Flip-flops and other slip-on shoes wreck your feet and they wreck your body.
As a child in the 70s growing up in Hong Kong, I pretty much lived in flip flops. I even wore them to go to school. It wasn’t until at least my early 30s that I started noticing that my knees and back hurt while wearing them.
Flip flops are often called foot f*ckers by people who know what they do to your body. That’s pretty strong but says it all!
Why are slip-on shoes bad for your feet?
Is it because they don’t offer enough support? Lots of people think that so you’d be forgiven if you think that too. There are many people who think that what the foot needs is support at the ankle, a moulded foot-bed with support for the arch and a well-cushioned sole. But feet don’t need that and that’s not why flip-flops are no good for your feet and body.
They are foot and body wreckers because to stop flip flops flying off as you walk, you need to hold on to them with your toes. If you can slip a shoe on without attaching a strap or tying a lace then this will always be the case. If you can slip ‘em on, they can slip off.
Toes gripping all the time means our toe flexor muscles are overworking. It probably means out toe extensors are underworking. Overworking and underworking muscles are tight and feel painful.
How does wearing slip-on shoes affect the rest of your body?
Whatever affects our feet will also affect the rest of our body. So the problem with toe flexion (gripping) isn’t only in the foot.
Aching calf muscles
Toe gripping will result in aching calf muscles because our toe flexing muscles connect past the ankle to your calf. So they aren’t just foot muscles, they are lower leg muscles too. Remember that when one set of muscles is overworking, other muscles are underworking. Underworking muscles and overworking muscles all can feel painful.
The need to hold onto our shoes as we walk changes our walking pattern. We often end up with a “legs forward” walk. What I mean by that is that we don’t allow our legs to go far behind us while we walk. We usually push off the floor behind us to propel ourselves forward. Wearing shoes that aren’t attached to our feet means we keep our legs more in front (to keep our shoes on our feet). So we end up walking with our quads (thigh muscles) and not our glutes (bum muscles). Tight overused quads = sore knees.
Backache and neck pain
There’s a natural pattern to our whole body during a walking cycle (often referred to as the gait cycle). In each stage of the gait cycle our feet, legs, pelvis, spine, head and arms are all in a beautiful pattern of movement. Nearly all of the muscles of the body coordinate with each other and set up new shapes for the body. All the different parts of the body join in and have a specific place in the pattern. But toes being in flexion does not fit all of those patterns. The moment when we grip our toes the greatest to hold onto our shoe is when our leg is swinging through to take a new step. This moment, when we are at maximum toe flexion, is the exact moment that the toes should be and need to be extending. Then what happens? If those toes aren’t able to move the way they need to, at the moment they should, then the rest of the body also can’t keep to the gait cycle pattern. A lack of movement in one place in the body will force another part of the body to move too much. Muscles have to compensate. Cue back pain and neck pain.
Shoes that aren’t doing your feet (and body) any good
What shoes don’t help our feet and body? Flip flops for sure but it’s not just flip flops. It’s any sort of slip on shoes that require us to hold them on with our toes. These shoes don’t have a strap to attach round the back or laces to tie them onto your feet. This includes flip flops, sliders, mules, a lot of house slippers. It also includes quite a few shoes that are marketed as healthy, good-for-your-feet, wise-choice shoes (don’t get me started on a conversation about that…).
Remember if you can slip ‘em on, they can slip off.
It’s best to bear in mind that we are animals and not built to wear shoes. Any shoe choice should be aimed to change as little as possible to natural shape, alignment and positioning of the foot. The foot affects the ankle, the ankle affects the knee, the knee affects the hip, and the hip affects the spine.
What can you wear instead?
As an alternative summer shoe, find similar light shoes but with a strap around the heel to FIRMLY hold it onto your foot. A good test is to check that you can run in them. Or you can test by picking your foot off the floor and giving it a massive shake to see if the shoe stays firmly on.
Luna sandals are fabulous (https://lunasandals.com/) , as are Xero shoes (https://xeroshoes.com/) and Earthrunners (https://www.earthrunners.com/). And that’s just to get you started. There are lots out there and once you’ve experienced the freedom from pain of not needing to toe-grip you’ll never go back.