Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Be kind to your feet! – How to manage “fallout” from sandal and flip flop use

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I LOVE summer! The reasons abound – hitting the beach, swimming, cycling, sailing, hiking- all great pursuits in warmer weather.  Along with these activities comes wearing less constricting clothing and shoes like sandals and flip-flops -freedom! Some of my clients have recently talked to me about their feet hurting more since they’re wearing less supportive shoes. There’s a good reason for this. Our feet aren’t used to having to “hold on” to our shoes with every step we take. When we wear flip-flops or sandals without a back-strap, we have to grip with our toes so our footwear stays on. Some muscles flex while others extend with more frequency and intensity than when we wear shoes that hang on to our feet. When we wear flip-flops our feet have to hang on to our shoes. According to the health blog from myfitnesspal, frequent flip-flop and backless sandal wearing:

  • makes some toe bones curl up and some down
  • drives the end of some bones into the ground, creating higher-than-normal pressure—this can lead to toe contractures or metatarsal injury over time
  • drives the ends of some bones up into the top of the sandal, which can lead to corns and calluses over time if there’s something for the toes to rub against.

Many people are good about stretching their leg muscles on an everyday basis; those quad, hamstring and calf stretches have become part of our everyday routine. Because our feet are often in shoes, we may forget to stretch the many muscles in our feet. Those muscles form the foundation for our gait.  The comfort in our ankles, knees, and ultimately hips, back and even shoulders depend on these foot muscles so we should pay a lot more attention to stretching them. To begin, try the following exercises:

Stand with one foot flat on the floor.  With the other foot, take one step back.  Then tuck the toes of your back foot under and against the floor with the arch of your foot facing the ceiling. Try this until your foot cramps, or for one minute- if this is too intense, try it seated, so you can calibrate the pressure on the top of your foot. This is a counter-stretch to the the flexed position you must maintain to wear flip-flops.

standing toe extensor stretches


sitting toe extensor stretchesextensor stretches for toes

Stretching your calves is also essential, since these muscles assist with clutching your sandals. They really get a workout when you walk on the beach barefoot. You can do this simple stretch on the stairs, on a half roller, or on a rolled up towel. Drop your heel lower than your arch and toes, until you feel a stretch on your calf muscles. Try to hold for 1 minute, alternating feet

Calf stretches


The last stretch is good for toes that get squished when wearing any shoes that constrict or overwork your toe muscles. Sit cross-legged and interlace your fingers between your toes. Make as much space between your toes as possible to stretch out the intrinsic muscles of your feet.

Toe spreading with opposite hand- hold for one minute, switch to other foot


There are also toe spacers and shoes that will help keep toes aligned passively. Go to  I never knew so many people needed toe spreaders!  If you’re considering vibram fivefinger shoes,

vibram fivefinger shoe

beware of the overblown claims that they improve foot health- they’ve had to answer to a $3.75 million lawsuit for this mistake. However, they have many proponents as well, so consult with a podiatrist if you have foot trouble and are considering using these.

Go to for more details.

In a nutshell, for optimal foot health:

  • Pay attention to any foot problems early, so you pre-empt serious problems later
  • Consider if your footwear is creating pain or discomfort, then choose more supportive options
  • Take a few moments to stretch your foot muscles daily
  • Walk barefoot in moderation to stretch and strengthen foot muscles unless you have plantar fasciitis

Remember, your feet are the “shock absorbers” for a lot of your summer fun, so be kind to them!

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