Our friends over at the Gloss have a beef with flip-flops, because they find them to be unfashionable. And while that may or may not be true (it’s probably true, but that’s not really my jurisdiction), the fact is that, regardless of whether or not they’re hideous, crappy sandals are bad for your feet. And your legs. And kind of your whole self. And also the planet. Basically, your crummy summer footwear is just the worst. Here’s why.
Aside from being a questionable from a fashion standpoint, unsupportive sandals and flip-flops present a myriad of problems. First, they’re pretty wasteful, and made of labor-intensive man-made materials, which presents an environmental problem, so if you’re an eco-friendly kind of person, buying the $2.50 flip-flops from Old Navy may not exactly be in line with your tree-hugging sensibilities. But aside from that, low-quality summer shoes are also pretty bad for your body.
Flip-flops and other flat shoes have been shown to cause unnecessary foot and leg strain, unnatural movement in the foot, and, in some cases, an altered stride, which can impact the hips and lower back. Remember how the foot bone is connected to the knee bone and all that? That’s important to remember when dealing with anything that’s rough on your feet, because the pain doesn’t just end there. Floppy, foamy, support-free shoes, then, are kind of a perfect storm of terrible health.
Here’s what one doctor told Forbes back in 2010:
“Flip-flops have a spongy sole, so when the foot hits the ground, it roles inward and the sponge allows it to roll even more than usual,” says Dr. John E. Mancuso, a podiatrist at the Manhattan Podiatry Associates in New York. “This is called pronation, and it causes many problems in the foot.”
In addition to excessive pronation (something that a lot of runners struggle with, and will work for years to correct), there are also specific parts of the feet and legs which are forced to work harder when wearing flip-flops and slip-ons that provide little support. According to a 2008 study profiled by the Daily Beast, the toes are frequent victims of flipping and flopping:
“When you wear flip-flops, you kind of scrunch your toes to keep the flip-flop on your foot,” [Justin] Shroyer says. That constant pressure often adds up to throbbing and tenderness in the toes. “The body is an amazing machine,” Shroyer explains. “When you do one thing, other things turn off and on. By engaging the muscles that scrunch your toes, you are turning off the muscles that would bring your toes up.” That also means that you can’t lift your foot up as much when you walk—hence the characteristic flip-flop shuffle.
And then there are the arches. For those with either very flat feet, or very high arches, the lack of arch support can cause tension in the plantar fascia, which can lead to heel and foot pain–and even long-term damage to the tendon and the delicate tissue around it. That can also translate into more work for the other parts of your feet, which can then become pain in your legs, knees, hips, and even back.
Slip-ons (including Crocs, by the way, which are definitely unacceptable from a sartorial standpoint) also frequently lead walkers to adopt a more pronounced heel-strike–another common ailment among runners, and one that popular (and functional) barefoot and minimalist running shoes have been touted for correcting. And that’s an important distinction; barefoot and minimalist-style shoes may seem like they could be bad for the feet the same way flip-flops are, but they are decidedly not.
That’s because, when you’re barefoot, your feet are able to do the work of walking or running, but they aren’t doing the additional work of trying to keep your shoes in place. They also change your gait, which causes more stress and strain on basically everything below your hips. And, because flip-flops and other sandals don’t actually let your feet touch the ground, you’re more likely to walk further on the unsupportive shoes than you would if you were going without.
Minimalist shoes, unlike your Rite Aid-brand sandals, do provide some support–particularly in the arches, where most of the damage is done in individuals with foot troubles. In fact, a study from earlier this year showed that minimalist-style shoes, which allow for some flexibility but also offer some support, are the most efficient, most ideal option for running and walking.
If you really must wear sandals or other flip-flops, there are options that are better for your feet. They’re usually a little more pricey–you’re paying not only for more material, but also for research into what your feet and legs need for a natural stride–but kicks from Geox, Birkenstock, and Dr. Scholls are all good picks. Another good tip: Even if you’re buying the drugstore variety, look for sandals with straps to keep them on your feet. You won’t have to work as hard to walk, and it’ll help eliminate toe-scrunch. Here’s a pretty great list of cute, foot-friendly sandals to help you get started.
The jury may still be out on whether or not flip-flops (and soft slip-ons, and any other cheap, flat sandals that you have to work to keep on your feet) are acceptable footwear from a stylistic standpoint, but as far as the health of your feet, legs, hips, and back go, the decision is in: guilty as charged.
Image: Chiyacat via Shutterstock