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Why you should be avoiding long term use of flip flops

What are the best shoes to wear in the summer which are both comfortable yet keep your feet cool?

A good way to promote healthy feet but also stay cool include summer slide shoes because they provide more support and stability than a traditional flip- flop.  Summer slide shoes have a thicker and ribbed sole which provides greater traction and stability of the shoe to help minimize injuries. I recommend a summer slide shoe with an arch incorporated into its design or a wedge that is 3/4 of an inch as opposed to one that is flat to help support the arch of the foot and minimize discomfort.  These shoes tend to be wider in the forefoot than most sandals or flip flops which helps alleviate pressure onto the forefoot that can aggravate conditions such as bunions, hammertoes, and neuromas.  Last but not least, the over strap of the summer slide shoe can support the shoe onto the foot instead of needing to hold onto a flip-flop with our toes as we do repetitively with each step when wearing flip flops.  This helps reduce the progression of hammer toe deformities which can be exacerbated by the use of flip-flops. 

Are flip flops bad for your feet?

Flip Flops are acceptable to use depending on the activity and ONLY for short periods of time because they don't offer any arch or heel support, and you have to grip them with your toes to keep them on your feet.  Flip flops are only acceptable for short-term use, if they have at least some arch support, a cushioned sole, and supportive straps.  These type of flip flops are appropriate to wear at the beach, around swimming pools, in communal bathing facilities and locker rooms at the gym, or around the house. Flip flop use should be avoided for prolonged periods of walking and standing and in no circumstances should they be worn for activities that involve running or hiking.

What is the negative impact filp flops have on your feet?

Walking with flip flops for prolonged periods of time allows our foot to collapse affecting our gait and posture, which can lead to a tremendous amount of stress not only to the foot but to the rest of the body.   Our feet naturally pronate during the gait cycle, however when we wear flip flops we pronate for a longer period of time which then alters the biomechanics and distribution of pressure and weight across the foot. This imbalance may increase the progression of underlying foot deformities such as bunions and hammertoes and lead to painful conditions associated with excessive pronation such as arch/ heel pain, shin splints/ posterior tibial tendonitis, and achilles tendonitis.  This imbalance can then translate upward affecting other parts of the body such as our knees and back.

What does it mean for your foot to collapse?

When you wear flip flops your feet flatten as your arch collapses simply because your flip flops lack arch support.  The arch of your foot is supported by the plantar fascia, a thick, bowstring-like ligament that connects your heel bone to your toes.  When you wear flip flops your arch collapses causing the plantar fascia to stretch like a bowstring away from the heal bone.  The cumulative effect of gravity and the repeated stress of weight bearing on the plantar fascia can cause tiny tears in the ligament, which can lead to pain and swelling.  Over time the use of flip flops can be detrimental not only to the health of your feet but of the body as well.  Your feet are the foundation of your body similar to the foundation of a building.  They are responsible not only for holding up the weight and determining stability of the body, but also in maintaining postural alignment of your ankle, knees, and back as we move from one point to another.  Prolonged use of flip flops will increase laxity and weakness of the plantar fascia, which will may result in pain and discomfort not only of the feet, but also of the entire body.   

How long is generally too long to walk around in flip flops?

I cannot give a specific answer in regards to minutes or hours specifically as it depends on each person and if there are underlying foot conditions such as arch pain, Achilles pain, shin splints, or hammertoes for instance.  The problem with flip-flops is that they don’t support your feet. It’s the other way around your feet support the flip-flop. Every time you take a step your toes are gripping onto the flip-flop which overtime can make a condition like hammertoes worsen. Clearly, someone that does not suffer from foot issues can wear flip flops for longer periods of time, nevertheless I would suggest only wearing them for convenience and as little as possible. 

How long is a short period of time to wear flip flops?

The ideal scenario to wear them is to and from the pool, in communal bathing facilities such as gym bathrooms to avoid picking up any infections, and for a quick step in and out of the house, or at home if you have hard floors and no carpet. But, even so at home I would prefer you wearing a comfy closed toe slipper instead.

Are slides better for your feet?

Summer slide shoes are better than flip flops as they are just as convenient as you can easily slip them on and off but they are far more supportive and comfortable. Summer slide shoes are somewhat similar to a surgical shoe as they have a harder sole than most traditional sandals or flip flops and can accommodate more uneven and hard terrain which of course can help minimize injury.  The soles of summer slide shoes are often times ribbed which allows for greater traction of the floor which also provides greater stability. Summer slide shoes tend to be more wide in the forefoot than sandals or flip flops which helps minimize any discomfort associated with bunions, hammertoes, or neuromas. The over strap rather than the typical thong strap also helps prevent digital contracture and hammering of the toes. I recommend to look for summer slide shoes that have a wedge that is 3/4 of an inch rather than one that is completely flat as it places less tension on the Achilles tendon and will feel more comfortable. I recommend avoiding summer slide shoes that are completely flat as they will contribute to pronation and collapse of the arch which may contribute to planter and posterior heel pain, shin splints, knee pain, and back pain. I also recommend a summer slide shoe that has an arched footbed incorporated into its design which can also help minimize discomfort.

Are there any flip flops you know of that are ok to wear (that promotoe arch support)?

The first runner up are the VIONIC Bella II Sandals.  These flip flops are lightweight and have a flexible EVA (Ethyl Vinyl Acetate) footbed which absorbs shock, reducing stress on feet, ankles, and knees.  These flip flops are the only ones to have the approved seal of acceptance by American Podiatric Medical Association.

The second runner up I would suggest the Birkenstock Gizeh EVA Flip Flops. The BIRKENSTOCK Gizeh flip flops are modeled on the cork sandal and their footbed will offer the same comfort and arch support you would expect from Birkenstock.  These flip flops are also ultra lightweight, highly flexible, shock-absorbent, waterproof, and skin-friendly.

 

Author
Dr. Miguel Cunha Dr. Miguel Cunha, founder of Gotham Footcare and a leading podiatrist in Manhattan, is a highly trained and skilled foot and ankle surgeon with experience treating a wide array of foot and ankle conditions from minor problems to complex reconstructive foot and ankle surgery. Dr. Cunha takes pride in having a genuine interest in each and every one of his patients while providing them the utmost compassion and exceptional care.

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