Warmer weather means lighter clothing all around, and footwear is no exception. But before you grab the flip-flops for summer outings and activities, Eagle River physical therapist Chris Wilson of Ideal Motion Physical Therapy offers a word of caution: long-term flip-flop use can not only be bad for the feet, but also other parts of your body.
“While flip-flops are often the go-to footwear for summer, there’s probably no worse footwear out there for the health of your feet,” said Wilson, owner of Ideal Motion Physical Therapy. “And since your feet serve as the foundation of the rest of your body, poor footwear can lead to a chain reaction of ailments and pain up your body, from your ankles and knees to your hips and back.”
Why? Because not only do flip-flops offer little protection or support for your feet, but they also alter the way you walk – and not for the better.
According to researchers who recently studied their use at Auburn University, who reported their findings at the American College of Sports Medicine, flip-flips change a person’s gait in ways that can lead to sole, heal and ankle problems. By forcing wearers to scrunch their toes up as they walk in order to hold on the footwear, flip-flops lead people to take shorter strides that tuned wearers’ angles inward, which can lead to plantar fasciitis and ankle pain.
Such lack of support can also affect joints throughout the kinetic chain, contributing to pain and injury in the knees, hips and back. This relevant to everyone, but especially to those who already suffer from chronic lumbar pain, says Wilson.
“With flip-flops, your feet make contact to the ground differently and without a lot of support, which puts pressure on the outside edges of the feet,” Wilson said. “This leads to a slight rotation in the lower part of your leg, which in turn changes the angle of your pelvis and a slight twisting in the lower spine. Over time, this can take its toll.”
All of this said, however, Wilson doesn’t suggest we fear the flip-flop. Rather, we simply must wear when appropriate and with caution. The following are a few suggestions for accomplishing this:
Don’t live in your flip-flops. In other words, flip-flops have a time and a place – in the shower, on the beach, the backyard, etc. But don’t wear your flip-flops during long walks, workouts, stop-and-go activities, or revert to them as your be-all shoes for the summer.
Listen to your body. Even if you’re being smart about your flip-flop use, continue to listen to your body. Discomfort or pain in your foot, ankles, knees, hips, and/or back can indicate that your gait and stance requires better support at its foundation: the feet.
Be prepared with alternative summer footwear. Complement your flip-flop wear with sandals that provide additional foot support and a strap across the back of the foot that holds them on better. Or consider hybrid sneaker sandals if you plan to be more active.
If one does find that he or she experiences foot pain or ailments (which may be related to improper footwear) that makes walking, jogging or movement more difficult this summer, Wilson points out that a licensed physical therapist like those on the Ideal Motion Physical Therapy team can perform a thorough gait analysis and pain evaluation. Such efforts go far toward helping ensure the body’s foundation is always protected through the use of proper footwear.