Your Shoes Could Be Hurting Your Health

Written by yvonnethornton on August 8th, 2013

It’s no secret by now that high heels are harmful to your health. You are probably aware that wearing high heels can increase your risk of falling or developing foot, leg, or back problems due to the pressure exerted on various parts of the foot and the misalignment of your ankles, hips, and spine. You probably already know that you should limit high heels to no more than two inches and avoid tight, pointy-toed shoes.

But did you know that your beloved flip-flops are just as bad?

Flip-flops literally expose your feet to a whole host of potential problems. From relatively benign issues like cold feet or stubbed toes to more serious injuries like cuts or broken bones, there are many problems which are completely avoidable by wearing protective and supportive shoes.

As if the potential for injury weren’t enough, researchers now suspect that flip-flops may prevent you from being as fit as you could be. When you wear flip-flops, you are forced to bunch your toes up to hold them on your feet. This prevents your arch from flexing naturally, which alters the way you walk. Think of this as a ripple effect, where you grip your shoes with your toes, which prevents you from flexing your arch, which prevents you from “pushing off” from each step strongly enough, which forces you to compensate with your hips, which puts more stress on your knees. The result is an unnatural gait that does not fully engage all the muscles in your legs and backside that walking should engage.

So think twice before wearing those flip-flops out to run errands or to the office (if you are lucky enough to work in that kind of office!). Flip-flops are great for occasional wear – to the pool or the beach – but not for hours on end, day after day. Your day-to-day shoes should be supportive and ergonomically correct. If you want to wear an open shoe like a sandal, at least make sure it has a strap that wraps around your ankle so that you aren’t tensing those toes up to hold the shoe on.

You should be aware that, with their lack of arch support, ballet flats do not fare much better under scrutiny than flip-flops. Incidentally, research shows no additional benefit from wearing “toning” sneakers; regular walking or running shoes will do just fine for exercise, and any comfortable, well-fitting shoes with good arch support are fine for daily wear.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.


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