Every year, come Spring, we get the warnings about how bad flip-flops are for your feet. And this year, the Huffington Post does not disappoint, with Flip Flops: Do They Hurt Your Feet?. It really is crap, because the answer is “no”.
First, if, after wearing shoes all winter long, might your feet hurt if you suddenly switch to flip-flops? Yes. Just as if, after sitting on your butt all winter long, you suddenly try to run six miles, will your whole body hurt? Yes.
But does that mean you should keep sitting on your butt? Of course not. It does mean, though, that it might make sense to ease back into things. Or, even better, you should not have stopped running over the winter. And foot-wise, you probably shouldn’t have been wearing shoes over the winter either (except when absolutely necessary to protect against the cold).
The HuffPoo article blindly repeats the usual shibboleths:
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.
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.
We’ve gone over this before: problematic flat feet are caused by shoes; cultures that do not wear shoes do not have that problem. You do not need support unless you have let your muscles atrophy. When the muscles are used, they support themselves quite nicely. (My old example: I play tennis. I suggest that you support your arm in a sling for six weeks. At the end of six weeks, let’s play a game of tennis, with your supported
arm. Who is going to win?)
The article also says:
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.
That recent study? It is probably Comparative Analysis of Human Gait While Wearing Thong-Style Flip-flops versus Sneakers. All it says is that the gait is different:
Conclusions: The effects of footwear on gait kinetics and kinematics is extensive, but there is limited research on the effect of thong-style flip-flops on gait. These results suggest that flip-flops have an effect on several kinetic and kinematic variables compared with sneakers.
The study says NOTHING about “a powerful force is transferred up our legs, putting additional stress on our lower body.” In fact, the study specifically notes that walking with flip-flops is closer to the normal shorter stride associated with walking barefoot:
Previous research comparing barefoot walking with walking in shoes has demonstrated that barefoot walking yields smaller stride lengths. In one study, gait characteristics of individuals wearing slippers and walking barefoot were similar. If it is accepted that thong-style flip-flops are somewhat comparable with slippers, the present study supports these previous findings in that significant decreases in stride length while wearing flip-flops were observed.
I’m not surprised. When wearing sneakers, you can pound your heel into the ground with a longer stride and not feel the increased forces on your knees and farther up your body. (And there are studies showing that.)
The whole HuffPo article is based on noting a shorter stride, and then makes wild suppositions based on that (and uncritical acceptance of myth). Of course, from my point of view, even the flip-flops are unnecessary. They probably do alter the gait as compared to the natural barefooted gait we evolved with. But they sure are a heck of a lot better than arch-support shoes (unless you’ve completely ruined the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of your feet by letting them become virtual couch potatoes).
I’ve actually done a long hike in flip-flops. When I was in Yellowstone in 2006, I did one ten-mile hike that was over a lot of scree. It made me a bit foot sore, so for my next hike, I just did it in flip-flops. Smashed the heck out of the flip-flops, but my feet were just fine. But then again, my feet were used to going barefoot, so my arches did not need “support” — they knew how to support themselves.
So, my advice? Well, obviously, with warmer weather her, ditch the shoes completely, including flip-flops. But if that makes you too uncomfortable, I understand. Regardless, ease your way into things. Remember that your feet have spent the winter practicing how to be pudding. Give them a chance to strengthen up.
Oh, and you really should get some other exercise, too.