Upgrade your flip-flops with podiatrist-approved picks that'll see you through summer—sans foot pain
The Dangers of Traditional Flip-Flops
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Sure, your cheap tried-and-true rubber flip-flops are fine to wear to and from your pedicure appointment or to slip on poolside, but if you wear them for any longer than a few hours, podiatrists warn they can do serious damage—to way more than just your feet.
"Most of the time, people walk and stand on hard, unnatural surfaces that cause the arches of the foot to flatten. Traditional flip-flops are little more than a soft flat piece of foam with a thong strap that allows the arch to continue to collapse," explains Brian Hoke, a sports medicine physical therapist for Vionic Shoes. And, in the absence of support, all sorts of areas of the body can break down over the thousands of steps we take throughout the course of a day. The arch falls, causing the heel and arch pain of plantar fasciitis; the ankle rolls in (or pronates), which leads to shin splints on the inner leg; the knee buckles inward, causing pain around the knee cap; and the hip and pelvis drop, which aggravates lower back problems. Who knew?!
Instead, we should look for silhouettes that more closely mimic our natural footprints. "A flip-flop that has some arch support, and also cups and gives cushion around the heel is really important," explains Gerard Cush, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Geisinger Health System.
And if all else fails, just remember what to absolutely avoid: "A cheap, single-layered flip-flop that is the same thickness along its length," says Hoke. (Two dollar Old Navy flip-flops, we're looking at you!) "The lack of extra cushion at the heel sends more shock into our legs and it puts extra stress on the Achilles tendon and calf muscle." (You can also try these 2 Easy Exercises to Prevent Foot Pain)
Of course, looks do still matter. Click ahead for the best of both worlds with options that won't kill your feet (or your eyes).
Photo: Corbis Images
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These bad boys may look like something you'd find in a fast fashion store, but they're actually engineered by biomechanics to provide all-day comfort and cushioning. It's all in the midsole technology that diffuses areas of high pressure on the foot. And they have the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) Seal of Acceptance—for footwear found to promote good foot health—so you know they're good. ($100; fitflop.com)
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While these may not appear to be much different than a traditional rubber thong, the ankle strap makes them a podiatrist favorite. Flip-flops aren't securely attached to the foot, which means we have to adjust the way we walk to keep them on our feet—either contracting our toes or picking the foot up too early during the swing phase, which can cause tendonitis on the top of the foot, explains Emily Splichal, celebrity podiatrist and author of Everyday Is Your Runway: A Shoe Lover's Guide to Healthy Feet & Legs. However, a simple ankle strap easily solves this problem, she says. Not to mention, Teva's have an EVA footbed that cushions from heel to toe so you can prevent all the added stress on your tendons and muscles. ($45; teva.com)
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Don't let the python print fool you into thinking these sporty sandals are just a fashion statement—they have a padded leather footbed for support so you don't have to sacrifice comfort for style. You may even want to wear them out when you find out just how bad high heels are for your foot health. ($350; aquatalia.com)
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These may look strange, but those toe grippers help to secure the toes while walking and help prevent all of that unnecessary work we do to keep traditional flip-flops on, says Splichal. By keeping toes naturally aligned and spread with special "GRABS" technology, this Wellrox design brings relief to aching feet and leg muscles and may help correct pronation. ($110; wellrox.com)
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The Dr. Scholl's brand has its roots in foot comfort and health, so you know you're in good hands. This pair features the company's signature "Memory Fit" cushioned insole that provides support and shock absorption so you can slide them on after yoga class and keep them on through post-work drinks. ($88; drschollsshoes.com).
Photo: Dr. Scholl's
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This flip-flop may look basic, but the science behind them is anything but. Featuring podiatrist-designed Orthaheel Technology, which has been around since 1979, this sandal provides support, relief, and stability that helps to realign the feet back to their natural position and make walking more comfortable. Research supports Orthaheel Technology’s success in reducing over-pronation, which can help relieve associated common aches and pains, such as heel pain (plantar fasciitis), knee pain, and lower back pain. It's no surprise these have the APMA Seal of Acceptance! ($65; vionicshoes.com)
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Unlike many shoe trends, the re-emergence of Birkenstocks as the new It shoe is actually a good thing for our feet (multiple podiatrists recommended Birks as a go-to flip-flop alternative). Key benefits include a contoured cork footbed that provides arch support and cradles the foot and toe molding that helps to promote the natural rolling movement of the foot. While we're normally a fan of the classic black or white, this mirrored green version seems perfect for an island getaway. (Just be sure to break them in first!) ($100; zappos.com)
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Clarks has been making comfortable shoes for 200 years, so you better believe their trendy designs will feel as good as they look. This pair has a foam-cushioned footbed so you'll be supported throughout the day. Plus, you get to shock all of your friends when you tell them where you bought them! ($60; clarksusa.com)
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