Can Flip Flops and Bare Feet Cause Heel Pain?

Oct 2, 2020

In Kansas City, we need a lot of room for shoes in our closets! That’s the reality of living in a place where hot summers, frigid winters, and massive temperature swings are pretty much the norm all year long. And summer and early fall are definitely sandal time for a lot of us.

At Comprehensive Foot and Ankle Centers, summer and fall also happen to be “heel pain season.” And yes, those two factors are very much related.

No, we’re not here to ruin your fun. And certainly, there are also some real benefits to wearing good open-toed shoes under hot and humid conditions, as opposed to a damp pair of sweaty shoes.

Most Feet Need Support

As trendy as minimalist or barefoot shoes have become in some circles, the truth is that most “comfortable” shoes you can buy come with solid arch support, cushioning, and a moderate heel-to-toe drop for a reason.

It’s true that feet, in theory, are supposed to be able to naturally support your weight, cushion your steps, and minimize excess pressure. But you also have to remember that, in 2020, we’re primarily walking on surfaces that tend to be a lot harder and a lot flatter than what our ancestors of hundreds of years ago were used to. Grass, clay, and dirt have been replaced by concrete, hardwood, and stone tile.

And of course, modern people are a lot taller and heavier on average than our ancestors were. So that adds even more pressure on the heels.

cause heel pain

The Summer of Heel Pain—and Why Bare Feet and Flip Flops Are to Blame

As we said, summer and fall is usually peak season for heel pain. But this year has been especially bad for a couple of reasons.

Part of it is just the heat. Who wants to be stuck in sweaty shoes all day when you can throw on a quick pair of flip flops?

Unfortunately, there are some big problems with wearing flip-flops all the time. The most obvious is that they lack any kind of meaningful arch support whatsoever, so they aren’t really giving your feet any help when it comes to shock absorption. Your feet are taking the brunt of the impact.

Another downside is that wearing flip-flops can actually change the way you walk in detrimental ways. Whether you do it consciously or not, you probably end up taking shorter, more shuffling steps to keep your footwear from flipping and flopping right off your feet. This change in foot placement and alignment is linked to a greater incidence of heel pain, as well as discomfort in the knees and back.

Going totally barefoot or in just socks can be just as bad, and we’ve had an influx of that in 2020 as well. A lot of us are spending a lot more time than usual indoors at home, due to COVID-19 concerns and, in many cases, a shift to working from home. And most of us don’t wear shoes indoors at home, either. So if you’re spending a lot less time in shoes overall, that can translate to more heel pain, too.

What’s the Solution? Do I Have to Ditch My Flip Flops Forever?

We wouldn’t say you have to throw your flip-flops in the garbage, but you have to understand that they should be used sparingly, in specific circumstances.

If your plan is to lounge around a bit in the backyard or take a quick shower? Flip flops should be just fine. In those circumstances, you probably aren’t going to be doing a ton of walking or standing for long periods, and the thin layer of protection for your feet will keep you more protected from injuries or infections than going totally barefoot.

But if you plan on doing any more physical activity or walking—even if it’s just a quick trip around the block—you should put something more supportive under your feet. There’s nothing wrong with choosing open-toed shoes, but you should insist on good ones!

  • Sandals that are comfortable with solid arch support are an absolute must. Avoid thin, flimsy, or flat sandals for anything more than a short walk to the backyard or the bathroom.
  • Adjustable heel straps are a great choice since they keep your sandals firmly on your feet and allow you to walk confidently using your normal stride—without screwing up your biomechanics.
  • As with shoes, a slightly raised heel is better and more comfortable than a completely flat or “zero drop” sandal for the vast majority of people. Typically this is achieved by having the part of the sole under the heel be slightly thicker than it is under the ball of the foot and toes.
  •  Don’t forget about grip! If you plan to do a lot of walking on different types of terrain, choose sandals with a rubber outsole and good traction.
  • The more active you are going to be, the more important it is for your sandals to provide extra protection and support, including for your toes and ankles. You might consider closed-toe sandals for rugged hiking or a pair of sandals with extra straps and belts (especially for the ankle) for more urban cruising.
runner on a mountain trail

Don’t Let Heel Pain Hold You Back This Fall

If your heels have been hurting you, ditching your flip-flops for a comfortable pair of supportive sandals or shoes can go a long way.

But if you’re still struggling even after switching up your footwear—or your pain is simply getting in the way of life—be sure to give our office a call, too. Heel pain can almost always be treated non-surgically within a couple of months, but sometimes it takes a professional evaluation and treatment to really zero in on the primary causes of your pain (and therefore the treatment protocols that will solve it most effectively).

If you’re ready to kick your heel pain to the curb, we’d love to get in touch! You can call us at (816) 455-1155 or connect with us online to request an appointment at one of our offices in Kansas or Missouri.