Flip-flops make up a quintessential part of the summer wardrobe. They come in a variety of prices and styles, from $5 slices of neon foam to luxury footwear made of hand-crafted leather.
Many people enjoy flip-flops because they take only a moment to slip on and off, and they provide hot feet with plenty of breathing room.
Still, even though flip-flops offer convenience and comfort, you don’t want to wear them every day. Flip-flops are too delicate for heavy use, and they can’t offer the support your feet need for daily life.
While occasionally wearing flip-flops may not pose a major health risk, it’s important to wear them in moderation. If you overwear your flip-flops, your aching feet may complain later. Over time, flip-flops may change the way you walk and contribute to problems like shin splints.
Read on to learn more about how flip-flops can affect your feet and how to pick a good pair.
Flip-flops can work well for short-term, casual use — for example, if you need to dip outside to grab the newspaper or accept a pizza delivery. Rubber or plastic flip-flops are often easy to clean and quick-drying, which also makes them ideal for wetter locations like the beach.
If you have to choose between flip-flops and going barefoot, shoes of any kind make a safer choice.
Protect your feet
When you go barefoot outside, you run the risk of:
- stepping on splinters, glass, or other small, sharp objects
- burning your feet on hot sand or concrete
- getting blisters or rashes from rough surfaces
- developing a bacterial or fungal infection, especially in areas with standing water
Wearing flip-flops in public showers, like at gyms or university dorms, can also help you protect your feet from common infections.
Flip-flops might have you covered in certain situations, but other circumstances call for sturdier shoes. You’ll typically want to grab more supportive footwear when:
Walking long distances
Most flip-flops just can’t go the distance. Their thin, flimsy platforms don’t offer significant shock absorption, and they rarely provide arch support or heel cushioning.
After a trek in flip-flops, you’ll likely notice your feet ache, almost as if you wore no shoes at all.
You’ll probably find it tough to run and jump in flip-flops. The same loose fit that makes them easy to slip on also makes them prone to flying in the air whenever you try to kick a ball. Even if you manage to keep your shoe on and connect with the ball, you may squish your poor, unprotected toes.
Most flip-flops don’t offer much traction on the ground, either. If you slip, the shoe’s lack of structure can make it easier to twist or sprain your ankle.
Just like you might remember from gym class, it’s always a good idea to wear closed-toe shoes for sports and other outdoor activities.
According to the Missouri Highway Patrol, you may want to take your flip-flops off before getting behind the wheel. Thin flip-flops can bend and get stuck under the brake pedal, making it hard to stop your car in time.
Wet flip-flops can pose a different problem: You might find your foot keeps slipping off the pedals before you can push them down.
When you’re driving a car, even a second of delay can cause a crash. Wearing closed-heel footwear is generally your safest option.
Too much time in flip-flops can contribute to a number of leg and feet issues, including:
When you slide your feet into a flip-flop, the skin on your toes may rub against the strap. If your feet are sweaty or wet, this moisture and friction can form the perfect recipe for blisters.
Blisters between your toes can prove
In short, you may have more luck preventing blisters from appearing in the first place, and limiting flip-flop use can help.
Your plantar fascia is a ligament that runs along the bottom of your foot, connecting your heel to your toes. When your plantar fascia tears, it can cause pain in your heel called plantar fasciitis.
Flip-flops can make plantar fasciitis more likely. Here’s why:
- Your toes need to flex and grip the strap to keep the shoes on. This may cause the ligament to stretch.
- Without arch support, your foot flattens more than usual when you step down. This can also cause the ligament to stretch.
- When you take a step, your heel meets the ground first. Without cushioning to soften the strike, the tissue around your heel absorbs the force of the impact, stressing the ligament further.
If you have plantar fasciitis, try these shoes instead.
Your ankles tend to roll more when you wear flip-flops. For short periods, this change in gait probably won’t pose a serious concern. But over time, your ankles may grow less steady, making them more vulnerable to sprains.
Walking in flip-flops makes the muscles in the front of your leg work harder than they would if you went barefoot, or wore more supportive footwear.
Overusing these muscles can cause them to develop tiny tears and become painfully inflamed. This leads to medial tibial stress syndrome, commonly called shin splints.
Some kinds of flip-flops are less likely to cause injury than others.
For example, some flip-flops have more of a T-shape than the classic V, with straps that circle your foot near the ankle.
That said, sandals that circle the back of your ankle will provide even more stability.
You may also want to check out the footbed on any potential purchase. Some flip-flops come with arch support and extra cushioning. These styles can help prevent heel pain, though they may cost more than generic flat flip-flops.
Flip-flops vs. slides
The flip-flop’s sibling shoe is the slide, which has one strap that goes straight across your foot. Since slides have no grip for your toes, you might wonder if they’re better for your feet.
Experts have also found little difference between flip-flops and Croc slip-ons. According to two separate studies, Crocs didn’t appear to offer any advantages in walking pace or balance, though they do provide toe coverage.
Flip-flops might offer convenience, comfort, and even style for your feet, but they aren’t suitable for physical activity. If you wear them too frequently, your feet and legs may start aching due to lack of support.
To sum up, you’ll probably want to reserve flip-flops for taking out the trash, showering at the gym, or wading at the beach. For anything more strenuous, you’re better off grabbing sturdier shoes.
Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.