Flip Flops and Foot Pain

 

Flip Flops

Flip Flops and Foot Pain
By: Dr. Peggy Malone

This is the time of year when everyone’s feet are happily breathing a sigh of relief as they come out of their socks and into the cool shoes of summer. 

It’s also the time of year when I see a spike in foot complaints in my office.

The culprit?

Flip Flops.

Lovely, fun, convenient, comfy, cheap, unsupportive, dangerous Flip Flops are causing shoe-related foot injuries.

What? Dangerous? That seems a pretty strong word for such a seemingly harmless piece of rubber, doesn’t it?

Well…maybe not.

We’ve talked in previous posts about the importance of choosing the right shoe to keep your feet and the anatomy train above them supported for athletics and for everyday life. 

We should take the same principles and apply them to the shoes we put on our feet in the summer time to avoid injuries.

You may be asking: What kind of injuries could a flip flop cause?

Well, to begin with, there is really nothing wrong with flip flops if you wear them to the beach or in the locker room shower as an alternative to going barefoot.

The problems begin when people wear them day in and day out all summer long. 

Thin rubber flip flops have no arch support whatsoever and walking in flip flops forces you to change the biomechanical pattern of the way you walk. You begin to use muscles and joints in a different way and if you do so repetitively, you are setting yourself up for joint and muscle strains. 

I see this in my office as Plantar Fasciitis, Shin Splints, Metatarsalgia, Morton’s Neuroma, Achilles Tendonitis, Calf Strains as well as generalized foot and lower leg pain from overuse.

Think about how your toes have to squeeze every step to keep the flip flop in place. You can try it right now if you have a pair of flip flops to experiment with. If you compare that to what your foot does while in a regular shoe like a running shoe, you can see the difference in how your muscles and joints are working.

Many people continue to wear flip flops even after they feel pain which can then cause the body to compensate and left untreated can lead to knee, hip and back pain.

On top of the joint, muscle and other soft tissue strains that occur because of this aberrant repetitive motion, many are susceptible to injuries from trips and falls while trying to move quickly in these awkward floppy pieces of rubber.

Ankle sprains, stubbed or broken toes and falls are common when people try to run in flip flops.

Upwards of 200 000 people visit their health care provider or end up in hospital every year after falling or developing repetitive strain injuries associated with flip flops!!

So…Dangerous, it seems, is quite a fitting word for Flip Flops. 

Here are some things that you can do to keep your feet safe and healthy this summer:

-If you insist on wearing flips flops, choose those made with firmer materials that have stiff soles and bend only a little. (take the ‘flop’ out of flip flop)

-Wear your flip flops in moderation. To the beach is fine or if you are going somewhere and you know you won’t be doing much walking.

-Even better, switch your flip flops for a sport sandal that has more support for your arch and that has a strap around the heel to take pressure off of your forefoot. (if there is a strap around the heel, your toes won’t have to scrunch as much to keep the shoe on)

-To avoid injuries such as sprained ankles or falls, avoid running or jumping while wearing your flip flops.

-If you notice the edges of pain after some time flipping and flopping, get some ice on the painful area and consider switching to a more supportive shoe for a few days.

-If you are gardening or cutting the lawn, please don’t wear your flip flops…garden tools and lawnmowers do not mix well with bare toes.

I hope that you have a bit of a different outlook on your seemingly innocent rubber summer footwear.

Make sure that you choose your summer shoes wisely as you get outside and enjoy the nice weather :)

Peggy
 

Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. She also inspires patients from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.

A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.

Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.

Her eBook Shin Splint Solutions has helped hundreds of athletes get past the pain of Shin Splints and get back to doing what they love.

 

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28 Comments
  • Sharon O'Day
    June 20, 2011

    Peggy, after I stupidly pulled my plantar fascia ligament, i discovered that Crocs makes a flip-flop-looking sandal that has considerable structure in the base.  Especially the raised heel area.  And, as I live in South Florida, it's flip-flop weather 12 months a year.  The Duet Flip and others are okay, but the Athens model is the most protective … any input?

    • Dr Peggy
      June 20, 2011

      Hey Sharon,

      The Crocs brand shoe (all models) are definitely a better option than a flimsy flip flop as they have some arch support and in many cases, the heel strap around the back. Much better than those dangerous flip flops! Keep in mind though that if the heel, foot or leg pain shows up again in those shoes, go back to supportive closed heel shoes with a good arch (running shoes in most cases) until you are out of the painful crisis.

  • Fay
    June 20, 2011

    I've never been a big one for wearing flip flops (or 'thongs' as we call them here in Australia), but it seems that is a good thing. Mind you, you do need something similar when you're walking along our beautiful sandy beaches in the summer.  Thanks for the ideas and tips Dr Peggy.

