Flip-Flop season is arriving soon and for many of you, it means soaking up the sun, walking bare feet in the sand, and enjoying margaritas. 😊
There are wide-ranging opinions and controversies on the pros and cons of flip-flops for foot health. With that comes many healthcare professionals that have strong views on this universal warm-weather footwear. But, before I jump into that and give you advice, it is very important you understand how your feet are meant to function and how injuries occur.
Each of your feet has 7,000 nerve endings, 28 bones, 30 joints, and more than 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons. These adaptable tissues work greatly together to give you stability, balance, grip, and strength, and serve as shock absorbers as we walk, propelling us forward and in other directions. The foot MUST be flexible and strong to ADAPT to uneven surfaces and remain stable.
How Does Foot Injuries Occur
Most injuries occur when there is too much mechanical stress applied on your tissues, bones, and cartilage too fast. A couple of examples are, starting a new activity for the first time and going “all out” at your full potential in a short amount of time, making a sudden radical change with your exercise routine, or the type of shoes you wear exercising or walking daily (ie: going from flat to high heel shoes).
As Canadians, we live in a seasonal climate where many people tend to develop more of a sedentary lifestyle and wear boots daily throughout the winter. Over time, this creates our feet to become less mobile, weaker, and less stable from being “over-protected”. When you suddenly start wearing flip-flops during the spring season after wearing closed, heavy, and clunky shoes or boots all winter, you are at a higher risk of developing foot injuries. UNLESS you have prepared your feet adequately by “loading” and applying some amount of mechanical stress to your foot tissues and joints. This is my most important foot injury prevention advice that you must leave with today.
Prepare for Flip-Flop Season
To increase your foot muscles’ strength, mobility, and stability, you need to apply minimal load frequently so that your foot structures can adapt to the stress and increase their tolerance. Here are some simple but very important examples of how you can prepare your feet:
1. Walking bare feet at home
- If you are used to walking with slippers or shoes in your home, start this transition gradually for about 5-10 minutes/day by increasing a couple of minutes per day.
2. Plantar muscles strengthening exercise
- Arch Intrinsic Muscles:
- Stand barefoot holding on to the wall and lifting the inside of one foot (inversion).
- Lower the big toe while keeping the arch supported and contracted. Keep the weight on your big toe’s joint while holding your small toes up. Hold 10 sec, relax, and repeat 10 X a day. Alternate with the other foot.
3. Toe Dissociation Exercise:
- Sit in a chair barefoot. With one foot, lift the big toe up and push the other four toes into the ground. Next, push your big toe down and lift and splay the other 4 toes off the ground.
- Repeat cycle 10 X/day and with the other foot.
4. Calf and foot stretching:
- Standing Calf Stretching: Stand and place both hands on a wall, with your feet about half a meter from the wall. Place one leg behind the other and lean your body forward without bending the back knee until you feel a stretch in your back calf. Hold 45 secs and alternate legs.
- Foot stretching: Sitting or standing, place a ball (Lacrosse, tennis, or frozen water bottle) under your foot, and roll the ball up and down and side to side to release the plantar fascia. Do this daily.
Now that you have the right exercises to strengthen your feet, let’s get back to the question “Are flip-flops bad for your feet?” My professional opinion on this topic is that it’s not about the footwear per se, but about whether or not your feet are ready for them. There are no scientific studies showing any evidence of the correlation between foot health and flip-flop footwear. I personally love wearing flip-flops, and I wear them a lot in the summer. But strengthening my feet, and walking barefoot at home, has allowed the structures of my feet to adapt and withstand the mechanical stresses I put them through.
We are all born with different bodies and foot shapes. There are no shapes better than others. Take good care of them and they will take care of you! 😉
If you have any questions, need help with any foot problems you may have, or simply need more guidance with getting ready for flip-flop season, please reach out. My team and I are always here for you!