3 Must-Do Stretches If You Love Flip Flops

by Katy Bowman
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3 Must-Do Stretches If You Love Flip Flops

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

top of foot stretch


  • 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.

seated top of foot stretch


Calf Stretch

calf stretch


  • 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.


Toe Spreading

toe spreading


  • 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.


  • Michelle5154

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  • Jutta Wohlrab

    So true .
    I can only say yes spread your toes and wear more your own feet than shoes . I have noticed that flip flops do that .Great blog love it and can only say yes , yes , yes

  • surprisinglyfastforafatman2

    I’ve had “hammer toes” since before I was a teenager, will these exercises help me at all, or should I just resign myself to having future problems? I’m just over 40 now, and already have some nerve damage in that area.

    • Lea

      Something I’ve learned in the past few months is that the human body is eager to learn to move again after being stuck for a very long time. Your feet might surprise you if you start stretching them gently every day 🙂 Breathe deeply while doing them, and see how each exhale may bring new openings and see if you can push a little further each time, even just a millimeter. Be patient, listen to your body and don’t force it, especially after so long.

  • Steve

    Gross hand and feet in that last pic. Must have been short of hand and feet models that day…love this site though.

  • Beth Nutter

    Loving your haircut!

  • Beth Nutter

    Great stretches too lol!!!!

  • Be care going barefooted too much as it can cause metatarsalgia or ball of foot problems. Also if you are diabetic make sure you check with a podiatrist before tying to walk barefooted. Neuropathy can cause problems if you go barefooted.

    • rosa

      Dr’s say no to barefoot if your diabetic…because you might not feel what’s on the floor and injure it . with diabetic, it takes long time to heal. At home I wear socks and outside,because my feet are always hot,sanders
      Get arch support from Dr schools,orthas,alegria,or sas..yes pricy

  • wendye

    I have noticed that my big toe and second toe are beginning to cross each other. Is this a problem? It sure feels like one. I will try these stretches. Is there more I can do?

    • Melissa Gutierrez

      Katy Bowman has exercises on her blog (Katy Says) as well as in her books – I recognized the foot stretch exercise photos from Move Your DNA.

    • rosa

      Wendy, better see a foot dr. Sounds like hammer toe

  • Pat

    I have plantar fasciitis right now. It really hurts. Any ideas for helping with that?

    • Mel

      I feel your pain. I had it several years ago. Before you get out of bed in the morning do the ABC’s with your feet, both upper case and lower case. This helps stretch your feet so that you don’t feel so much pain when you step. Also wear supportive shoes like tennis shoes all the time until you no longer feel any pain. Lastly, buy orthotics. Wear them in all your shoes. I purchased superfeet on-line(the green ones). Using all these techniques eventually solved the problem. Be very disciplined and do not go barefoot. It will take time but it is well worth not having the pain anymore. I can now wear regular shoes again but I still wear the orthotics for support. I think it took me about 6 months to feel better. Also, if you go to a physical therapist they can give you other helpful exercises. Hope this helps.

      • Jean

        What are ABC’s with your feet?

        • jill tyler

          ABCs with your feet mean you draw the letters of the alphabet with your feet in the air – upper and lower case – for maximum range of motion.

      • traci

        Put water in an empty 2 liter soda bottle and freeze it. While watching tv or reading…roll the bottle from the ball of your foot to the heal…back and forth. Also, grab a towel and hold onto each end and wrap the middle around the ball of your foot. Pull up to where you feel a stretch up your calf. This will help loosen the heel. A PT will absolutely give you more ways to help and get relief. (I also lost weight and toned up which helped significantly…)

      • jtwizz

        i also recently was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. Doctor gave me a cortisone shot in my heel. also told me to buy better (more supportive) shoes and wear them ALL the time (until it’s healed. he said it will take some time) I feel about 80% better after two weeks, but it does get worse again if i go barefoot or wear sandals for a day, so need to be strict about wearing the sneakers. just sucks in the height of summer. after a day at the pool i’m toast.

  • helen clement

    i have been diagnosed with metatarsalgia and also have a hammer toe as well on the same foot. The ball of my foot can be very painful. I have been told to wear inserts but havent done it yet and yes i do wear thongs but mostly no shoes at home because i hate them and would rather not wear them. Not sure what to do next maybe go to my podiatrist. any suggestions im willing to listen.

