As summertime approaches, more and more people gravitate toward the flip flop. If you’re anything like me, these shoes are a must this time of year. Heck, I grew up in Texas and Arizona, so I’m used to wearing flip flops year round. But these summertime staples are not all that great for your feet…or the rest of you for that matter.
Toes: With just a small strip of fabric or rubber securing the foot, the toes must grip the sole of the flip flop to keep the shoe on. This constant grip can lead to overuse of the muscles that flex the toes leading to tendonitis. Tendonitis can be very painful and eventually lead to rupture of the affected tendons. Also, continuous flip flop usage can lead to the formation of hammer toes which is the contracture of tendons and stiffness in the joints causing abnormal bending in the affected toe. Not to mention that wearing flip flops too much can cause bunions to form or can worsen an existing bunion.
Bones: Overuse can also lead to stress fractures in the bones of the feet due to repetitive trauma with no cushioning or shock absorption. Standing or walking for prolonged periods of time in a long, thin shoe such as a flip flop can cause this.
Foot Pad: When wearing flip flops, your foot, having no support, is constantly in motion against the base of the shoe thus creating continual friction which can lead to calluses and blisters on the underside or pad of the foot. This is usually increased when that friction is paired with sweat on a hot day.
Arch and Heel: A thick band of fibrotic tissue called the plantar fascia runs from the heel bone to the ball of the foot, creating one of the arches of the foot. Overuse and lack of support of that fascia…like when wearing a flip flop for extended periods of time…can lead to inflammation of the plantar fascia and a condition known as plantar fasciitis. This condition causes some pretty bad arch and/or heel pain and tends to be worse when you take your first few steps after getting out of bed in the morning. The lack of support in a flip flop can also lead to over-pronation of the foot during the gait cycle, thus flattening the arch.
Ankles on up…: Speaking of gait cycle…wearing non-supportive shoes such as flip flops can drastically alter your gait cycle (how your foot moves when walking or running). These alterations can affect your entire body through what we call the kinetic chain. If the foot is not moving the way it is designed to move…which it rarely does when wearing flip flops…it affects the way the ankles move which affects the way the knees move and bear weight which affects the movement and stabilization of the hips and so on. Long story short…if your feet don’t move properly, none of your other weight bearing joints do either. This can lead to chronic pain in the knees, low back and if bad enough, the neck.
Not all flip flops are the same, though. And not all flip flops are totally bad. Here are a few things to look for when purchasing your summer footwear staple:
1. Get the right size! Never, ever, EVER get a one size fits all flop. Make sure that the flip flop sole fits the length of your foot so that neither the toes nor the heel extend past the edge of the shoe. Also, make sure the straps fit comfortably on your foot and aren’t too large. If they are too loose, your foot will slide around when walking causing all sorts of problems…not to mention increasing your risk of falling.
2. The bend test! See the picture above? This bend is NOT ok. A bend in the middle of the flop give zero support to your foot. Look for a flop that bends where your foot bends while walking…at the ball of the foot.
3. Arch support! If you can, find a flop with a little hump in the arch to provide more support. A thicker sole helps too. Crocs does a great job of this.
4. Material matters! The American Podiatric Medical Association recommends finding a flop made of soft leather rather than rubber to reduce friction and irritation to the skin thus limiting blister formation.
5. Replace them! Flip flops wear out pretty quickly…especially the cheap, rubber ones. Make sure to replace your flops every year to ensure better support. If they are showing signs of wear, throw them out!