Flip flops used to be a drugstore dollar bin buy—what you wore for an afternoon at the pool or a trip to the beach, but not anymore. For many Americans, these summertime staples have become the preferred footwear for warmer months, thanks to their convenience and ‘footloose’ feeling.
The only drawback to flip flops? They aren’t always the best choice for your feet.
“It’s easy to see why more people opt for flip flops during the summer. They’re comfortable, they’re convenient, and very few people want to be wearing socks and sneakers in beautiful weather,” says Jason R. Miller, DPM, FACFAS, podiatric surgeon at Paoli Hospital. “Unfortunately, they can also put your feet at risk for injury and pain if you’re wearing them for an extended period of time.”
Although foot pain is the most common symptom of wearing flip flops too often, it’s not the only one. Flip flops can also contribute to leg, hip, back pain and shin splints. Next time you think about heading out to run a day of errands in flip flops instead of something more sturdy, consider these risks.
No shock absorption
Shock absorption is one of the most important aspects of any good shoe, including flip flops. Shoes with adequate shock absorption help absorb the ‘shock’ or pounding that occurs when your feet jump, walk, run, or otherwise strike a hard surface. Flip flops, although they appear to provide a soft base, provide little to no shock absorption. So, whether you’re just using them for a walk or breaking out in an excited run toward the beach, your feet aren’t getting the protection they need.
No support for your arch
If you have flat feet, shoes with arch support help keep your knees, hips, and back aligned and prevent the onset of pain. But with flip flops, which provide no arch support, your joints are forced to compensate and work harder than they’re used to. Additionally, people tend to change their walking gait or cadence in order to just keep the flip flops on their feet and may 'shuffle' to do this. Although you might not experience any pain while you’re wearing flip flops, chances are you’ll experience pain later in the day, the next day, or even a few months or years later.
A greater risk for injury
Glass, bottle caps, loose screws, rusted nails…there is no shortage to the number of random objects scattered on sidewalks and driveways waiting to be stepped on. When you’re wearing a sneaker or a thick-soled shoe, most of these objects won’t make contact with your skin, but if you’re wearing a flip flop, your feet probably aren’t as safe.
“Most flip flops are only made with soft foam or plastic, which leaves your feet more susceptible to being punctured by something sharp,” explains Dr. Miller. “Not only are you at a higher risk for being injured but, depending on what the object is, this can also increase your risk of infection.”
This is an especially important factor to consider for patients with diabetes, who are more susceptible to infection and need to be more aware of the importance of proper footwear during the summer months.
A greater risk of deformities
Many people go to great lengths to keep their feet looking polished and pretty in flip flops during the summer months, but you might not be doing your feet many favors if you’re wearing these shoes every day.
The construction of a flip flop, from its plastic middle to its missing back, make it difficult to walk comfortably, even if you’re used to wearing them. And although it might not feel unnatural to walk in flip flops, wearing them every day for an extended period of time is unnatural for your feet, and can aid in the development of foot deformities like bunions and hammertoes.
Although flip flops aren’t the best choice for your feet this summer, remember you don’t have to ditch your favorite footwear altogether.
“Flip flops are fine to wear in moderation—to the beach, to the pool, around the house, but they are not a substitute for sneakers or other well-soled shoes,” says Dr. Miller.
Even with a supportive pair of shoes on your feet, pain and injury can still occur. From sports injuries to ankle sprains, Main Line Health podiatrists have the experience and technical resources to help you return to pain-free mobility and podiatric health. Visit our website to make an appointment with a Main Line Health podiatrist.