Are Flip Flops Bad For Your Feet?
As warm weather approaches, I invariably receive many questions regarding summertime footwear. My patients who suffer from foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis are curious if sandals and flip flops are bad for your feet.
This topic has always generated controversy because there is such a wide-range of opinions among foot health practitioners. There are strong opinions on both sides of the argument.
Some practitioners feel that barefoot walking, flip flops, sandals, and "unsupportive" shoes are harmful to your feet and even cause dysfunction while others, including myself, believe that the less material between your feet and the earth is optimal.
In this article, I will share my view and opinion on flip-flops and how they might improve foot health or hinder it. So, are flip-flops bad for your feet?
Dr. Angela Walk
Foot Health Coach
Do Flip Flops Damage Your Feet?
You can find plenty of articles and studies to support both sides of the flip-flop discussion. It's no wonder my patients are confused.
One of the most recent studies shows that flip-flops have been used (and continue to be used) by hundreds of millions of people on continents such as Asia, Africa, and South America.
The studies show that flip-flops are worn successfully and the countries lack the widespread foot health issues we experience in our society.
The American Podiatric Medical Association notes that 77 percent of US adults have experienced foot pain or problems, whereas only 9 percent experienced foot problems and many of those had never worn shoes or had only worn a light sandal.
If flip-flops contribute to poor foot health, you would expect to see an increase in foot issues in these societies, but this is not the case.
On the other side of the coin, many practitioners feel that when you wear flip-flops, your toes tend to over-grip because the thin straps don’t securely hold your feet in place.
They feel that this over-gripping can lead to a strain in the plantar fascia ligament along the bottom side of your foot.
I am an advocate for flip-flops, barefoot and minimalist shoes, however, there are certain criteria to consider when finding healthy footwear. Let's take a look at what makes a healthy flip-flop or sandal.
What Flip Flops Are Good For Your Feet?
When I think about why people love flip flops so much, it’s because they’re the ultimate convenience shoe. They require no thought or planning, can be slipped on and off as needed, and are (relatively) comfortable.
I actually love to wear flip-flops for this reason. So, I completely understand why it would be difficult to toss them all together. However, flip-flops are not created equally. There are sandal features that you should keep in mind.
The most common design problems to avoid are loose fitting straps, heel elevation, and extremely cushioned soles. The same criteria that apply to regular shoes (in terms of foot-healthy design features) also apply to flip-flops.
Be sure to search for these design qualities when choosing summer footwear:
Snugly fitting straps that have a shorter toe post so that your toes are not forced to grip excessively.
Avoid an elevated heel and built in arch supports. Ensure the soles are completely flat, with the back of the heel at the same height as the ball of the foot,
A flexible sole to encourage enhanced foot strength.
No added cushioning or shock absorption. A thin, flexible sole is ideal
Consider a back strap to secure your foot in place whether your hiking or strolling around town.
Many of my patients have asked me about particular brands such as Oofos, Archies, Crocs, Birkenstocks, and Vionics. Sadly, most of these brands do not meet the essential criteria.
However, I haven't researched every aspect of each brand. Ultimately, it's up to you to use the criteria listed above and make your decision.
The flip-flop features that patients are seeking to relieve foot pain are actually worsening their condition and weakening necessary foot strength. The two most common features are built in arch support and extra cushion.
If your feet are deconditioned to support themselves, the arch in flip-flops can feel really good. But relying on arch support gives you no chance to use the muscles and nerves in your feet – tissues that, if strong and active, are more than up to the job of supporting you without any assistance.
Most feet aren’t flawed, just underused. And simply wearing barefoot shoes is one way to fix that. Studies have shown that walking around in minimalist shoes naturally strengthens feet. Hence, arch support might help you today, but it’s not preparing you for tomorrow.
A thin and flexible sole is much better! The flip-flops and sandals that are the best for your feet are brands such as Xero Shoes, Earth Runners, and Luna Sandals to name a few.
You can absolutely rock flip-flops without your feet having to pay the price. I've had patients question if wearing flip-flops caused their current foot condition. Let's look at how wearing ill-fitting footwear can lead to foot disorders such as plantar fasciitis.
Can Flip Flops Cause Plantar Fasciitis?
One of the most common conditions of the foot and heel is plantar fasciitis, and it is the most prevalent condition I treat in my office.
One distinctive feature of plantar fasciitis is experiencing severe pain when they first get out of bed in the morning, making the first few steps of the day an agonizing experience.