    • Amy Mittelstedt

      Not sure if you have a Good Feet store where you live, but if you want a good and sturdy insole…a place like that is where you need to go, next best step is the Dr.Scholls ones…they have a stand in stores like Wal-Mart that measure the points in your feet and then suggests an insole for you. Good luck!!!

    • MellieK.

      The podiatrist will suggest orthotics ( good ones) and if that does not relieve the pain, then surgery. Since developing a similar condition running is hard and my gate is changing as i try to compensate. I use massage, ice, heat, anti-inflammatories and trying to ignore it :(. Good luck.

    • Cheryl

      A friend suggested I try Dr Scholl’s in-store diagnostic foot machine and the prescribed orthotics. I did. It amazed me that it was able to pinpoint my heel problem and I bought the advised orthotic. What relief! Its been months since it made an immediate relief at $54. An inexpensive cure.

  • Ian Lockwood

    Do you have any great stretches for cyclists & Achilles’ tendons?
    Thank you!

    • Mike Bales

      Besides traditional straight-knee calf stretch for the gastroc muscle, since our riding is always with bent knee and therefore uses the soleus muscle, do the bent-knee calf stretch also.

  • P Burns

    I was painting our hallway bare footed and had to reach a high spot. When I did, I heard a pop and felt something happen on the inside of my heel area. That was a few months ago. I have pain when I first begin to walk but after awhile I’m ok. Hurts to drive because it hits my heel where it happened. Any suggestions? What do you think is wrong? Is it time to see a podiatrist?

    • Renee

      Plantar fasciitis is exactly what it sounds like head straight to the doc for xrays and get that soughted asap

  • Raywyn Bidois

    I have had chemo (about year and a half ago) and the side affects for me are super sensitive feet with the feeling of something strangling my foot from the ankle down. Also I have the same feeling when I wear socks. Do you have any stretching that might help in prove the situation. Thank You

  • Rachel Maggart Magee

    I wear flip flops 24/7 365 even winter. I have a severe heel pain on my right foot that goes up into my calf. Any suggestions to help reduce the pain

    • Emily

      I had something close to that and it hurts when you walk on your heel. What I did was I would rap my foot in just some simple raps to keep the mussel tissue from ripping then I would ice it right before bed. In the morning I would take a tennis ball and roll the bottom of my foot on it.

    • TheHappyHarpy

      Stop wearing flip-flops and invest in some shoes that are better for your feet.

    • Dee

      I did too for 40+ years. My heel pain got so bad I could hardly hobble to the bathroom in the morning. Turns out it was plantar fasciitis, got some arch supports and some cute Orthoheel sandals/flip flops and now the pain is nearly gone. Try a sandal with arch supports…I guarantee it will make a difference nearly overnight. They are pricey but SO worth it!

      • Rachel Maggart Magee

        Any suggestions on to which brand

        • cattail722

          Orthoheel is the brand, I believe. New Balance also has a brand of sandals called Cobb Hill which also have arch support.

        • Dee

          See my reply above 🙂

          • Rachel Maggart Magee

            Thank you I’ve ordered some

          • Dee

            I don’t think you’ll regret it! 🙂 They changed my life! My walking life anyway…might want to break your feet in slowly though. I wore them all day right away but I guess some people can’t.

          • Rachel Maggart Magee

            I ordered mine from Amazon. Received them today and have been wearing them with no problem. Thank you again for all your help

          • rosa

            I couldn’t use orthaheel,but Alegria or sas with arch support works for me . plus I get a special massage,.sorry forgot the name. He goes really lightly down my legs and then works my feet.i feel them tingling all over but no pain for days afterwards. Unfortunately I have to do that twice a week

      • Vilma van horn

        Can you tell me what name of sandal you got and what kind of arch supports? I have the same prblem.
        Thank you!

        • Dee

          Yes…Orthaheel is the brand of sandals/flipflops I buy. I bought all of mine online, can’t find them in stores around here. The insoles are several different brands and sizes (and prices!), some 3/4 length, some full shoe. I got those on Amazon doing a search for plantar fasciitis insoles, but I’m sure you can get those in stores too.

