Are flip flops bad for your feet? What there is to know

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Flip flops are an integral part of the summer wardrobe. They come in a variety of price points and styles, from $5 neon foam slicers to luxury handcrafted leather shoes.

Many people love flip flops because they take just a moment to get on and off, and they give hot feet plenty of room to breathe.

Yet even though flip flops offer convenience and comfort, you don’t want to wear them every day. Flip flops are too delicate for heavy use and they can’t provide the support your feet need every day.

Although wearing flip flops occasionally does not pose a major health risk, it is important to wear them in moderation. If you wear your flip flops too much, your sore feet might complain later. Over time, flip flops can change the way you walk and contribute to issues like shin splints.

Read on to learn more about how flip flops can affect your feet and how to choose a good pair.

Flip-flops can work well for occasional short-term use, for example, if you need to dive outside to grab the paper or accept a pizza delivery. Rubber or plastic flip flops are often easy to clean and dry quickly, which also makes them ideal for wetter places like the beach.

If you have to choose between flip flops and going barefoot, shoes of all kinds are a safer choice.

Wearing flip flops in public showers, such as gymnasiums or college dorms, can also help protect your feet from common infections.

Flip flops can cover you in some situations, but other circumstances call for sturdier footwear. You will generally want to take shoes with more support when:

Walk long distances

Most flip flops just can’t go the distance. Their thin, flimsy platforms don’t offer significant shock absorption, and they rarely provide arch support or heel cushioning.

After hiking in flip flops, you’ll probably notice your feet aching, almost like you’re not wearing any shoes at all.

Play sports

You will probably have trouble running and jumping in flip flops. The same loose fit that makes them easy to put on also makes them likely to fly through the air every time you try to kick a ball. Even if you manage to keep your shoe on and connect with the ball, you risk stomping on your poor unprotected toes.

Most flip flops also don’t offer much traction on the ground. If you slip, the shoe’s lack of structure can make it easier to twist or sprain your ankle.

As you might remember from gym class, it’s always a good idea to wear closed shoes for sports and other outdoor activities.

Conduct

According to the Missouri Highway Patrol, you may want to take off your flip flops before getting behind the wheel. Thin flip-flops can bend and get caught under the brake pedal, making it difficult to stop your car in time.

Wet flip flops can pose a different problem: you may find that your foot keeps slipping off the pedals before you can press them down.

When driving a car, even one second late can cause an accident. Wearing closed-heeled shoes is usually your safest option.

Too much time spent in flip flops can contribute to a number of leg and foot problems, including:

Blisters

When you slip your feet into a flip-flop, the skin on your toes can rub against the strap. If your feet are sweaty or wet, that moisture and friction can be the perfect recipe for blisters.

Blisters between your toes can prove tricky to deal with. Your toes naturally rub together when you walk, and sometimes tape or sports bandages can increase friction. If your blisters keep opening, they may take a long time to heal.

In short, you may have a better chance of preventing blisters from appearing in the first place, and limiting the use of toggles can help.

heel pain

Your plantar fascia is a ligament that runs along the bottom of your foot, connecting your heel to your toes. When your plantar fascia tears, it can cause heel pain called plantar fasciitis.

Flip flops can make plantar fasciitis more likely. Here’s why:

  • Your toes should flex and grab the strap to keep the shoes in place. This can lead to stretching of the ligament.
  • Without arch support, your foot flattens out more than usual as you descend. It can also lead to stretching of the ligament.
  • When you take a step, your heel hits the ground first. Without cushioning to soften the strike, the fabric around your heel absorbs the force of impact, putting more stress on the ligament.

If you suffer from plantar fasciitis, try these shoes instead.

Ankle sprains

Your ankles tend to roll more when wearing flip flops. For short periods of time, this change in gait is unlikely to pose a serious problem. But over time, your ankles can become less stable, making them more vulnerable to sprains.

Shin splints

Walking in flip flops works the muscles in the front of your leg harder than they would if you were barefoot or wearing more sturdy shoes.

Overuse of these muscles can cause them to develop tiny tears and become painfully inflamed. This leads to medial tibial stress syndrome, commonly known as shin splints.

Some types of flip flops are less likely to cause injury than others.

For example, some flip flops have a more T-shape than the classic V, with straps that wrap around your foot near the ankle. Research from 2014 suggests that these T-shaped flip flops may offer a bit more ankle stability because at least the front part of your ankle is supported.

That said, sandals that wrap around the back of your ankle will provide even more stability.

You can also check the insole of any potential purchase. Some flip flops have arch support and extra padding. These styles can help prevent heel pain, although they may cost more than generic flat thongs.

Flip flops can provide convenience, comfort, and even style for your feet, but they are not suitable for physical activity. If you wear them too often, your feet and legs may start to ache due to lack of support.

In summary, you’ll probably want to reserve flip flops for taking out the trash, showering at the gym, or wading at the beach. For something more strenuous, it is better to grab stronger shoes.


Emily Swaim is a freelance writer and writer specializing in psychology. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Kenyon College and a master’s degree in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of his work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find it on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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