    • Dr Peggy
      June 21, 2011

      I remember when we used to call them ‘thongs’ too….then that became something else :) Your flip flops are definitely ok for trips to the beach!

  • Tara Geissinger
    June 21, 2011

    I wear my Reef flip-flops almost every day. I live in South Florida like Sharon — so it's essentially acceptable to wear them out to dinner. :) They aren't flimsy, but after reading this I think I should curb the amount of time I spend in them anyway. There are a lot of cute sandals too! 

    • Dr Peggy
      June 22, 2011

      Hi Tara,
      Your Reef flip flops are definitely a better option than the flimsy rubber ones that cause many issues. Better to stick to running shoes or a solid sandal with a back strap if you are doing any extended walking. I agree with you about cute sandals…it is important to balance fashion and function…in moderation :)

  • Carla J Gardiner
    June 21, 2011

    Thanks for the insight as we enter our summer here in California. Now I know why my feet hurt, have widened out and I fell down our steps some years back. Ouch. So, back into my tennis shoes during working hours. Your tips are valuable Dr. Peggy, thanks doesn't seem like enough.

    • Dr Peggy
      June 22, 2011

      Ouch indeed! I’m glad you are ok after that fall and I’m glad you are finding some useful info in my blog Carla!

  • denny hagel
    June 21, 2011

    Fascinating information! I had no idea…thanks for the eye-opener…back to tennis shoes for me!

    • Dr Peggy
      June 22, 2011

      Hi Denny,

      I’m glad you found something practical in the post!

  • Marie Leslie
    June 22, 2011

    I am not a flip-flop fan, haven't been one since childhood.  This just confirms it.

  • Justin Iiams
    June 22, 2011

    Thanks for the info Peggy!  I have two questions:
     
    1st.  I have always worn sandals and flip flops from Adidas.  They are the most comfortable sandals and flip flops I've ever worn.  is there such a thing as flip flops with enough arch support?  I have super high arches, but the sandals and flip flops from Adidas have never hurt my feet and always felt as though they supported my feet.  is this a case of "nothing bad has happened yet"?  or am I just fortunate enough to have found good pairs that support my feet?
    2nd.  I purchased a pair of the Vibram 5 finger shoes about 4 months ago.  these are like sock for my feet and they are incredibly comfortable.  However, the sales rep at Fleet Feet told me that the 5 finger shoes can do damage to my metatarcels and the other bones in my feet.  is this correct or were they just trying to sell me their own brand of shoe since they don't sell the vibrams?
    I'm subscribing to your blog now.  looks like some great information that I can certainly use along the path of life :)  Thank you!

    • Dr Peggy
      June 22, 2011

      Hi Justin, Thanks for your comments and your questions!
      You asked about your Adidas sandals. If they are comfortable, fairly firm and have a decent arch support then they are probably ok, especially if you haven’t had any pain or discomfort. The flip flops that are really a problem for many people are the flimsy rubber ones that you can fold in half and put in your pocket. It sounds like the ones you have chosen are quite a bit more supportive than that.
      Your second question about the Vibram 5 finger shoes is a common one. These and other shoe models that are emulating barefoot running are encouraging people to return to our ancestral roots where we were only ever barefoot. Humans were designed to walk barefoot but most of us have had shoes on our feet from a very young age and have spent most of our lives on a flat surface. As a result, we have feet that are not conditioned to be barefoot all the time. So, the sales rep you mentioned is correct in a sense because many people who jump right into these shoes and go will get injured. You’ve got to build up tolerance and strength slowly to this new biomechanical motion. If you do that, and take it slow, it can be a great option for some athletes. Hope this helps!

  • Carol Giambri
    June 22, 2011

    Thanks for sharing your professional wisdom. I usually wear my running shoes, but at church I do wear flip flops.  I would love to wear running shoes all the time. Crocs is in my backyard and I have a new replacement sandal that is massively big so going to get rid of. 
     

    • Dr Peggy
      June 22, 2011

      Hey Carol. Crocs are a good option that are a bit more supportive than those flimsy flip flops, especially if they have a heel strap.

  • Anne (Annie) Berryhill
    June 22, 2011

    OH Man… bummer on the flip flop lesson. Here in California, it is normal to have a closet full of these shoes. I do lots of training in proper shoes and it feels great to throw on a light shoe for kicking around. i will definitely be more mindful about how much time I spend in my flips…i dont have any time to be injured or set back on my training schedule! Thanks!

