Nothing says summertime like sun-kissed skin, barbecues and, you guessed it, flip-flops.
Flip-flops are the epitome of easy-going summer living. You may even sport them year-round in lieu of slippers.
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But are flip-flops bad for your feet? And is it bad to wear them all the time?
Here, Alex Kor, DPM, a podiatrist at Witham Health Services and clinical assistant professor for Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine, explains how flip-flops affect foot health and shares how to select supportive summer sandals.
9 Risks of Wearing Flip-Flops Every Day
There are a few things that can happen when you wear flip-flops all the time:
1. You Might Have Heel Pain
If you wear flip-flops every day, you can initiate or exacerbate heel pain, Dr. Kor says. This typically happens because flip-flops have a flimsy design.
Indeed, "most flip-flops don't offer any support of the plantar fascia," i.e., the bowstring-shaped band of tissue that supports your arch and absorbs shock, he says.
Without sufficient support, shock absorption or cushion, the burden of each step (aka your body weight) will fall on your heel, according to Temple Health. (Ouch.)
Wearing flip-flops too often can then contribute to the following foot problems, per Dr. Kor:
- Plantar fasciitis: inflammation of the plantar fascia
- Achilles tendonitis: a painful overuse injury of the Achilles tendon (the band of tissue that extends from the calf muscles to your heel bone)
2. You May Get a Hammertoe
Occasional flip-flop use will not cause a straight toe to become crooked. "But wearing flip-flops on a regular basis for many years can eventually lead (with certain foot types) to formation of a hammertoe," Dr. Kor says.
A hammertoe is when your toe becomes bent at the middle joint, causing deformity and pain. Other symptoms of hammertoe include the following, per the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS):
- Swelling or redness
- Inability to straighten the toe
- Difficulty walking
- A corn or callus on the top of the middle joint of the toe or on the tip of the toe
Flip-flops, in particular, can contribute to hammertoe because your toes have to "grip" the shoe to keep it on. This can result in permanent contracture, Dr. Kor says.
3. It Could Worsen Arch Issues
If you have any arch issues — like flat feet or arch pain — wearing flip-flops a lot will likely aggravate them.
It's true: Your "flip-flop selection can cause your foot anatomy to worsen over the years," Dr. Kor says.
Once again, the problem lies with the often-flimsy structure of flip-flops, especially in the midfoot area. "Any lack of support in sandals can result in progression of a person's flat foot and can contribute to or cause arch pain," Dr. Kor says.
For example, even a mild flat foot can progress to a moderate or severe flat foot after years of frequent flip-flop wear, he says.
4. You Could Get Back Pain
Notice an aching back whenever you wear flip-flops? It's not your imagination.
Wearing flip-flops is not usually the primary reason for back pain, but it can certainly contribute to it, Dr. Kor says.
The shoe's lack of support is especially problematic if you're an overpronator (i.e. your foot rolls inward when you walk) because it may exacerbate these abnormal foot biomechanics, Dr. Kor says.
As the rest of your body works overtime to compensate, it can create a domino effect up your legs that can eventually be felt in your back.
5. You’re More Likely to Catch a Foot Infection
When you wear flip-flops all the time, your bare feet become exposed to a number of pathogens — like fungus.
"Flip-flops can serve as a hotbed for foot fungus," Dr. Kor says.
This is because they offer little protection from pesky microbes that might be lingering on the floor. Your feet are then more likely to come in contact with things like fungus, which can infect your skin or nails.
And your odds of infection only increase if your flip-flops are dirty. "If flip-flops are not cleaned on a regular basis, they can harbor moisture and fungus," Dr. Kor says.
Making matters worse, "the materials flip-flops are made out of [rubber or plastic] don't wick the moisture away very well," he adds.
Translation: Fungus and other bacteria will multiply in this humid environment and flourish on your flip-flops. Gross.
6. You May Develop Blisters
Anyone who's ever worn flip-flops has felt the pain of a throbbing blister on their big toe at one time or another. Blame it on all the rubbing.
