Is It Time to Ditch the Flip Flops for Good?

by | Jun 29, 2018

If you’re like many (if not most) people, both of the following phrases are highly likely to be true:
  • You’ve been told that flip flops aren’t exactly good for your feet.
  • You own at least one pair of flip flops and wear them at least occasionally.
Hey, we get it. Flip flops are cheap, colorful, and easy to slide on. On a hot day when casual clothing is the expectation, they seem like a natural choice. But are you really doing more harm to your feet than good by wearing them? The short answer? Probably yes. The longer answer? We’re not saying you have to throw your flip flops immediately in the trash and never wear them again. But it’s true that they strain feet and calves and can be harmful, especially if worn every day or for long periods of time. But why is that the case? Let’s take a look.

Why Flip Flops Are Bad for Your Feet

Let’s put it this way. When we recommend just about any pair of footwear—sandals or otherwise—we typically point out the importance of things like arch support, heel cushioning, shock absorption, and a proper fit that prevents the shoe or sandal from flopping or sliding around on your foot. Flip flops do exactly none of these things well. Actually, it’s worse than that. It’s not even that they do them badly. They barely do them at all.
  • No arch or ankle support. Flip flops let your feet pronate and flatten as far as they possibly can. For the vast majority of foot types, that’s a problem. It can lead to pain just about everywhere along your sole—heels, arches, ball, toes, the works.
  • No heel cushioning or shock absorption. You’re getting the full force of your own bodyweight with every step. Almost nothing gets soaked up by the flip flops. Aches and pains start setting in a lot more quickly.
  • Altered biomechanics. Wearing flip flops forces you to completely alter the way your body moves when you walk. You have to take shorter steps, your calves have to work overtime, and your toes have to dig in extra hard just to keep the flip-flop from flipping or flopping right off your feet. The increased strain from bad biomechanics adds to injury risk and cause pain all the way up your legs and lower back.
  • Minimum protection. Like all open-toed footwear, flip flops offer only partial protection from underfoot obstacles, and almost no protection from blunt force traumas.
One more thing: if you have diabetes, flip flops are a definite no-no in almost any context.

Are Flip Flops Actually Good for Anything?

They’re cute! And cheap! In all seriousness, flip flops do offer some protection from cuts, scrapes, and various fungal and viral infections—think warts, athlete’s foot or fungal toenails. If you happen to be relaxing on the beach or walking around a pool, locker room, or public shower/bathroom facilities, you are much better off in a pair of flip flops than you are barefoot. Note that there’s nothing special about flip flops in this regard. In just about any instance where flip flops would be preferred over going barefoot, you could do even better by opting for a more robust pair of sandals. Many popular shoemakers make fashionable sandals that are easy to slip on, but also offer a lot more cushioning, contoured arch support, and stability than your standard drugstore flip flops. Flip flops on the beach

So Is It Time to Ditch My Flip Flops For Good?

Look, clearly we don’t think that there’s really any particular need for flip flops in your life. There’s almost always a much better pair of sandals available that can give you everything you want in a flip flop and won’t completely kill your feet, legs, and back while doing it. If you can wear those instead, all the better. However, flip flops can have their uses—especially around the beach, the pool, or the house. If you’re careful and selective about when and how long you wear them, you might be able to avoid most of the downsides.

What Does “Responsible Flip Flop Use” Look Like?

In general, limit your use of flip flops to short periods of time where you’re not going to be doing a lot of walking. Lazing by the pool or running a (very) quick errand? They’re probably fine. The best use of flip flops are those short instances where you need to protect your soles for a couple of minutes. Showers at the gym. Making the short walk from the car to your spot on the beach. That sort of thing. They’re a low-cost way to avoid easy scrapes and infections, and you probably won’t be standing or walking in them long enough to do any serious damage. Flip flops are a very bad choice, however, for everyday footwear—even at home. They should not be used for any kind of athletic activity like backyard football or beach volleyball, since their poor support significantly increases the risk of severe injury (fractures, ligament tears, etc.). They are generally not great at handling any kind of significant grade or slope, and should be restricted to walking on flat surfaces whenever possible. And please don’t do your chores in flip flops. When you put on your flip-flips and head out to mow your lawn, clean out your garage or power wash your deck, bad things can happen. Really bad things. Should you find that excessive flip flop use is causing you pain and discomfort? Ditch ‘em, switch to something more comfortable, and if the pain persists give Southern California Foot & Ankle a call. We’ll be happy to provide any additional treatment you may need. Give us a call at (949) 364-9255.