  • Emily

    I got told I had planters fasciitis but I also got told I had tendinitis in my left foot because I have a huge bump on the top of my foot. I do dance and I know for sure that it’s from that. I had close to the same thing on the other foot awhile ago but it was smaller and I went to the doctor and they said it was broken but I had no cast. I was so confused. So I gave up on going to the doctors because they told me so many different storys. So can anyone please help me try to finger out what this huge bump is on the top of my foot is.
    Thank you.

    • Julie

      Go to a specialist. They are much more knowledgeable in specific areas of your body. I went to an athletic specific foot doctor.

  • Me

    I do Classical Stretch by Miranda Esmond-White. Her show is on PBS stations. She has a website and is on Facebook. She has lots of exercises for your problems. I’d suggest checking her site out. I believe there are clips showing exercises that could help you as well as short clips on you tube. Good luck to you. Hope you find help.

  • Ellen Bentley

    The fatty padding beneath my toes on my right foot is noticeably larger than the left. Regardless of the shoe or thickness or socks, feels like the socks are scrunching up beneath the toes. Any suggestions?

    • rhonda

      If it is sore and kind of feels like walking on a marble, could be a Morton’s neuroma. If caught early, a steroid injection can alleviate it, but if it has been there a while, you might have to have surgically removed. A couple of injections got rid of mine, but I knew what it was and got immediate treatment. I’d see a podiatrist

  • Vicki

    I had sudden pain on top of my foot while walking on the treadmill, continued but had to stop early. It’s been a week and still hurts to walk. Ibuprofen helps some. No pain otherwise. Any ideas? thanks!

    • Karen

      Do you wear Dansko clogs? I had the same problem along with pain on the inside arch. Went to the foot doctor…he said the top of my foot is probably due to the tight pressure of the clog. I purchase a pair with a neoprene gusset at that spot across the instep.

    • Karrie

      I get pain on the top of my foot. I had a stress fracture from walking on treadmill. My foot dr prescribed orthotics, which has helped support my foot and my arches. I haven’t had another facture, but if I walk too much without my orthotics I get that pain in the top of my foot.

  • GennaX

    Now I know why my feet have gone like they have – I wear flipflops/go barefoot more than anything else. It’s great to actually get some practical advice for once. None of the GP’s I’ve asked have been as helpful.
    PS. I’ve had swollen lower legs and feet for many years and though I was prescribed pills for high blood pressure, the situation never improved. Sometimes when I first get up I can’t walk properly/flex my feet. It doesn’t last long but it’s awkward on the stairs. I feel like a robot – not the new type!
    Any advice would be very much appreciated.
    Thank you.

    • Rivka Izme

      Calf stretches, walk more and ankle exercises such as picking up rocks and writing the alphabet with your toes. I have swelling in my lower extremities too. It is called pedal edema. I get mine if I sit too much. Walking helps me so I walk about 90 minutes a day. If I do that I have no problems. I think anything that gets your blood going would solve the problem. Also get in that 2quarts of fluid a day and lower the salt. Doing these things solved the problem for me.

  • Kathy

    I started getting cramps in my toes. They are very painful and look deformed when I get an attack. Why do you think this is happening and what can I do to remedy the condition ?

  • laughingwater

    I find that different footwear seem to act as crutches, and various muscles and tendons get weaker depending on where the straps are. I now go barefoot at home. I feel that minimalist footwear is best, such as soft old-fashioned moccasins. I also feel that arch supports weaken our arches. If one’s arches are weak, it is best to strengthen them the way dancers and practitioners of yoga do, such as by going up and down on the toes.

  • I have a small lump in the sole of my right foot. (I also have small lumps on the palms of both my hands.) Any idea what causes this?

    • daphnia

      It’s likely a small swelling in the ligaments or tendons of the foot, or palms. It’s very common and if they are not causing any pain the best thing to do is leave them alone. If they get bigger and interfere with walking, the podiatrist could inject a steroid to shrink the swelling, but other than that, there is no “cure”.

  • The CORE Institute

    This is a very interesting blog, I think that shoes should be kept simple and comfortable.

  • Sarah

    I had a long walk in my flip flops 2 weeks ago. In my right foot it started to really hurt towards the end of the walk. It still hurts now from halfway down the outer side of my right foot into my ankle and heel. I got some acu pressure balls and have been using some yoga stretches, but I am still struggling to walk for anything longer than half an hour any suggestions?

  • The Core Institute

    Interesting read here very unique. Thanks for sharing!