This post from 2014 was lightly edited (photos added and resources updated) in 2020. For more information on feet and gait, read through Our Favorite Feet, Footwear, and Walking Resources.
The weather is beginning to warm. Not everywhere, but in some places, like where I am right now. (I am fully accepting jerk status from those of you still looking out your window and seeing white.)
No matter where you live, pretend it’s warm enough to start thinking about “spring shoes," but before you reach for the flip flops, read this: When you wear shoes that don't fully connect to your foot (flip flops, slides, mules, slippers) your toes and feet have to work differently to hold the shoe on when you're walking.
This is how your lower leg and foot move to do so (note: I've left out some of the foot as I am also cooking breakfast).
The "grip" to keep footwear on curls some toe bones up and some down, drives the end of some bones into the ground creating higher-than-normal pressure (hello fracture-potentially-in-the-making!) and drives the ends of some bones up into the top of the shoe (file under: corn, calluses). I won't even mention the tension down the front of the leg—you’ll find it yourself during this top-of-the-foot-stretching exercise that helps undo the chronic tension in both the toes and in the front of the ankle.
Follow a Top Of The Foot Stretch up with our gait-specific Calf Stretch:
Flipping through a magazine I saw a picture of a flip-flop grip in action. Check it out!
You can also do your own experiment by putting on any slip-on shoe, then slowing your flip-flop walk a bit to watch and feel for what your toes reflexively do in order to keep your flop on.
Now I like spring and summer shoes as much as the next person, but I also like my feet to feel great and to be able to walk long distances without pain. So, I've swapped out all my slide-on sandals for ones that have a strap around the back, like Unshoes and Earthrunners. Find many spring and summer options on our minimal footwear list!
Find more explanation, stretches and exercises in Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief and Whole Body Barefoot. Find more lower body moves in Nutritious Movement Improvement: Your 12-Week Body Boost.
Carl, T., Barrett S. 2008. Computerized Analysis of Plantar Pressure Variation in Flip-Flops, Athletic Shoes, and Bare Feet. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association Volume 98 Number 5 374-378.
Shroyer, J., Weimar W. 2010. Comparative Analysis of Human Gait While Wearing Thong-Style Flip-flops versus Sneakers. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, Volume 100 Number 4 251-257.