Flip Flops Are Terrible for Your Feet—These Are the Best Podiatrist-Approved Pairs
Flip flops have become the unofficial shoe of quarantine. They're comfortable, easy to slip on and off, and they're just as functional inside of the house as they are for running errands, which could explain why searches for the shoe are up 53 percent since June. But while we all may love flip flops for our quarantine needs, podiatrists say "not so fast."
Why are flip flops bad for your feet?
"Flip flops really are that bad," says Miguel Cunha, DPM, board-certified podiatric surgeon and founder of Gotham Footcare. "I typically encourage my patients to avoid wearing flip flops for prolonged periods of time because this particular shoe allows our foot to collapse, affecting our gait and posture, which can lead to a tremendous amount of stress not only to the foot but to the rest of the body."
Wearing flip flops messes with the distribution of weight and pressure across the foot, which creates problems all around. "This imbalance may increase the progression of underlying foot deformities, like bunions and hammertoes, and lead to painful conditions associated with excessive pronation such as arch and heel pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, posterior tibial tendonitis, and Achilles tendonitis," says Dr. Cunha. In addition to leaving your foot in pain, the imbalance can move upward in your body and screw with the balance of your knees, hips, and back.
And, since most flip flops offer no support for your foot, they can cause stress up the back of your heel (aka your Achilles tendon), and all that gripping with your toes can cause pain later on when you try to shove them into your sneakers or closed-toe slides. If you absolutely have to wear flip flops—and trust me, I'm right there with you—you should try to limit it to short periods of time. "They should also have at least some arch support, a cushioned sole, and supportive straps," says Dr. Cunha. "The best material for flip flops would be a sturdy rubber sole to avoid falls, and an antimicrobial foot bed can help you avoid getting fungus and warts."
How often should you wear flip flops?
Flip flops are generally flimsy open shoes that should not be worn for long durations. "Flip flops cause excessive motion in the heel, decreasing stability and overuse of the tendons in the toes. Nonetheless, flip flops easily come on and off making them a good selection for poolside, beachside, or just cabana-side use," says NYC Podiatrist Dr. Nelya Lobkova, DPM at Step Up Footcare.
Michael Fishkin, a Certified Pedorthist at Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, echoes the statement that flip flops should be transitional footwear. "If you are leaving the gym, going to the car, driving home and so forth, then flip flops are fine." But, he adds "flip flops can exacerbate back pain. They can induce instability. And I don't really recommend flip flops to be used for a lot of people, but there are some flip flops that do have excellent arch support to them, like Spenco."
What to look for in a flip flop with arch support
What makes a good flip-flop could be attributed to a few factors, most notably the footbed, says Lobkova. A footbed that is ergonomic and has an arch support such as in a Birkenstock makes the flip-flop comfortable and able to be worn for prolonged periods of time. When looking for a flip flop with an arch support, Lobkova recommends to put your hand inside the insole of the flip flop. "There should be a firm bump or elevation in the arch area (midsection of the flip flop)," she says. "I emphasize firm because some flip flops are soft and use memory foam, which collapses when you stand on them thus providing minimal to no actual arch support. The upper of the flip-flop is essentially the straps, their placement and material." In addition, your flip-flops should not be too stiff or too soft, so you're not gripping the toes or cutting off at the skin.
Read on for the best flip flops with arch support that won't mess with your feet—or the rest of your body—for the rest of quarantine and beyond.
Best flip flops with arch support
These flippers have earned themselves a seal of acceptance by the American Podiatric Medical Association (AMPA), so you know they’re the real deal as far as support goes. “These sandals are lightweight and have a flexible EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate) footbed which absorbs shock, reducing stress on feet, ankles, and knees,” says Dr. Cunha. Plus, they’ve got a little bit of lift, which means they can technically count as high-heels for your more formal flip flop-wearing scenarios.
Birkenstocks are back in a major way, and they will work wonders for your feet in flip-flop form. “These are modeled on the cork sandal and their footbed will offer the same comfort and arch support you would expect from Birkenstock,” says Dr. Cunha. “These flip flops are also ultra-lightweight, highly flexible, shock-absorbent, waterproof, and skin-friendly.” The flip flop strap placement is also superior to a standard thong flip-flop for stabilizing the ankle and heel, says Lobkova. Plus, they come in all kinds of fun colors—from dusty blue to glamour gold—which means you can pick a pair to go with every outfit.
Similar to the Birkenstock pick, these Merrell sandals have a strap placement that’s good for stabilizing the foot, says Lobkova. The insole is contoured for arch support (and lined to help prevent odors), and they’re made of recycled materials.
OOfos sandals use their proprietary OOfoam technology that absorbs 37 percent more of impact than traditional footwear, reduces stress on your joints, and cradles your arches, all of which are welcome features when you’re wearing flip flops.
If you love the cushioning of a pair of HOKA sneakers, you’ll also love these flip flops. They have a jersey textile strap that won’t dig into your feet, and meta-rocker sole to provide comfort and support with every step. Lobkova says these are also a great option for people with wide feet.
With arch support and a deep cup heel, these Spenco sandals are great for the pool or after a workout. Fishkin says the arch support is built right into this sandal. Spenco also makes over-the-counter arch supports, so they build their technology into the flip bed of the sandal.
These Birks have the traditional contoured footbed that provides arch support, but also straps that higher up on the foot for stability. You can slide your toe through a piece and still tighten that over where the ball of your foot is, says Fishkin.
Looking for a twist on your classic Tevas? These flip flops have a quick-dry webbing made from recycled plastic, and the cushion conforms to your foot. Fishkin says Teva generally has supportive flip flops, but to look for sandals that have a strap over the top of the foot for more stability.
Not only do Chaco flip flops have a durable and contoured footbed with arch support, they’re also accepted by the AMPA. You can wear them on dry or wet land, and the textile strap is connected to shoe via reinforced toe posts.
Another flip flop with the AMPA-seal, the FitFlop Lulu has a biomechanically engineered, ergonomic footbed with firm cushion under the heel, medium under the toes, and soft under the midfoot. The wide straps sit more comfortably on top of the foot, too.
These flip flops are supportive and lightweight, with a corrective footbed. The EVA construction gives them soft cushioning and they also float, so they’re perfect perfect for water (or water-adjacent) activities.
Whether you’re catching waves or just watching them, the FitFlop Surfa makes for a great beach companion for both you and your feet. They have Microwobbleboard midsoles with three levels of targeted cushioning; soft, wide straps; and slip-resistant rubber.
Feet bothering you from the flip flops you've been wearing around the house the last few months? These foot-focused stretches can help:
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