Flip-flops are omnipresent every summer, but with no arch or heel support, are these foot-shaped pieces of rubber bad for your feet?
When one walks barefoot, the natural biomechanics of the foot are in play. But as soon as we slide into that piece of recycled tire known as a flip-flop, everything changes. We alter our gait because we have to use our toes to grab the flip-flop to keep it from sliding off. We also take shorter strides and turn our ankles inward, which can cause long term ankle and hip problems.
In 2008, researchers at Auburn University actually videotaped students walking in flip-flops and found that because they had to scrunch their toes to hold the flip-flop on when they walked, quite a bit of stress was placed on the plantar fascia (the band of tissue which runs from your heel to the arch). This constant stretching can lead to inflammation and pain along the arch and sole, heel spurs, and tired feet, exactly what the flip-flop wearing Auburn students complained of when they returned to classes in the fall.
The problem is, the flimsy rubber doesn’t flex where our foot flexes, as it’s always in the process of falling off. And those straps at the front can cause serious blisters, too. Because flip-flops offer no real protection to the bottom of the foot, stepping on nails, rocks, and other sharp or irregular objects can easily cause injury.
Those with diabetes who are experiencing poor circulation or a loss of sensation in their feet should never wear flip-flops, as diabetic feet can easily become irritated or develop small wounds, which may become infected, leading to a host of other problems. Those who are obese should also stay away from flip-flops, as added strain will be put on the feet, which may already be affected from the extra pounds.
But we acknowledge that not all flip-flops are created equally. Those at the discount store for a few bucks are definitely out. But those closer to sandals can definitely be a worthwhile buy, because the thicker, contoured soles actually support your arch and heel and offer protection to the bottom of your feet.
The best use for flip-flops? In the gym or pool locker room to avoid getting athlete’s foot. This is the one area that flip-flops win over going barefoot.