When many people think of summer footwear, they think of sandals, specifically flip-flops.
While flip-flops may be a popular choice for the beach, they’re usually not the best option if you want to maintain a healthy, pain-free back, especially if you already suffer from chronic lower back pain due to arthritis, spondylolisthesis, sciatica, or a previous back injury.
The Problem With Flip-Flops
While standard flip-flops are cool, comfortable, and easy to put on and take off, there are a few important things they do not offer, such as:
- Foot and ankle support
- Protection against trips and falls
Flip-flops also cause people to walk differently than they would in a regular shoe: To keep them from flying off while walking, you have to pinch or curl your toes and shorten your stride. This puts unusual strain on your feet, hips, and lower back.
Your foot hits the ground differently when you’re wearing flip-flops, putting more pressure on the outside edges and less on the heel. This causes a slight rotation of the lower portion of your leg, which in turn changes the angle of your pelvis and encourages increased torsion in the lower spine. While all these effects may seem small, collectively they can cause stiffness and pain in the lumbar region, pain that may worsen over time.
Falls are one of the most common reasons people visit a doctor complaining of back pain, and you’re somewhat more likely to experience a fall when wearing flip-flops, due to the impact that an altered gait has on your balance and stability.
If You Can’t Live Without Flip-Flops
If flip-flops are a vital part of your summer, here are some tips to minimize pain and injury:
- Don’t live in flip-flops. Never wear them for long walks, shopping, or when you plan to be on your feet for long periods of time.
- The minute your back starts to hurt, slip off the flip-flops, apply ice to the painful area, and change into more supportive shoes. The longer you keep going once pain is present, the more strain you will put on your muscles and joints.
- Take it slow. Avoid running, jumping, and quick sideways movements while wearing flip-flops because of the limited support and shock absorption they offer.
If you’re ready to forego your flip-flops for other options, here are some to consider:
- Crocs. Although intended for people who work on and around boats, Crocs have several features that are supportive to your back. Their non-slip soles decrease the likelihood of falls, and they tend to have sufficient support and cushioning, and cups that keep your heels in place. Crocs also stay on your feet with no required changes to your natural waking stride, a big benefit for your back.
- Sport sandals and hybrid sneaker-sandals. This type of footwear also offers a viable alternative to flip-flops. They securely hug your feet and feature comfortable straps, toe guards, contoured foot beds, arch supports, and heel cups — all of which provide greater stability for your feet, knees, hips, and lower back.
When choosing summer footwear, be sure to consider all your options, and choose something that not only allows you to keep up with your active agenda, but also protects you from winding up on the sidelines nursing an aching back.