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Are Flip Flops Bad For Your Feet?

Are flip flops bad for your feet? Dr. Angela Walk

As warm weather approaches, I regularly receive questions regarding summertime footwear. My patients who suffer from foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis, bunions, hammer toes, 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 flip flops and sandals 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.

Dr. Angela Walk

Sports Chiropractor

The Plantar Fasciitis Doc

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.

I am an advocate for flip-flops and sandals, however, there are certain criteria to consider. Let's take a look at what makes a healthy flip-flop or sandal.

What Flip Flops Are Good For Your Feet?

What flip flops are good for your feet? Dr. Angela Walk

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 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. Ensure the soles are completely flat, with the back of the heel at the same height as the ball of the foot.

  • Avoid built-in arch supports. Arch supports and orthotics weaken our feet overtime.

  • 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. 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.

Managing footwear is the first step to resolving plantar fasciitis.

If your flip-flops have loose, flimsy straps with thick, cushioned soles, an elevated heel, and built in arch supports, this can lead to weakened intrinsic foot muscles and shortened calf muscles.

Overtime, this can lead to conditions such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and other foot and lower leg conditions.

Are Sandals Bad For Plantar Fasciitis?

The same criteria that would apply to finding the healthiest flip-flop would also apply to sandals.

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.

Now that we know what footwear features create foot-healthy shoes, let's look at other ways to ensure our feet our healthy.

Is Going Barefoot Bad For Your Feet?

Is going barefoot bad for your feet? Dr. Angela Walk

The benefits of going barefoot and wearing natural, minimalist shoes are numerous. I am a strong advocate of both.

Barefoot walking has been shown to naturally increase the strength of your foot muscles, provide better balance, and even prevent foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis, bunions, and hammer toes.

Many studies have shown that barefoot cultures have fewer foot and knee problems. Physicians who performed the studies observed that people who lived barefoot, had significantly straighter, more aligned toes, and wider spread toes vs. our culture that showed tapered narrowed toes.

It takes time to train your feet to enjoy barefoot walking. You will need to slowly begin to introduce your feet to this new concept. Try to make a conscious effort to take your shoes off when you’re at your desk, or just walking around the house.

This is something that I have made a habit of doing daily to increase natural foot strength. Start with going barefoot for 30 minutes each day then increase each week.

Going barefoot is not always practical. You don't have to give up your shoes and go barefoot to derive the benefits of a “barefoot” foot position. Those benefits can be had if you can find a shoe that allows your feet to mimic barefoot walking.

Wearing toe spacers while walking barefoot further enhances the benefits. Toe spacers are a tool that promotes healthy toe splay by separating the toes and helping to restore the natural position and function of the feet.

Can I Treat Plantar Fasciitis At Home?

I specialize in foot and gait mechanics and I have seen hundreds of cases of plantar fasciitis. There is a tremendous amount of misinformation out there about the condition and sadly, this leads to many people suffering for longer than they should.

Most rehabilitation efforts fail because they are relying on cortisone shots, night splints, ineffective stretching, and rolling on a frozen water bottle. These methods are short-term band-aids and do not provide long-term correction.

I have created a six (6) step guide to resolve plantar fasciitis at home. I have found that the solution for most patients is through addressing multiple factors. I want to share a few insights that do work.

  1. Transitioning to functional footwear

  2. Strengthening your foot core

  3. Strengthening weak calf and peroneal muscles

  4. Increasing ankle dorsiflexion

  5. Removing fascial adhesions

  6. Barefoot walking with toe spacers

Rarely is there a quick fix for plantar fasciitis. Improving footwear, identifying areas of weakness in the foot and ankle, and restoring proper foot function is the most important pieces of the puzzle.

Take a look at my FREE GUIDE to resolve plantar fasciitis at home.


I hope this article has provided you with an alternative perspective to most of the content out there about flip-flops and their possible effects on feet and foot health.

Flip-flops and sandals can absolutely be foot-positive footwear if the design features include a snugly fitting strapping system that prevents excessive toe gripping.

If your flip-flops have these features, it can present an opportunity to increase foot strength in a natural way and allow your foot to function as nature intended, AND even be stylish for summer.

If you have additional questions about footwear, heel pain and plantar fasciitis, don’t hesitate to reach out. I'm here to help get you back on your feet--literally.

Best of Health,

Dr. Angela

P.S. If you would like daily tips on foot health, join my Instagram and Facebook pages.

I have written extensively on the topic of healthy feet and plantar fasciitis. Take a look at these other related blog posts:

3 Main Causes of Plantar Fasciitis

Can Orthotics Make Plantar Fasciitis Worse?

Are Flip-Flops Bad For Your Feet?

Why Should I Wear Toe Spacers?

Can I Still Exercise with Plantar Fasciitis?

Dos & Don'ts of Plantar Fasciitis

Can Stretching Make Plantar Fasciitis Worse?

Hi, I'm Dr. Angela Walk

I have been involved in the health and wellness industry for over 25 years as a sports chiropractor and foot health coach. I have written extensively for health publications and I am keenly aware of trends and new developments.

I embrace an active lifestyle combining diet, exercise and healthy choices. By working to inform readers of the options available to them, I hope to improve your health and quality of life.

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