Think of summer, and you’ll probably think of flip flops. They’re the quintessential warm-weather footwear. They bring to mind an easy-breezy, laid-back lifestyle that includes barbeques and beach vacations. It can feel amazing to free your toes after the long, cold months of winter. But many people are over-wearing their flip flops – and it’s killing their feet.
In fact, a whopping estimated 75 percent of Americans will experience foot problems. 1 And unfortunately, some of these foot problems will be brought on by wearing flip flops too much.
Poor footwear is a large contributing factor to foot pain. Though they can often be comfortable, flip flops can cause a host of problems for your feet and the rest of your body. Here are some of the top reasons why flip flops are bad for your feet.
Change in Stride
Have you ever noticed that you walk differently when you’re wearing flip flops? One reason for this is because your toes have to hang onto your shoes in an unnatural way. 2 A 2010 study from the Department of Kinesiology at Auburn University found that wearing flip flops can significantly change a person’s gait, or manner of walking. 3 Study participants were found to take smaller steps while wearing flip flops, turning their ankles slightly. These changes often lead to pain in the lower legs and feet.
A study from the American College of Sports Medicine also agreed with this finding. 4 This study found that flip flop wearers decrease the vertical force they exert on the ground, which leads to changes in stride as well as pain.
No Arch Support
If you have problems with your arches, flip flops are not for you. Arches that are too high or too low need extra support – and flip flops’ flat design doesn’t give you any. People who are overweight or have diabetes also need more supportive shoes. 5,6
In addition, flip flops may not be a good idea for older adults. According to a 2005 study from Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Department of Nursing, shoes with arch supports can reduce the risk of falls for seniors. 7
Not supporting your arches can lead to more pressure on your heels. This, in turn, could potentially lead to plantar fasciitis – a condition that causes painful shooting sensations in your heels. 8
Even if you have no foot problems or underlying conditions, wearing non-supportive shoes like flip flops all day can lead to discomfort. Your arches may excessively collapse while you’re walking, leading to foot and leg pain. 9 Putting undue stress on your feet causes them to get tired faster. This can make you more prone to uncomfortable foot and leg cramps. 10
When you walk in flip flops, the straps rub against the top of your foot and between your toes. Friction created by your movements can lead to painful blisters. 11 The only sure way to stop this blistering is to stop wearing the offending pair of shoes.
Potential for Injuries
Exposed feet and toes can often lead to injuries in all parts of your body – just ask actor Brad Pitt. In 2015, he appeared at the 3rd Annual Light Up the Blues concert in Hollywood with significant bruising on his face. Pitt explained, “This is what happens when you try to run up steps in the dark, with your arms full, wearing flip flops.” 12
Podiatrists in places that are warm all year round, like South Florida, have found that flip flops account for many of the injuries they see. Common flip flop injuries to the feet include bone fractures, sprained ankles, ripped toenails, athlete’s foot, and stubbed toes. 13 When you wear flip flops, your feet are only protected by a thin rubber base. This base could potentially be punctured by any sharp object, such as a nail or broken glass.
Full of Bacteria
Did you ever think about all the dirty things your shoes touch during the day? Researchers tested just one pair of flip flops and found more than 18,000 bacteria. 14 Some of these bacteria were potentially dangerous, such as fecal germs, respiratory germs and the serious infection Staphylococcus aureus (staph). If you wear flip flops and have a cut on your feet, these dangerous germs could find their way into your body. Doctors recommend touching flip flops as little as possible and thoroughly washing your feet after wearing them. Consider giving the flip flops a good disinfecting scrubbing too.
Risk for Skin Cancer
Most people don’t think about putting sunscreen on their feet regularly. This is a potentially health-threatening mistake, say researchers. 15 When you wear flip flops, you are exposing the skin of your feet to the sun. Any exposed skin has the potential risk for skin cancer. Doctors recommend avoiding exposure to the sun whenever possible. If your feet are exposed, remember to apply a sunscreen that’s at least SPF 15.
How to Wear Flip Flops
If you love flip flops, but don’t want the negative effects, remember that infrequent use is usually fine. Most health problems associated with flip flops occur when people wear them everywhere and for every activity. It makes sense to wear flip flops to the beach and the pool, but forego them when exercising or doing anything strenuous. 16 Also, the price of your flip flops matters – more expensive pairs are more likely to support your feet. Also, regularly inspect your flip flops for damage. Flip flops showing wear and tear should be replaced.
Flip flops can cause a variety of problems for your feet if you wear them incorrectly. Keep these pitfalls in mind, and keep your flip flop wearing to a minimum. Opt for more structured, supportive sandals, such as Birkenstocks.
For more helpful foot care tips, read these articles below:
1.”General Facts & Statistics – Foot Doctor, Podiatrist, Podiatry, Foot Pain, Heel Pain, Diabetic Foot Care, Philip S. Pinsker, DPM, Washington, PA”. Washingtonfootdoc.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
2. Marina Csomor, Special to CNN. “Flip-Flops Present Feet With A Painful Problem – CNN.Com”. CNN. N.p., 2012. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
3. WH, Shroyer. “Comparative Analysis Of Human Gait While Wearing Thong-Style Flip-Flops Versus Sneakers. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2010. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
4.”ACSM | ACSM In The News”. Acsm.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
5. Google+», On. “Lack Of Arch Support In Flip-Flops May Lead To Foot Problems, Experts Say”. Cbsnews.com. N.p., 2012. Web. 30 Jan. 2017
6.”The Diabetic Foot | Foot.Com – The Most Comprehensive Source Of Foot Health And Foot Care Information (Foot Pain, Heel Pain)”. Foot.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
7.”Study Proves Risk Of Older Adults Falling Is Significantly Reduced By Wearing Arch Supports”. Medical News Today. N.p., 2005. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
8. Rodriguez, Diana. “What Is Plantar Fasciitis?”. EverydayHealth.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
9.”Can Lack Of Arch Support In Sandals And Flip Flops Cause Foot And Leg Problems?”. The Huffington Post. N.p., 2012. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
10.Cramps, What. “What You Can Do To Get Rid Of Foot Cramps”. Footvitals.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
11.Marina Csomor, Special to CNN. “Flip-Flops Present Feet With A Painful Problem – CNN.Com”. CNN. N.p., 2012. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
12.Steiner, Amanda. “Brad Pitt Has A Bruised Face At Autism Speaks Event In Hollywood”. PEOPLE.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
13.”Flip-Flop Injuries Common In South Florida”. tribunedigital-sunsentinel. N.p., 2017. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
14.Coffey, Laura. “Can Your Flip-Flops Kill You?”. TODAY.com. N.p., 2009. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
15.”The Hidden Skin Cancer Risk From Flip-Flops, Baseball Caps”. Medical News Today. N.p., 2011. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
16.”Health Tip: Want To Wear Sandals? – Merck Manuals Consumer Version”. Merck Manuals Consumer Version. N.p., 2015. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.