With the start of the rainy season, more people will be trading their regular shoes for chappals, flip-flops and sandals. Many of us buy flip-flops on impulse, choosing a pair that looks good or feels comfortable enough after a few paces around the store. Others buy without stopping to think what percentage of the will be spent in them. This is a mistake.
WHY PROPER FLIP-FLOPS ARE IMPORTANT
Inadequate support to the foot over prolonged periods leads to strain in the arch ligaments. This causes severe pain in the heel and arch region of the foot (known as plantar fasciitis), which often requires treatment for a prolonged period.
The lack of support in the flip-flop also causes your feet and legs to overcompensate. Wearing flip-flops causes toes to contract, forcing the muscles in the leg and foot to work for long. This results in the formation of hammertoes, a foot deformity where the second, third or fourth toe is bent at the joint, resembling a hammer. Ankle sprains are another common condition associated with wearing flip-flops. The lack of counter support in a flip-flop causes your ankle to roll over on its side, potentially tearing your ankle ligaments.
Extremely cheap flip-flops are usually made of plastic foam. I recommend staying away from this type...
Flip-flops can also wreak havoc on your knees, hips and back. They provide minimal or no support in the arch or heel, leading to an unstable gait, causing bad alignment, straining in your knees and lower back.
If you are looking for a flip-flop for walking around the house, or for an occasional stroll, I recommend focusing on overall comfort and fit. Look for material that is soft in every place it touches your foot. For someone planning on doing a lot of walking and even some light outdoor activities in your flip-flops, consider wear and tear, especially the fact that some flip-flops will stretch, and get your pair snug to your foot. A pair that is heavy duty, non-abrasive and lasts a long time works best if you are in this category.
The material that makes up the sole is critically important. Extremely cheap flip-flops are usually made of plastic foam. I recommend staying away from this type as they do not offer a contour that supports your feet where it is needed (specifically arch support). Cheap foam also compresses to a thin layer, offering very little protection from sharp objects; it wears away quickly too. A better material is EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate), a copolymer of ethylene and vinyl acetate, which compresses while simultaneously offering resistance -- it is soft, flexible, and gives in where appropriate. Rubber offers similar characteristics - it is strong, and can be sourced sustainably from farmed trees or from recycled products. Overall the best foot beds tend to comprise a combination of these materials.
Do gently bend the flip-flop from end to end, ensuring it bends at the ball of the foot. Shoes of any kind should never fold in half.
Some flip-flops, even the sports styles, can have too smooth a sole. When they get wet, your feet can slide inside the shoe, or the bottom of the shoe can slide on the wet surface. If you are planning to wear the flip-flops during a beach vacation, cruise or watersport activity, you want a sole that has some grip/traction. Conversely, if you plan to wear the flip-flops out on city streets, you will want a sleeker-looking sole, to pass fashion muster.
For optimal comfort I suggest a thicker strap on a flip-flop. Thinner straps have the tendency to cut into the skin during more aggressive activity. They will also be more likely to stretch than thicker ones, resulting in a less snug and not-so-functional chappal. Also look for soft cushiony material on the inside of the strap if you are focused specifically on comfort. It is key that a strap fits well, especially when the material is slightly abrasive -- a loose-fitting strap is more likely to cause abrasion or blisters on your feet. If there are multiple straps, be sure the angles of the straps are comfortable and that the parts of the foot that peek through them look attractive.
Try different heel heights --- gone are the days of flip-flops that were absolutely flat. These days, you can get flip-flops with a wedge heel (often called slides), a kitten heel or even a high heel, although these are usually grouped with sandals.
DOS AND DON'TS!
• Do shop for a flip-flop made of high-quality, soft leather. Leather minimizes the potential for blisters and other types of irritation. Flip-flops with rubber straps can be easier on the feet but those with leather or cloth straps can be fitted to be more snug and easier to walk in.
• Do ensure that your foot doesn't hang off of the edge of the flip-flop. When standing in them you should be able to see about a 1/2 an inch of a sole all around your foot.
• Do gently bend the flip-flop from end to end, ensuring it bends at the ball of the foot. Shoes of any kind should never fold in half.
• Don't re-wear flip-flops year after year. Inspect older pairs for wear; if they show signs of severe wear, discard them.
• Don't ignore irritation between toes, where the toe thong fits. This can lead to blisters and possible infections.
• Don't wear flip-flops while walking long distances. Even the sturdiest flip-flops offer little in terms of shock absorption and arch support.
• Don't play sports in flip-flops, this practice can lead to twisting of the foot or ankle, as well as sprains and breaks.
• Do wear a sturdy pair of flip-flops when walking around a public pool, at the beach, in hotel rooms and in locker room areas. Walking barefoot can expose your soles to plantar warts and athlete's foot.
• Do look for a layered sole that is approximately 1/2 inch in thickness and made of several different layers of material.
• Avoid a leather or plastic sole if you want your flip-flops to perform at all in wet conditions.
• Avoid getting a shoe with a thin sole that has the tendency to wear out quickly and does not protect your feet from sharp rocks and potentially dangerous sharp objects, especially after several months of intense use.
• Choose a sandal with a supportive yet lightweight outer sole that provides shock absorption, and stay away from "floppy" shoes.
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