Experts Warn Flip-Flops Can Cause Problems for Feet

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With summer in high gear, that quintessential hot-weather footwear — the flip-flop — is slapping the ground all over America. However, experts warn that flip-flops may be causing some severe foot distress.

While the sandals prove an easy match for the summer heat, the hot sand and the cool grass, people should watch out for unintended side effects of overusing the slight frames that are a trademark of the flip-flop.

Credit: Roger Architect/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

“This time of year I frequently see patients with foot conditions related to wearing flip-flops,” said Dr. Christina Long, a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

While flip-flops can serve the industrial purpose of keeping something sharp from inflicting pain on your feet, the rest of the benefits leave much to be desired, said Long.

“Wearing flip-flops is better than going barefoot because they do provide some protection for the bottoms of your feet, but that’s about it,” Long explained.

Any flip-flop wearer knows that the first use of the season can result in some serious blister issues or chafing problems. But the problems may run deeper than the outer layer of the skin.

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“Flip-flops don’t offer any arch or heel support, and you have to grip them with your toes to keep them on. Wearing them for too long or for the wrong activity can cause a lot of different problems,” Long added.

What’s a dedicated flip-flop wearer to do? Among other tips, flex some flip-flop know-how and keep your feet feeling fresh by focusing on the following foot-happy factors:

  • Look for flip-flops made of “high-quality leather,” urges Long. Leather can reduce the chance of developing blisters and other similar irritations.
  • Avoid the flimsiest flops. Instead, test the sandal by bending its sole. The sandal should not fold in half; it should bend at the ball of the foot.
  • Choose the right size. Don’t go for a flip-flop that will leave your feet hanging over the edges. That will lead to injury and pain.
  • Freshen up your footwear. Flip-flops can break down easily, so opt for a new pair after putting in a year of use.
  • Mind your toes. The thong of a flip-flop is one of the danger spots for blisters and irritation. Ensure you have a good fit that doesn’t rub you the wrong way.
  • Avoid flip-flops on your marathon walk. Long distances are not a good idea for the flip-flop wearer because of the little support the shoes provide. Keep your flops on for short-distance walks.
  • Put on shoes when working outside. Mowing the lawn or trimming the grass doesn’t mix well with flip-flops. A sturdier pair of shoes will help protect your feet.
  • Keep your flops off the basketball court. Running and jumping with flip-flops are a good way to twist an ankle or injure your foot. Shoes will better protect you.

That’s not to say flip-flops don’t have a place in your life. Just brandish them wisely.

“Flip-flops are fine for short-term use, especially if they have at least some arch support and a cushioned sole. They’re good to wear at the beach, around swimming pools, in showers and locker rooms at the gym, on short trips to the store,” said Long.

For more tips, check out the Wake Forest Baptist Health flip-flop education page.

Richard Scott
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.