"The strap that's typically present between the big toe and second toe can result in friction, which can progress to a blister," Dr. Kor says.
And if that blister breaks, the open skin (which becomes an easy entryway for germs) may be more susceptible to a bacterial or fungal infection, he says.
7. Your Posture Might Suffer
Not only can frequent flip-flop use exacerbate back issues, but it can also affect your posture.
"There is no doubt that wearing flip-flops for long periods of time and walking long distances can adversely affect posture," Dr. Kor says.
That's because when we wear flip-flops, the way we walk often changes. Without the support of a sturdy shoe, we sort of shuffle. And to keep the shoe on, the muscles in the foot and toes have to stay in a "gripped" position, leading to an unusual gait pattern, which can lead to posture problems.
8. You May Develop Metatarsalgia
Another issue with traditional flip-flops is that they put too much pressure on the top of your foot, and this can cause metatarsalgia, Dr. Kor says.
Metatarsalgia occurs when the ball of your foot becomes sore and inflamed. Signs of metatarsalgia may include the following, per the Mayo Clinic:
- Sharp, aching or burning pain in the ball of your foot
- Pain that worsens when you stand, run, flex your feet or walk — especially barefoot on a hard surface — and improves when you rest
- Sharp or shooting pain, numbness or tingling in your toes
- A feeling of having a pebble in your shoe
In some cases, wearing footwear like flip-flops — which lack shock-absorbing insoles and arch supports — can even lead to a stress fracture of the metatarsal bone, Dr. Kor says.
9. You Could Sprain Your Ankle
Do your ankles feel a little wobbly when you wear flip-flops? That's because "flip-flops do not offer any ankle support," Dr. Kor says.
Your ankle could easily twist if you take a misstep or step on a rock (heck, even a small pebble), Dr. Kor says. Your odds of ankle injury are also greater if you have a previous history of ankle sprains or "weak ankles" (i.e. lateral ankle instability), he adds.
That's why if you already have or have had an ankle injury, Dr. Kor recommends wearing an ankle brace with flip-flops to prevent further injury.
Who Should Not Wear Flip-Flops?
Dr. Kor thinks most people should avoid wearing flip-flops too often, but there are some people who should steer clear of them altogether.
These include people with the following conditions:
- Diabetes (with or without neuropathy)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Balance problems
- A history of stroke
"There is an increased incidence of falls, puncture wounds, toe or other bone fractures in people with these conditions," he says.
How to Find Supportive Flip-Flops
If you're wanting a comfy summer sandal, there are supportive flip-flops out there, and even more sturdy sandals. Here's what to look for when buying footwear, Dr. Kor says:
- Flexion stability: Shoes that don't easily bend in the midfoot
- A rigid shank: A shoe that has a supportive structure between the insole and outsole, which lends sturdiness and stability
- Sufficient cushioning and shock absorption
(Keep in mind that sandals with straps — as opposed to those you slip on — usually stay put on your foot much better, which allows for a more natural gait pattern.)
As far as everyday sandals, Dr. Kor recommends Birkenstocks, which tick off all these boxes. "They are known to have a very rigid shank and support throughout the footbed.
Plus, the fabric is durable, which enhances the circulation of air and helps wick away moisture, he says.
But keep in mind: "Birkenstocks cannot be submersed in water (i.e. tossed in the washing machine), and some consumers complain that they are too hard," he adds.
Shop Our Picks for the Best Supportive Sandals
So, How Bad Is It Really to Wear Flip-Flops Every Day?
Flip-flops might be your favorite summer sandals, but unfortunately, they're not doing your feet (or your back) any favors. While they're super easy to slip on, they simply lack proper support, which can wreak havoc on your foot health in more ways than one.
When it comes to flip-flops, "there are often too many negatives that outweigh limited positives." Dr. Kor says. Therefore, he doesn't recommend regular wear of flip-flops.
But that doesn't mean you can't wear flip-flops on occasion (think: when you're poolside or in shared spaces like the gym shower or locker room).
Just don't make flip-flop use a habit. For everyday footwear, stick to sturdier sandals or closed-toe shoes.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.