• Christina Hellmann

Flip flops and foot health

The sun is out – hurrah! Summer is definitely on its way. It’s the time for beach days, picnics in the park and BBQs with friends and families. For me, it’s also the time where I start seeing more foot related issues in clinic and the big reason being…flip flops! Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to start telling you to never wear flip flops. We all have a pair or two and who doesn’t love wearing them in the hot weather? It is true that flip flops can affect the mechanics of your feet and this can lead to musculoskeletal issues in the body but rather than never wearing them, I wanted to share with you some exercises and stretches for your feet so that you can help keep them nice and strong over the summer whilst still enjoying flip flop season!

Why do flip flops negatively affect feet?

  1. Flip flops affect our walking mechanics - this is because a flip flop is essentially a relatively flat piece of foam. It doesn’t bend like the foot does when walking. Because it doesn’t follow the bend of our feet, it causes the muscles in our feet and legs to work harder to move through the gait cycle. This then causes the knees, hips and back joints to compensate and may lead to overuse injuries such as tendonitis, heel pain and pinched nerves.

  2. Flip flops can damage the joints in the toes - this is because the only thing the holds the flip flop on to our feet is the thin strap that sits between our first and second toes. Therefore, every time we take a step with a flip flop on, our toes, grip on to the surface of the flip flop to keep them on our feet. Over time this can cause pain and stiffness in the toes and also aggravate existing bunions.

  3. Flip flops damage our heels - this is because with any shoe, our heels are always the first thing that hits the ground when we walk. If the shoe is sturdy and supportive, the shoe absorbs most of this impact before it reaches our heels. However, because flip flops are made of soft foam, there’s very little to absorb the impact of heel strike. Walking in flip flops for an extended period of time can cause pain in the heel, leading to damage in the area or tendinitis in the Achilles tendon.

  4. Flip flops expose the feet to germs and infections – particularly if walking around public areas where bacteria, viral and fungal infections are more common. These infections can irritate the skin on the feet and can severely affect our health. This is more of a problem if there are any existing blisters or cuts on the feet where bacteria can enter the skin.

  5. Flip flops can make us clumsier - this is because flip flops are not very stable. This makes us more likely to trip and injure our ankles through sprain or fracture.

Exercises to strengthen the feet

  1. Toe curling – toe curling helps to train the intrinsic muscles of the feet. You can perform this lying down, sitting or standing. Curl the toes for five seconds, then release and repeat ten times.

  2. Toe extensions – this is the opposite to toe curling and helps to strengthen the toe extensor muscles. Again, this can be done in any position. Lift the toes towards your head for five seconds, then release and repeat ten times.

  3. Heel raises – this exercise helps to strengthen the muscles and tendons around the ankle joint and make the ankle more stable. This is very important as a strong ankle is less likely to be injured e.g. by twisting your ankle. Stand on both feet and lift the heels as high as you can. You can use the wall to stabilise yourself if you feel nervous about your balance. Hold this position for five seconds, then relax the heels back to the floor again. Repeat ten times. To make this exercise harder, try doing a heel raise one leg at a time.

  4. Walk around bare foot – when at home, it’s recommended to walk around with no shoes on at all. This helps to strengthen the foot muscles. It also helps with our postural stability as the soles of the feet will be receiving lots of sensory information from the surfaces that they come into contact with.

  5. Toe stretches – having lots of mobility in the toes is very important so stretching them out is a great way to keep them flexible and mobile. Sit in a chair with the left foot flat on the floor. Bring the right foot up to rest on the left thigh. Use your fingers to gently stretch the big toe up, down and side to side. Hold each stretch for 5 seconds, and repeat ten times. Then do the same for the rest of the toes on the same foot. Once you have finished stretching all the toes out on the right foot, relax it flat on the floor and then bring up the left foot to rest it on the right thigh and repeat all the stretches on the left foot.

I hope the above exercises are helpful. Give them a go so that you can comfortably wear your flip flops this summer without compromising your foot and ankle health! And if you have any concerns about your own feet or have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch!