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Are your flip flops making your feet flop?

Updated: Jul 3, 2022

Are your flip flops making your feet flop ??

As the UK weather finally warms up the urge to feel a cool breeze around our toes and show off our new pedicure is strong and I bet most of us are reaching to the back of the wardrobe for a pair of these bad boys. Easy to throw on in a hurry and slip off quickly for a paddle in the sea, flip flops are the epitome of easy, cheap summer footwear. But ........ are they causing us more problems for our bodies by wearing them ??

In clinic we definitely see a rise in the number of foot and knee pains as the summer wears on. In the blistering heat of summer 2018 we saw a 35% rise in the number of people presenting with a first episode of foot or knee pain. Common complaints included plantar fascititis, pain in the big toe ( bunion pain ) and non specific pain in the inside portion of the knee. So are these issues associated with a change in our footwear or is it something more ?

So what's the problem with flip flops ?

  • No cushioning for the sole of the foot

Flip flops are really, really flat. Most are completely flat with no increase in height along the length of the footbed and usually little or no cushioning in the sole of the shoe. ( this is usually especially true with cheap flip flops ) . This can mean the heads of the toe bones impact onto the floor leading to pain under the ball of the foot and sometimes a really nasty low grade grumbling inflammation of the fat pad under the foot.

  • No support or straps for the foot.

This is the biggie ! Pay attention, stick with me ... here comes the science part !

Flip flops have no strap or support at the back of the heel which means the foot and calf muscles have to work much, much harder to be able to hang onto the shoe and stop you walking out of it. When you walk this makes the toes clamp down rather than lifting and fanning out nicely as they should so the foot hits the floor in completely the wrong pattern and the normal ' switching on ' of muscles in the leg doesn't happen properly.

Over time this is really hard work for your foot and calf muscles so as they begin to fatigue the muscles further up the leg try and compensate for them. The most common way is for the hips to turn outwards to try and hang on to the shoes. You begin to walk like a duck, waddling along with the feet turned out and your leg muscles either overwork or underwork ( especially the glutes ! ).

So why is this important ?

In a building if the foundations aren't stable and functioning properly then the roof and walls can be wonky. Our bodies are no different - our feet are our foundations and if they don't function well then it can have a knock on effect further up the body. Not everyone gets problems or pains but it is important for the body to be able to function well so that if for some reason you do need to increase the demands placed on your body e.g a new job or hobby, long walks on holidays etc, it's vital that your muscles are able to step up to the task. It's impossible ot do that if you haven't trained it to do so.

How to combat this ?

  • Choose shoes with a strap at the back - less disturbance for the normal mechanics of the feet

  • Stretch out your calf muscles - tight calf muscles don't allow the foot to move smoothly through the full range - this is even more important in runners and sports folks.

  • Strengthen your calf muscles - yes really, just because a muscle is short doesn't mean it's strong. Weak calf muscles can give problems with the feet and the knees.

  • Best and quickest way is to just ditch the flip flops !! If you must wear them then make sure they have robust straps that come a little further up the foot and preferably some inbuilt support. Think along the lines of FitFlops and Birkenstocks, they offer a little more support and cushioning and allow the foot to move correctly.


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