Flip flops not as bad for feet as previously thought – new research

While many health professionals typically advise against wearing flip-flops, they may not be as bad for children’s feet as previously thought.

New research from Griffith University in collaboration with the University of Queensland has found walking with flip-flops does not increase the work performed by the calf muscles.

“Instead our results suggest they act as a compliant surface and absorb energy during contact reducing the strain experienced by the Achilles tendon,’’ explained Dr Jayishni Maharaj, a podiatrist and postdoctoral research fellow at the Griffith Centre of Biomedical and Rehabilitation Engineering.

The researchers measured the length changes of the medial gastrocnemius (MG) fibres and muscle tendon unit in children during walking with and without flip-flops.

Eight healthy children walked barefoot and with flip-flops while 3D gait analysis and ultrasounds images of the MG fascicles were collected.

“We found the muscles and tendons across the ankle absorbed and generated greater amounts of power during barefoot walking compared to flip-flop walking,’’ Dr Maharaj said.

She said while the minimalist design of flip-flops provides limited support to the foot and ankle joints during movement compared to close-toed shoes, children who wear minimal footwear have been shown to have lower incidences of flat feet.

“This suggests that barefoot walking could be positive for foot and ankle health. As the ideal footwear for a child’s developing feet is believed to allow natural motion of the foot, our results indicate that wearing flip-flops may not hinder the development of muscles at the ankle joint during childhood and could actually promote development.”

Dr Maharaj said while it was possible that walking with flip-flops may alter the function of the plantar intrinsic foot muscles, not explored in this study, the benefits of slipping flip-flops on and off quickly makes them a great option for parents to protect the skin of the sole of the foot of their child from prickles, hot road and sand.

The study, published in the journal Gait & Posture, was supported by the Physiotherapy Research Fellowship, Health and Medical Research, Preventive Health Unit, Department of Health, Queensland, Australia, and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.