Why traditional flip-flops are a flop | Total Performance Physical Therapy

Why traditional flip-flops are a flop

June 6, 2019

On these scorching hot days, most often, we don’t even think twice before slipping on a pair of flip-flops and heading out the door. Flip-flops have been a summer staple for many years because they let our feet breath after being cooped up in winter boots for half of the year. While flip-flops may help your feet feel cooler they may also be causing damage to your feet, knees, hips, and back over the long run.

Arches of the foot

There are three arches in your foot that help provide support and act as shock absorbers. These three arches allow for proper transfer of body weight to occur while walking or running. Two arches run lengthwise with your foot while one arch runs width wise. The medial longitudinal arch runs lengthwise on the inside of your foot; this is the arch that is often thought of when considering the arch of the foot. The lateral longitudinal arch runs parallel with the medial longitudinal arch towards the outside of the foot. The transverse arch is located in the middle of the foot and runs perpendicular to the other arches.  The medial longitudinal arch is responsible for providing the primary shock absorption and load bearing at the foot. Muscles and ligaments also aid the arches in providing shock absorption and support during activities that put increased stress on the foot such as walking, jumping, and running. If these arches are not supported they can become flattened due to the forces of body weight being placed on them.

This is a picture that show a low arch.  Someone with this type of foot would have a lot of water on the wet paper test.
This is a picture that show a low arch. Someone with this type of foot would have a lot of water on the wet paper test.

Flip-flops change the way you walk

Most flip-flops that are worn during the summertime have a thin rubber sole. These flip-flops come in a variety of colors and are very inexpensive which is why they are commonly worn. Many individuals do a lot of walking and other activities in their flip-flops. Unfortunately, these flip-flops do not provide any support for the arches of your foot or aid in shock absorption during walking. Over time, wearing flip-flops can lead to problems, not only in your feet, but also throughout your body. Without arch support your inside arch will naturally flatten due to weight being placed on it without anything to counteract the force. This is called over pronation and can lead to a variety of problems.

When your foot over pronates it stretches out the ligaments and fascia on the bottom of the foot. This can cause small tears in the fascia, which leads to inflammation. This is called plantar fasciitis and is characterized by pain in the bottom of your foot at the heel with your first step in the morning. The shift of your foot into increased pronation causes shifts in the alignment of the rest of your body. Excess pronation puts more force on the inside of the knee and rotates the hip inward causing malalignment at the pelvis. These changes in alignment cause muscle imbalances throughout your body and can lead to pain.

Walking in flip-flops also causes you to scrunch your toes in order to keep your foot from sliding out. This causes the muscle on your anterior shin to be overworked because it is trying to bring your toes up in order for your leg to swing naturally during gait. This can lead to shin splints and causes a shorter stride length when walking.

So, what can I wear on my feet in the summer?

It’s always recommended to wear a supportive athletic shoe that laces up in order to provide the optimum support for your feet. This will prevent many injuries that can occur from improper footwear. With that being said, I understand this is not always going to be the case. Women do not usually want to walk around with running shoes while wearing a summer dress. Physical therapists often get asked, “What can I wear on my feet in the summer time?” If you must wear sandals there are a few out there that provide more support than the traditional flip-flop. 

The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) has a list of products that hold the APMA Seal of Acceptance. The APMA researches and evaluates different footwear and products and evaluates whether they allow for normal foot function to occur while wearing the product. They have found a variety of sandals and flip flops that provide adequate support for your feet.  Sandals on the APMA Seal of Acceptance Sandals/Flip-Flops have arch support in order to avoid excessive over pronation that occurs with regular flip-flops.

Most individuals have the assumption that sandals that are good for your feet are not attractive and are too bulky. Many companies have developed products that are more appealing and look like regular flip-flops. Orthaheel has developed shoes that provide more support for the wearer, and this company has a variety of products with the APMA Seal of Acceptance. They have a number of different styles and colors to accommodate to everyone’s needs. Chaco Inc. is another company that has a variety of shoes with APMA Seal of Acceptance.

So, you may be asking yourself, “What am I going to do with all of these thin rubber soled flip-flops now?” You may want to hold on to a pair because they can be used in public locker rooms or at community pools. The rubber flip-flops can protect your feet against fungi, viruses, and bacteria that make locker room floors their home. However, they are not recommended for walking and every day use. If injuries do arise because of improper footwear, an evaluation can be performed by a physical therapist to determine the underlying impairments that are causing pain. These deficits can be addressed with physical therapy to decrease pain and allow individuals to return to activities that improper footwear has rendered impossible.

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