Health & Wellness

Flip-flop injuries are on the rise — here's how to save your feet

Face it: Flip-flops rock. They keep your feet cool, they’re easy to throw on, and they come in a zillion colors and styles that just about anyone can love. They’re casual and chic all at once. They’re fun. They’re friendly.

They’re also pretty terrible for your feet.

All this matters because we're in flip flop season. So, let the numbers speak for themselves: of all the emergency room visits due to shoe-related injuries, 27,000 were associated with flip flops in 2016, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission on Emergency Room visits.

"Wearing flip-flops is better than going barefoot because they do provide some protection for the bottoms of your feet, but that's about it," said Dr. Christina S. Long, a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, in a recent interview.

"Flip-flops don't offer any arch or heel support, and you have to grip them with your toes to keep them on. Wearing them for too long or for the wrong activity can cause a lot of different problems."

Podiatrists blame flip-flops for blisters, bacteria, viral infections, bad posture, shooting pains, bunion exacerbation (and formation!), hammertoe issues, athlete’s foot, and lack of arch support.

Phew.

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In a 2008 study, researchers at Auburn University found flip-flops actually change the way wearers walk, sometimes permanently. Those changes can wreak havoc on the rest of the body, with distinct and noticeable effects on everything from the wearer’s posture to their gait.

What does all this mean? Should you dump all twenty-three pairs in the trash this minute?

Well, not exactly. (And besides, we know you’re not really going to listen when we tell you to break up with those bad boys.) Like chocolate cake and red wine, flip flops are totally fine in moderation.

But we do think you should heed these tips for keeping your exposed feet happy and healthy:

Don’t drive and flip-flop.

That’s a really bad idea. Just like any backless shoe, there’s a possibility that your flip-flops will slip off your feet and get stuck under the brake or gas pedal. Driving shoes should always be sturdy and secure. If you're not worried about your own safety, think about everyone else on the road. And ladies, you already know the problems with driving in stilettos. Sandals might be slightly more unassuming, but the danger's still there.

Consider the activity

Flip-flops are fine for short-term use, especially if they have at least some arch support and a cushioned sole, Long said.

"They're good to wear at the beach, around swimming pools, in showers and locker rooms at the gym, on short trips to the store," she noted.

Don't wear them for running, hiking, walking long distances, standing for a long time or playing sports, she advised. Sandals may be a better option, but they're still not as supportive as running shoes if you're going to be active.

Vionic Women's Tide II Flip Flop, $65, Nordstrom

This podiatrist-designed flip flop is perfect for the beach because of its built-in orthotic footbed.

Dr. Scholl's Men's Kip Memory Foam Thong Sandal, $40 (usually $70), Famous Footwear

The memory foam footbed will keep feet comfortable during a long day by the pool.

Be a big spender.

We don’t like overspending, either. When there's a perfectly "OK" plastic version sitting right there on the shelf, we're gonna reach for it. But the truth is, some things are just worth the investment. Your feet and well-being, for instance.

And unless you’re shopping in a totally unreliable store, then we’re pretty sure that the more money you pay for your shoes, the more likely they are to provide arch support. On the whole, flip-flops aren't the most expensive shoe form, and you’re bound to get a ton of use out of them. So pay up!

Vionic Women's Bella II Sandal, $75, Nordstrom

These cute flip flops can easily take you from the grocery store to lunch with the girls. The best part? They're designed by podiatrists to increase stability and realign your feet.

Vionic Men's Ryder Thong Sandals with Orthaheel Technology, $76, Amazon

This versatile men's flip flop combines the best of style and comfort. According to the brand, these shoes are clinically shown to alleviate heel pain and plantar fasciitis.

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Are flip-flops harmful to your health?

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Are flip-flops harmful to your health?

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“Broken in” doesn’t have to mean “beautiful.”

Just like you would with running shoes, you should replace your flip flops every few months. A little wear-and-tear is cute. A lot is dangerous.

Look where you’re going.

Flip-flops offer little to no protection against broken glass, and other sidewalk debris. If you’re not willing to give your feet a cover, then at least keep your eyes open and remain alert.

Treat. Yo. Self.

