It is no secret flip-flops are a popular footwear choice during the warm summer months. Both convenient and fashionable, flip-flops may be ideal for the beach or pool as they offer your feet a chance to breathe during the hot summer days. However, flip-flops may not be safe if you wear them during vigorous activities like hiking and are not the optimal footwear for even less strenuous activities like sight-seeing.
Jeff Yellin and Jaime Quinn are our designated “flip-flop experts.” Jeff and Jaime have experience with popular flip-flop topics such as how stride length is compromised, the appropriate time to wear flip-flops and how one walk across the Brooklyn Bridge spelled trouble for a patient.
“Wearing flip-flops can dramatically affect the overall biomechanics of the way you walk, mostly in allowing the arches of your foot to collapse due to their lack of support, and decreasing the length of each step the wearer takes,” says Yellin. “ With shorter strides during each step, the feet hit the ground with a decreased vertical force than that while wearing sneakers, which may place unnatural stress and force on your muscles and joints, and leaving them vulnerable for injury.”
Research has shown that wearing flip-flops shortens your stride length and causes force to be unevenly distributed when your foot hits the ground.¹ This may put excess strain on your ankles, knees, hips and lower back, which can cause serious pain and injury over time. Yellin knows it is difficult to imagine a lightweight and convenient shoe can have so much negative effect on your lower body but flip-flop injuries are more common then you might think.
Jaime Quinn has seen first-hand the pain flip-flops can cause someone.
“One of my patients took advantage of the nice weather this past spring and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge in flip-flops,” said Quinn. “Since then she has been suffering from Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, and is unable to wear any footwear other than sneakers without pain. Wearing flip-flops, even one extended time, can wreak havoc on our bodies and may not be worth it in the long run.”
Quinn and Yellin both agree that flip-flops can be worn safely and in short increments.
“Flip flops are most appropriate as an easy method of protection from disease, sharp objects, and hot or slippery grounds such as at beaches, bathrooms, pools, showers or on rocky or sandy walkways,” says Yellin. “They provide quick and easy protection from the elements and prevent the sole of the foot from making direct contact with any dangerous ground.”
“However, they should not be utilized for extended periods of time, as the small but prolonged unnatural stresses that the foot and leg are exposed to from the change in biomechanics increase the risk of injury with increased duration,” says Quinn. “They also should never be worn during running, jumping, or over the course of an extended period of time.”
So before you head outside to walk this summer, think about leaving the flip-flops home. Your feet, ankles, hips, and lower back will be grateful.
Note: The above tips are some of the practices that Professional Physical Therapy has observed in the area of physical therapy and athletic training. While each person and activity is unique, there are some general guidelines that may reduce or lessen injury.
¹Auburn University. AU study shows that overuse of flip-flops can lead to orthopedic problems. http://wireeagle.auburn.edu/news/359. June 3, 2008.