It’s the season to set your feet free, but wearing flat sandals and flip flops 24/7 can be just as detrimental as high heels for health. Here’s how to avoid pain, blisters and infections, plus the best sandals to buy according to the experts
It seems that finding the ideal shoe is quite the Goldilocks feat: they’re either too high, too low, too pointy or somehow don’t quite fit. You can spy a pair in a shop window and dream of your perfect life together, only to discover that they rub down the line, restrict your toes or fundamentally make it impossible to walk. The irony.
You’d think that the more footloose and fancy free shoes of summer would be the healthy, comfortable alternative to restrictive heels and sweaty trainers, but the sandals and flip flops we slide on day after day in sunnier months also present a host of hoof problems. Before you despair and and ditch shoes altogether for a barefooted Joss Stone-like life, here are both the issues associated with flat as a pancake sandals and how to mitigate them, because sandals in summer are non-negotiable, like Pimm’s in pub gardens and liberal dousings on SPF. Steel yourself for sandal truths…
They can trigger foot pain
Stilettos normally receive all of the bad press in this area, but it turns out that pancake flat soles aren’t doing your feet much good from a potential pain point of view either, as podiatrist from the The College of Podiatry Emma McConnachie points out:
“In the case of flip flops and flat sandals, the lack of support and the flatness of the shoe means that people may experience aching in the arch of their foot.”
The often thin, flimsy soles of flat sandals put more stress on the foot when walking, as there’s zilch in the way of shock absorption or structural support, leaving your feet to take the hit from all of that flip flopping on pavements. Given that there are more nerve endings per square centimetre in your foot than any other part of the body according to The College of Podiatry, it’s easy to see how schlepping around in sandals can wind up causing pain in both the short and long term. Trying to keep flighty flip flops attached to your feet can also lead to cramping and discomfort, not to mention falling over. All in all, not the easy, breezy summer footwear option you were sold.
Solve it: Emma recommends opting for sandals with plenty of upholstery. From a health p.o.v, there are a few standout sandal styles to add to your shopping list:
“Going for supportive, well-fitting footwear is of course always a good move. The best summer sandal for frequent wear is one with straps that hold your foot in place across the top and at the back. A gladiator sandal, for example, is a great choice. You can also buy sandals that have moulded soles that hug the arch of your feet- these offer more support and are usually more comfortable than completely flat soles.”
They can cause hard skin and calluses
While the College of Podiatry reports that the skin on the sole of the adult foot is the thickest on your body, padding about in flat sandals and flip flops can cause the skin on your feet to harden, making the development of uncomfortable corns and calluses all the more likely.
Solve it: Regular DIY pedis can keep tough skin and painful corns at bay. Emma details a healthy heel routine:
“Use a pumice stone or a non-metal foot file while in the shower or bath to gently exfoliate the build-up of skin that can occur on the heels of your feet. When your skin is dry, apply a good quality foot moisturiser- look for one containing urea to break down hard skin. Apply all over the feet, except between the toes.”
If you really have layers to shed, give an exfoliating foot mask a whirl, and for a gentle scrub alternative, Margaret Dabbs Exfoliating Foot Mousse , £20 for 100ml, leaves skin polished but not sore and raw (which can in turn kickstart skin into overproducing more protective hard skin).
They can lead to infections
You would have thought that giving feet an airing would minimise your risk of infection, but the combination of impact and dry skin build-up can actually up your chances of contracting an infection when you’re wearing sandals. Emma explains why:
“In the summer, cracked heels can be very common. This is because a lot of popular summer shoes have thin soles which can mean that the fat pad on the heel receives more pressure as the foot strikes the floor. This, combined with heat, can cause the skin to become dry and cracked, making infections all the more likely.”
In addition to cracked heels, flip flops with foam and plastic soles can provide a breeding ground for bacteria, which multiplies in moist, hot conditions (i.e, under the sole of your foot). Add in cracked heels and blisters and you could be exposing yourself to serious skin infections.
Fungal infections can also be prolific in these kinds of environments, and Emma urges you not to paint over the issue:
“Don’t be tempted to cover up discoloured or crumbly nails with nail polish. This could be a sign of a toenail infection which should be treated first.”
Solve it: Emma states that a bit of basic hoof hygiene and r&r will go far:
“To avoid infection and reduce cracked heels, keep skin clean with regular washing and use a good quality foot cream containing urea to help prevent cracks and keep the skin supple. If you paint your nails a lot, try to have a couple of weeks without polish every couple of months to allow your toenails to breathe and so you can check that your toenails look healthy.”
As for unwanted bacterial gatherings in sandals and flip flops, wipe down shoes with a disinfectant and ensure that they’re fully dry before you wear them- alternating footwear can prevent fungal infections such as athlete’s foot too.
They can rub
We’ve all been there- you’ve been seduced by a spangly sandal that suddenly turns sadistic after a few hours of wear. Emma affirms that there’s a reason that sandals can grate more than other shoe styles:
“Wearing sandals means going sockless (unless you’re into the socks and sandals look), which can cause different sets of problems for different people. An absence of socks means that there is no layer of fabric to reduce the friction between the shoes and the feet. This can result in blisters, red swollen areas of skin, painful corns and calluses.”
The aforementioned movement of flat sandals and flip flops can also increase the likelihood of blisters developing, particularly around straps and buckles, which if often made worse in the presence of moisture, which is why flip flop toe thongs can prove so excruciating.
Solve it: Emma advocates getting thee to the chemist:
“Watch out for “hot spots” on your feet. These are areas in which you feel rubbing, where a blister is most commonly formed. If you identify any you can apply a layer of microporous tape onto the unbroken skin. This is easily available from pharmacies and in many first-aid kits and will effectively help to reduce the friction.”
A bit of strategically applied Vaseline can also reduce the rub, while dry shampoo, talcum powder or antiperspirant can keep moisture at bay, preventing rashes and friction sores.
They can create posture problems
It turns out that there’s a sweet spot where heels are concerned- skyscrapers tend to take hips and spine out of alignment, not to mention place pressure on joints and the ball of the foot in particular, but the lack of cushioning and protection offered by flat sandals isn’t a recipe for perfect posture either. The lack of arch support can strain knees and calves and cause spinal stress over time, particularly if you have to ‘claw’ your foot to keep your sandals or flip flops on.
Solve it: A small heel can help to realign hips and spine and take the pressure off of your arch, but Emma encourages you not to panic about hunched future posture every time you slip on your slides:
“When choosing footwear, it’s all about moderation and wearing the right shoe for the job. Flat sandals and flip flops are fine for walking on the beach, in the garden or around the house, but are not ideal for long walks or for wearing every day due to the lack of support provided.
“Switch up your footwear depending on what the day has in store and you shouldn’t have any problems. If you have been experiencing pain for three weeks or longer, or have particular concerns after wearing sandals and flip flops, contact a podiatrist to discuss any issues and see how they can help in the short and long term.”
Given that your feet and ankle are one of the most complex structures in the human body (26 bones, 33 joints and upwards of 120 tendons, muscles and ligaments), not to mention your vehicle in life, it pays not to ignore a niggle, but don’t let the odd blister get in the way of a banging pair of shoes. Moderation and all that.