"Flip-flops really should be made for wearing for locker room floors, around the pool, not substitute as a walking shoe," said Dr. Mark Enander, president of the Podiatric Medical Society in Rhode Island.Yet, not only do people spend hours in them, you'll often find children playing and running around in flimsy, flat $2 flip-flops.
"Oh, those are the worst. Those are the ones that I see, inevitably, at least two to three times a week," Enander said. "A young kid who's active, who wears a flip-flop, and if they're actively growing, they can get trauma to the heel plate."
Enander has been a podiatrist for 18 years. He never flip-flops on the subject of flip-flops. "When you walk with a flip-flop, your stride length automatically decreases ... and the toes grip at the ground. So, you tighten the band in the arch called the plantar fascia, and I think that's why we see a lot of heel pain," Enander said.
What about the higher end flip-flops, like those with built-in arches and shock absorbers? Enander said those are better. "But the problem with it ... the heel is not cradled, and so if you're walking and you slipped, the foot will actually slip off the flip-flop. And if it does, that's when you get ankle sprains. I've had ankle fractures," Enander said.
Even many sandals aren't much better. School teacher Karen Menard knows first hand the pain sandals can cause. "It feels almost as if there's a blow torch blowing right on the back of the heel," Menard said. But here's her dilemma. "I like wearing sandals. My feet get so warm and they really get tired from wearing a heavy sneaker with orthotics in them," Menard said. But the doctor said there are concerns with the sandal she wears, especially the heel strap. "The real problem with (the heel strap), it's too soft and the heel, again, can slide off," Enander said. The best sandal option, he said, is a sports sandal that offers ankle stability, a bit of an arch, and a skid-resistant sole.
Menard said she knows that if she wants to continue to wear sandals and not suffer excruciating heel pain, she needs to find the right pair.
Unfortunately, like many of Enander's patients, he gets this response: "I can't promise that. I will attempt to obey the doctor's orders," Menard said. Enander said he didn't realize just how important shoes were until he got in to the field.
Enander said listen to your feet. If a sandal doesn't feel right, change it. He said most people do best with a shoe that has an arch and about a half inch to an inch heel. He said flatter shoes can cause more potential problems.