There’s a lot to love about flip-flops. They set our toes free and invoke the feeling of summer. They’re flat, wide and flexible, and they get us out the door in a flash. In many ways, they’re the perfect sandal—but in one big way, they fall short: You have to clench the muscles in your feet the entire time you’re wearing them so they don’t fall off.
If you’re wearing them around the pool or to do a quick errand, that toe-gripping is no big deal, but when you walk in them for hours, and for days, this muscle clenching can lead to shortened toe muscles (called hammer toes), and gait and balance changes. Overall, it can affect how your whole body moves.
Gripping doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but gripping—when you’re walking—is more than just bent toes. The “grip” to keep footwear on:
- makes some toe bones curl up and some down
- drives the end of some bones into the ground, creating higher-than-normal pressure—this can lead to toe contracture/metatarsal injury over time
- drives the ends of some bones up into the top of the sandal, which can lead to corns and calluses over time if there’s something for the toes to rub against.
To maintain your natural stride, enjoy the feel of the sea breeze and sunshine on your skin, opt for something that looks more like a Greek sandal: all strappy on top, flat on the bottom, and still fully connected to your foot. Adding just a little strap around the back of your heel can mean a world of relaxation for your lower legs.
Try these stretches for all the flip-flop fallout in your feet and legs.
Stretch the Top of Your Foot
- Stand up straight on your right foot and reach your left foot back behind you, tucking the toes of your left foot under and placing them on the floor.
- Work up to holding this stretch for one minute. If your toes start to cramp, come out of the move, rest, and return when you can.
- Toes just too tight? Try it seated.
- Place the ball of your left foot on the apex of a half-foam roller or rolled-up folded towel. Drop the heel all the way to the ground, and straighten that knee.
- Step forward with your right foot. If you can’t bring your foot all the way forward, take a smaller step.
- Keep your weight stacked vertically over the heel of whichever foot is farther back.
- Hold for one minute, then switch legs; do this three times on each leg.
- Sit cross-legged.
- Interlace the fingers of the right hand with the toes of the left foot.
- Gently spread your toes away from each other.
- Hold for up to one minute, then switch to the other hand and foot.
Or, let these do the work for you: Go “hands-free” and repurpose old manicure toe spacers, or get some foot alignment socks to improve the range of motion of your toes while you watch TV or sleep.