    • Dr Peggy
      June 22, 2011

      Thanks for your comment Anne!
      I really like to have my toes free in a light shoe as well and so I live by the rule that flip flops should be treated like chocolate chip cookies: Use in moderation :)

  • Janet @ The Natural Networker
    June 22, 2011

    Peggy, aloha.  Though I have never been a fan of flip flops and, in fact, do not wear them at all, I do have a question for you re arch support.
    About a year or so ago, I started wearing Five Fingers which have no discernible arch support.  Shortly thereafter I started wearing reef walkers which are very light flexible shoes somewhat akin to walking barefoot.   Both my walking experience and afterwards are pain free when I wear either one of these.
    What I am wondering is if the difference is that both of these models are so flexible they simulate walking barefoot so the arch support issue becomes a non issue. What do you think? 
    Best wishes for a terrific day.  Aloha.  Janet
     

     

    • Dr Peggy
      June 22, 2011

      Hi Janet,

      Thanks so much for your comment and question. I get lots of questions about the Vibram Five Fingers. These and other shoe models that are emulating barefoot running are encouraging people to return to our ancestral roots where we were only ever barefoot. Humans were designed to walk barefoot but most of us have had shoes on our feet from a very young age and have spent most of our lives on a flat surface.
      As a result, we have feet that are not conditioned to be barefoot all the time and some people suffer when they first start wearing these barefoot type shoes. You seem to have transitioned beautifully into the more natural biomechanics of walking barefoot which is great, but for most people looking to try these shoes, I encourage them to take it slowly and build up strength and tolerance to avoid injuries.
      I hope this helps. :)

  • Sue Graber
    June 22, 2011

    Peggy, this is great information.  I unfortunately spent too many months one summer wearing flip flops as well as the very flat ballet type shoes (with no arch) — and until a few months ago had suffered from plantar fasciitis to the extreme.  I've been going to a chiropractor which has helped but also started taking a supplement which is great for every system in your body and I am convinced that it helped me over the hump of this awful foot problem.  I learned my lessons – it's not worth NOT taking care of your feet!!!   Thanks for a great post!

    • Dr Peggy
      June 22, 2011

      Thanks for your comment Sue!

      I’m glad that you are feeling better. Sore, sad feet are never fun.

  • ajaytheone1986
    July 3, 2011

    Hi, it’s wonderful information. I am a starter in blogging and reading your article made me realize how to use the words in a article. Thanks and I wear only flip flops when I take morning walk it help me to get relived.

  • Sarah
    March 10, 2012

    Last summer I tripped in my flip flops. They didn't break but the inside of my foot, where the thong part of the flip flop covered, has been giving me problems since. Most of the time the pain is bearable but when I walk a distance or jog, it puts me on bed rest for a few days. It's always a little swollen and feels like it's bruised but there is no discoloration or anything. Any idea of what I can do for it? 

    • Dr Peggy
      March 11, 2012

      Hi Sarah,
      Sorry to hear about the foot. It really sucks when your feet hurt…especially if you have been dealing with it since last summer.
      I’m wondering if you have had any investigation? xrays or had anyone look at it?
      I would start by stretching your calf musculature and the bottom of your foot and icing the sore area.
      If that isn’t helping it, I would seek out the care of an ART (Active Release Techniques) provider. You can find one in your area by going to
      http://www.activerelease.com
      Hope this helps!

  • Nina
    August 31, 2013

    I wish I had found this site a week ago.Ive been wearing a pair of flip flops for a few days now and I have an extremely annoying and sharp pain on the top of my right foot…. after a little research Im guessing I may have strained a tendon ? If this is the case and its caused by your muscles trying to hold the flip flops on, Im wondering why the pain is on just my left foot and not on my right too. All I know is my feet are not happy campers right now.

    • Dr Peggy
      September 7, 2013

      Hi Nina,
      I find that it is quite common that people will present with pain on one side only. It is usually because of repetitive sustained postures that you have a habit of putting your body in. For example, many people when they are standing will put more weight on one leg than the other. They will ‘hang out’ in one hip more than the other. This difference over time can lead to symptoms somewhere up or down (in your case down) the anatomy train on that same side.
      As for your symptoms, I would recommend stretching your calves and massaging the muscles of your feet and lower legs (get the help of a good body worker if you aren’t getting relief with self massage)

  • lynnstarrs
    February 17, 2014

    Thick, soft, top quality rubber flip flops that shape to your feet saved me from years of pain from metatarsalgia. I have stiff, high arched feet and orthopedic shoes, pads, all that stuff was a waste of effort, and some orthotics make it worse. For my problem, soft is the answer, and using my toes seems to help in some way. Rocker soles, always buying wide shoes, also helps for when I need civilized footwear. I got off painkillers/anti-inflammatories after 5 years when I discovered the flip flop effect on vacation. So please don’t make a blanket demonization of flip flops. Lots of room in the toe box!

    • Dr Peggy
      February 22, 2014

      I’m glad that you got relief. Your story and experience is rare. The majority of people I see clinically have more trouble rather than less as a result of flip flops. I’m glad that you have found a solution that works for you!

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