News items Is walking on summer footwear like flip-flops healthy

2 September 2022

With the hot weather, have you been enjoying walking on flip-flops all summer? It's nice and airy, but is it good for your feet? Micha Holla of Radboud University Medical Center has no objections, except for people with foot problems. ‘Healthy feet don't really need any support. People have been walking on flip-flops for thousands of years without any problems.’

Flip-flops have been around for a very long time. The Egyptians wore them about 4,000 years before Christ. In the course of history, only the location of the strap between the toes shifted: for the Greeks it was between the big and second toe, for the Romans between the second and third toe, and for the Mesopotamians between the third and fourth toe. ‘So we now walk with the Greek version’, says orthopedic surgeon Micha Holla of the Radboudumc.

The plastic flip-flop as we know it today came our way from Asia after World War II and gained popularity in the West mainly due to the surf culture. ‘The only thing those flip-flops do is protect the sole of your foot from sharp objects such as stones’, says Holla. ‘Technically, they don't provide any support. You can fold them in half and they're flat as a pancake.’

Flat Feet

Isn't that bad for your feet? Holla answers: ‘Sturdy shoes are better, of course. But for healthy feet, flip-flops are fine and a well-ventilated option for summer. A healthy foot has the right shape by itself and doesn't need any support. Whole tribes lived on flip-flops. It is only when you have flat feet, for example, that flip-flops can cause symptoms. Mainly pain in the forefoot which radiates via the heel side to the Achilles tendon towards the calf. Usually the dissapear when the autumn weather requires sturdy footwear.’

Flip-flops do require more action from certain muscles than other shoes. Holla: ‘You have to actively tighten your toes to keep the flip-flops on, otherwise they will go off. Especially the flexor muscles and tendons of your toes are more active. But as far as I know, that has never been scientifically proven to be bad for your feet.’

Callus layer

Holla also thinks walking barefoot is fine. ‘The ventilation is fantastic and you don't have any pressure points. You only run the risk of stepping on something sharp. In the Netherlands we wear socks and shoes almost the whole year, so we hardly have a callus layer. This is very different for the Aborigines in Australia. They walk barefoot all their lives and don't even have any trouble with a gravel path.’

And other summer shoes? ‘Gym shoes had a bad image for a long time, because they used to be of poor quality. But nowadays there are also very good gym or sports shoes. These ensure that the foot can easily shift the weight from heel to toe, which means that the shoes are round at the front and back. Furthermore, they have a fairly stiff sole and a supportive footbed. You can easily walk the Four Days' Marches in such shoes and they are also very popular among my patients.’

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Annemarie Eek

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