The following may be less relevant to Health Practitioners; however, the following contains some valuable information for those who are not health professionals or for those that just want a basic refresher.
It seems to fairly well accepted that flip flops are not the optimal form of footwear for our feet. However, what’s actually wrong with typical flip flops?
The most obvious problem with typical flip flops is that they are flat and offer the feet no support. This can be a problem for all foot types as we have become conditioned to wearing footwear with support, however it is a particular problem if you have increased pronation.
Pronation occurs when the foot rolls inwards. A small amount of pronation is an essential part of the gait cycle as it helps provide shock absorption and allows the foot to adapt to uneven surfaces, however, it becomes problematic when pronation is increased. In flat flip flops, when pronation is increased, there is nothing to help support the foot in an optimal position and subsequently the foot rolls in and so too does the lower limb/leg, causing a disruption to the body’s natural alignment. Increased pronation alters the way that stress and strain are absorbed through the body, which can potentially lead to injury. Issues arising from increased pronation are more common in people with flat feet, however it can occur in all foot types. Common problems associated with increased pronation include bunions, plantar fasciitis as well as different forms of knee, hip and low back pain.
Flat flip flops can also be problematic for people with high arches. People with high arches are more likely to supinate (roll outwards) and have a tendency to take increased stress on the outside of the foot and leg which over time may lead to injury. The addition of arch support in this foot type can help more evenly distribute the load and pressure across the foot which may potentially reduce the stress on the lateral aspect of the foot and leg thereby reducing the likelihood of an injury from occurring. Common problems associated with this uneven distribution of load and pressure across the foot such as that seen in people with high arches include plantar fasciitis, bone stress related injuries, lateral shin problems and lateral knee problems.
What about going bare-feet?
I am sometimes asked, what’s the difference wearing flip flops compared to walking around barefoot? It’s a good question and one that’s fairly easy to answer. It has already been mentioned that we have become accustomed to wearing shoes with support and when you take this support away, it can become problematic. You will be amazed how far we walk on a daily basis, the advent of smart phones and GPS tracking are testament to this. Most people are probably fine to walk barefoot around the house or on the grass in the backyard for short periods, however, if you were to walk 5 km in barefoot could you say the same thing? Even walking that distance on soft grass would surely be difficult. I think that it’s reasonable to say, that if most people were to walk any prolonged distance in bare feet, that apart from the skin on our feet being put through pain, it is fairly safe to assume that most people would start to get sore.
What compounds this even further in comparison to walking in typical flat flip flops rather than walking bare feet, is that in typical flip flops with loose straps, there is a complete obliteration of the normal gait cycle due to interference with the windlass mechanism (the process whereby the arch of the foot is enhanced in normal gait). This may be in fact may be one of the greatest flaws in the design of typical flip flops, possible even more so than the lack of arch support.
Normally when you walk your toes are supposed to bend upwards which activates the arch of the foot which then provides protection and support to the vital structures of the feet (through the windlass mechanism). However, most typical flip flops have loose straps, this means that the user ends up clawing / scrunching their toes down just to try and keep the flip flops on their feet. When the toes claw / scrunch down rather than bending up, the arch does not activate correctly and as a result your foot is susceptible to increased stress and strain which may lead to damage of some of the vital structures of the feet such as the plantar fascia and joint surfaces.
Other issues with flip flops:
Most flip flops are very flat in the heel section with little to no elevation which can put a lot of stress and strain on the calf and Achilles tendon. The lower your heel is to the ground, the more your Achilles will be on constant stretch which can predispose the user to problems such as Achilles tendinosis. Frequently referred to as the ‘pitch’ or ‘heel drop’ which is somewhat of ‘holy grail’ in supportive footwear, having some heel elevation help to unload the Achilles, thereby providing the users Achilles tendon with some relief from constant stress by being in a flat position.
Other more obvious problems with typical flip flops is that they are commonly have straps that are made out of hard plastic which can cause irritation and can potentially lead to blisters. These straps also often break at the toe pole by having the plug pull through the base of the flip flop, splitting the flip flop in the process.
How do Archies Flip Flops address these key issues:
We are the first to admit that Archies Flip Flops are not perfect (there is no orthotic flip flop on the market that is, they all have their pros and cons), however, in our opinion Archies Flip Flops represent the best balance of function and fashion available on the market. Here are some of the things we have addressed with the design of Archies Flip Flops.