And we’re not just including this one because we like pedicures. Promise. It’s important to keep your feet clean, moisturized, and pampered. Sunscreen is crucial. For one thing, everyone can see them, so you really might as well keep them looking their best. But in general, it’s a good idea to treat your feet kindly after they’ve been exposed to so much sun and dirt and water.

Go for leather flip flops, if possible.

The American Podiatric Medical Association reminds us that leather makes it less likely for you to get a blister. Bonus points: You’ll get that rustic, well-worn look without having to actually break the shoes in too much. Plastic doesn’t stand a chance.

Women's Cushion Bounce Court Le flip flops, $60, Reef

Leave blisters behind with these adorable leather Reef sandals. They also come with arch support.

Men's Contoured Cushion Le flip flops, $85, Reef

Men will love that they can still look put together in flip flops with this dark leather finish.

Use common sense when you’re shopping.

Shoes aren’t supposed to fold in half. Nope, sorry, no exceptions there. (Your flip-flops can and should, however, bend just at the ball of the foot.) And “one size fits all” isn’t really a thing when it comes to foot safety.

Interested in water shoes? Here are shoes to buy besides flip flops for the beach. These options are just as fun as flip-flops for your summer style, but they won't kill your feet. Long summer days call for 24-hour arch support. Shop these answers to your summer feet fatigue.

If you're really aiming for comfort and support, it may be best to avoid flip flops altogether. Here are come other supportive shoes for all of your summer activity needs.

Comfortable Shoes for Women

Birkenstock EVA Arizona sandal, $30-$100, Amazon

Lightweight, water-proof, durable and stylish, plus they have all-day long arch support.

Chaco sport sandal, $56-$200, Amazon

This classic sandal boasts a podiatrist-certified sole.

Aleader quick-drying water shoes, $22-$35, Amazon

Mesh lining and comfort support at this price? Aleader water shoes give the flip-flop a run for its money. For more sneakers we love, check out the top recommended walking shoes by Shape Magazine.

Keen Sandal, $54-$252, Amazon

The Keen sandal is just as versatile as you. Choose from a rainbow of color combinations and take these shoes from seaside to mountain range.

'Stan Smith' sneaker, $38 - $250, Amazon

Ultra on-trend and the ultimate in daylong comfort.

Converse, $50, Nordstrom

Classic, comfortable and always in style. These shoes stand the test of time.

Soludos sandal, $65, Amazon

Soludos sandals prove that, once again, beauty doesn't have to be pain.

Soludos lemon slipper, $70, Amazon

These cactus embellished slides won't give your toes pins and needles. Two words: cute and comfortable.

Native slide-on, $45, Zappos

Native slide-ons work for all genders, for every age and for all outdoorsy occasions!

Sam Edelman slide-on, $56, Zappos

With a pop of color and the promise of arch-support, these slide-ons scream summer fun.

Comfortable Shoes for Men

Teva's sandal, $38, Nordstrom

A long-standing classic for a reason-- they survive summer's best adventures and keep your feet happy.

Birkenstock EVA Arizona sandal, $40, Nordstrom

Yes, they come in blue and in men's sizes too!

Payton sneaker, $60, Nordstrom

Tom's classic, philanthropic slide-on now comes in a lace-up style.

Fishermen sandal, $100, Nordstrom

A shoe to take from day to night, from boat to beach, from barbecue to backyard baseball. Best part? No blisters.

Sperry Boat Shoe, $32-$131, Amazon

The boat shoe will never go out of style and neither will its all day comfort guarantee.

Keen sandal, $60-$200, Amazon

From sun up to sun down the Keen sandal stays supportive, cool, and quick-dry.

Comfortable Shoes for Kids

Keen Sandal, $40-$110, Amazon

Shop a rainbow assortment of Keens colors for flip-flop fun without little kid foot pain.

Teva sandal, $17-$60, Amazon

The classic Teva looks as simple as a sandal but comes with arch support and comfort straps.

Croc clog, $16-$102, Amazon

Easy to wash and easy to wear, these mary-jane style Crocs are a win.

Salt water sandal, $29-$68, Amazon

Cute sandals that she can get wet? These salt water shoes are perfect for any aspiring mermaid.

— NBC News' Kathryn Nathanson contributed to this report

This is an updated version of a story originally published in May 2016.

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