Hey there! So last week we talked about shin splints and how to best take care of them. One very important piece of the puzzle also has to do with the shoes that you wear. But, I am not going to talk about the shoe that you are wearing while working out, but rather the shoe that you wear before and after, especially in the summer time. Wearing this shoe for many hours during the day, day after day, could have a big impact in a fairly short time frame. What am I talking about? I am talking about the flip flop.
Wait, what? The flip flop is not good for you? Isn’t it almost like a “barefoot” shoe with zero drop, isn’t that good? In terms of the flip-flop being a minimalist shoe with zero drop, I agree, that would be great for your feet. However, because there isn’t any attachment around your heel, you have to clench your toes every time you walk so that the flip flop doesn’t fall off. Because you are clenching your toes, the under side of your foot, the plantar fascia, becomes very tense and rigid. This rigidity deactivates the smooth “suspension system” in your feet that you were born with. This rigidity also translates into the rest of your legs and especially your shins, as these muscles is what helps your toes to clench down.
Sadly most of us have completely lost the flexibility and natural shock absorbing capacity of our feet over the years, due to wearing very hard, constricting shoes, high heels etc, and add to that the lack of walking barefoot on uneven ground. So, to compensate for that we keep looking for shoes with more and more cushioning thinking that it will solve the problem, when really we need to take care of our feet from the ground up, not bolstering them up like the Bubble Boy in Seinfeld!
Your feet contains 28 bones that all work together, but they also work like individual pistons constantly adapting to the ground that we walk on. It is a beautiful piece of machinery that we have tied down and constricted for so long that it now moves more like a 2 piece joint, rather than a 28 piston shock absorber. The best way to help yourself is to limit restricting or over cushioning shoes and starting to walk barefoot as much as possible.
But what about my flip flops? A couple of years ago I came across the information that wearing flip-flops any extended time is bad for your feet. As I had some problems with my shins and under my feet at the time I was intrigued, but also very sad as I loved wearing flip-flops. After having spent many years living the beach life in California, Australia and Indonesia, I had gotten used to wearing flip flops whenever possible. The one thing that probably saved me back then was being barefoot a lot and playing beach volleyball, like all of the time, which helped to even things out.
Anyway, I decided to try get rid of the traditional flip-flops, and switched to a “flip-flop sandal” by Havaianas that actually goes around the back of your heel. The effect was not instant, but I did notice a difference after about a week, and especially after using them on a city trip I noticed a huge relief compared to before, my feet just weren’t as stiff. Currently my feet and I are happy with this arrangement and have not turned back since.
I also have to say a few words on sandals like Birkenstocks. As they also do not have a heel strap, you have to clench your toes here as well, even though it might not be as obvious as with the flip-flop. And the arch support that so many people like about them, is actually what makes them so bad. Why? Because it makes our feet very lazy and we loose strength and agility. Think about it, it is for our feet as if we were walking around with crutches all the time. Yes, there is a time and a place, if you have injured yourself, where you might want to use crutches for as short time as possible. If you continue using them too long, you are going to build a dependency on the crutches and after a while you will feel uncomfortable moving without them. That is not a good habit to cultivate.
Maybe your running is not the culprit of why you are having some lower leg and foot issues. If suddenly you are wearing flip flops a lot of the time just because it’s summer, that could be what is causing or certainly adding to the problem. If you decide to start walking more barefoot and removing your flip flops, remember that with any change your body will need some time to adapt, so be gentle, think about the long run, and give yourself some time to get used to the changes. It may seem like small things, but at the end of the day it is all the little things that adds up and puts you in the situation where you are right now, so why not make small changes that will add to making the best possible version of you?
Full disclosure: I am not affiliated with Havaianas