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John Whyte, M.D., MPH Headshot

Flip Flops: Do They Hurt Your Feet?

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Spring is upon us, and with it the time to strap on some fun, stylish flip-flops and start enjoying the season's beauty. So run to the local drug store, grab some inexpensive flip-flops, and head outdoors, right? Wrong.

The truth is many of our favorite flip-flops can be sending us feet first into serious injuries to our feet, ankles, knees, hips and even our back. Over time these injuries can lead to serious bone, tendon, and joint damage.

Believe it or not, there's been a lot of research regarding flip-flops. A recent study found that flip-flop wearers tend to grip the footwear with their toes, causing shorter stride length and improper force when their feet hit the ground. What does this mean? Basically, a powerful force is transferred up our legs, putting additional stress on our lower body.

Unfortunately, our bodies aren't designed for that type of stress. The spongy nature and lack of arch support found in many flip-flops causes the feet to roll inward toward each other causing pain and injury to the arch as well as plantar fasciitis. And if you're not flat foot, you actually could become flat foot by wearing poorly made flip flops.

Those aren't the only problems; there are the more obvious hazards of uncovered footwear. These include stubbed toes, cuts, bruises, bug bites; not to mention dirty feet. Because flip flops tend to lack support and a tight fit to the feet -- combined with usually poor treads -- slips, falls, and sprained ankles are much more common. I'm sure we can all think of at least one flop or fall while wearing them!

So what are some tips to picking healthy summer footwear? Well, start by looking for support. Choose sandals and flip-flops with significant arch support, as well as an indented heel cup to hold the heel in place and reduce instability when the heel strikes the ground. Don't make the most common mistake by going for the flat soled option. Also, be sure to look for proper materials in your footwear. For the sole, this means forgiving yet firm materials, such as rubbers or soft plastics.

Do not buy cheap foam material that are too flimsy and lack a solid form. A good general rule is to try to bend the sole along its length. It should bend only slightly, and if it can almost touch the heel to the toe, you're definitely looking at the wrong material.

Pay careful attention to straps, as well. Consider leather or soft materials to reduce irritation and blisters. Avoid plastic or cotton straps, or any that are too thin and can cut into the skin.

In addition, consider overall quality and opening up your budget a bit. Keep in mind that you may need to spend as much on a quality pair of sandals or flip-flops that you would on a nice pair of sneakers. It's well worth it!

Lastly and maybe most importantly, is to wear your sandals and flip-flops in moderation. This means avoid them during all-day events, athletic activities, and especially during yard work. Even if you follow my guide and buy the very best flip-flops, they are still less suited than sneakers for these activities. Your feet should feel as good as they look, and if you use my advice buying your next flip-flops, your feet will enjoy the spring and summer months as much as you do.

Around the Web

Flip flops can damage your health | Mail Online

Flip-Flops Bad For Feet | LiveScience

Can your flip-flops kill you? - TODAY Health - TODAY.com

Flip-flops are a magnet for dangerous, deadly bacteria - New York ...

The Dangers Of Flip-Flops ... In Footwear! - The Early Show - CBS News

BBC NEWS | Health | Experts warn of flip-flop hazards

How to Understand the Dangers of Wearing Flip Flops | eHow.com