toes can cause tendonitis in your toes. This can be painful and lead to tears or ruptures of your tendons. Wearing flip-flips for too long can also cause bunions or hammertoes to develop. Hammertoe is a bending in the joints of your toes and can affect any toe except the big toe. Bunions only affect the big toe and occur when the bones in your foot become misaligned.
Other foot problems
In addition to all the conditions above, flip-flop use can lead to injuries such as Achilles tendonitis, capsulitis, Morton’s neuroma, pain on the ball of the foot and turf toe (sprain in the big toe). Since your feet aren’t well protected, wearing flip-flops can also put you at greater risk for stubbed toes, cuts, insect bites and infection.
When are flip-flops OK to wear?
Although flip-flops don’t have a great reputation for being good for your feet, there are times when they’re acceptable. This might include wearing them in public showers, locker rooms, water parks, poolside or as you walk to and from the beach and your car. They can minimize your risk of stepping on things or being exposed to fungus that can lead to athlete’s foot or toenail fungus.
“Flip-flops are OK basically anytime you’re looking for a limited amount of protection for a short period of time, and won’t be doing anything strenuous,” Dr. Matthews said. “The key is moderation.”
Some flip-flops are better than others
Even knowing how bad flip-flops can be for your feet, you probably won’t stop wearing them. So, here are a few tips from the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) to help you avoid a flip-flop fiasco:
- Look for sturdy sandals made of soft leather to minimize irritation and blisters.
- Make sure they have enough straps to keep the flip-flops securely in place while you walk.
- Do the bend test: ensure it bends at the ball of the foot and not the arch.
- Replace them every three to four months, like a toothbrush.
- Purchase flip-flops and sandals that hold the APMA’s Seal of Acceptance.
The key to avoiding problems with your toes, feet and body is wearing flip-flops in moderation. Save your floppies for the beach, pool and around the house, and switch to more supportive shoes otherwise.
“You should wear the right shoes for whatever activity you are doing, and the list of things that flip-flops are the right shoe for is a very short list,” Dr. Matthews said.
- 10 Dos and Don’ts of Foot Care for Walkers and Runners
- 7 Common Shoes Mistakes That Could Be Crushing Your Feet
- Do Your Feet Under or Overpronate? Here’s How to Tell
- 8 Things Your Feet Can Tell You About Your Health