Flip Flops: Fun or Fiasco?

Posted on: August 7th, 2020 by Dr. Nicholas Brissey

Once reserved for the beach, poolside, or public showers, flip-flop sandals have become the go-to footwear for millions of summertime revelers. And it’s easy to see why.

Available in a multitude of colors, often adorned with flowers, crystals, polka dots, or team logos, they’re quick to pop on and give your feet a welcome break from the confinement of dress shoes, tennis shoes, or other footwear.

However, flip-flops have been shown to cause an array of problems, far more serious than the funky tan lines on the tops of your feet. From blisters, infections, and bunions to puncture wounds, stress fractures, and fallen arches, they are one of the leading causes of a growing epidemic of foot pain, according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS).

One of the biggest problems with flip-flops is their complete lack of arch support, leading to chronic inflammation of the thick band of connective tissue extending from the heel bone to the ball of your foot. This results in the condition known as plantar fasciitis, with its telltale symptom of heel pain that is most noticeable when getting out of bed in the morning. It decreases fairly quickly, only to return as the day wears on and you spend more time on your feet.

With nothing to hold your feet in place, flip-flops frequently cause ankle strain, blisters, and calluses because your feet move around in them. Additionally, your toes are nearly constantly in a state of grasping the shoe, resulting in hammertoes, bunions, and tendinitis.

Typically, flip-flops are constructed using a thin rubber material for the sole. This provides no shock absorption, leaving your feet to endure extreme amounts of force. Some flip-flops are made with latex or BPA-laden plastic, which can cause allergic reactions and other health complications. Often, manufacturers use porous material, which can retain moisture and serve as a breeding ground for fungus, resulting in athlete’s foot and Staphylococcus.

The painful effects of flip-flops are not limited to the foot. Their flat design causes you to alter your gait, taking shorter strides, which in turn, aggravates your joints and your body’s overall alignment. As you begin to experience knee, lower back, and hip pain, you subconsciously change your posture, resulting in even more pain and misalignment. It’s a vicious cycle.

While it’s okay to wear flip-flops for short periods of time – while washing your car or lounging poolside, for example – they should not be worn for hours on end. And they should never be worn during certain activities, such as mowing the lawn, driving, hiking, or engaging in physical exercise.

For those and other warm-weather activities, the best everyday casual shoes are quality sneakers, espadrilles, boat shoes, or orthotic sandals.

If you simply can’t let the summer pass without donning flip-flops, however, look for a pair that’s made of high-quality material, with a thicker strap and sturdy sole to better support your feet. Seek out those that carry the American Podiatric Medical Association’s Seal of Acceptance, as they allow for the most normal foot function.

Granted, those options may be slightly less fashionable and a bit more expensive than the cheaper, everyday models you’ve been wearing, but they will prevent pain and injury, which will cost you far more in the long run.

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