With warm weather upon us, nature lovers and running enthusiasts are not just looking forward to baring a little more skin in shorts and shirts. Our feet are begging for some sun and fresh air as well. It is hard to resist the feeling of the breeze blowing through your toes, or maybe even getting your feet a little bit wet on a hike.

The trouble is that most of what we have been told about shoes that expose our feet to the elements has not been good. Aside from flip flops being an unsafe option for any type of walking besides strolls on the beach, they have helped further damage many shoe-shaped foot.

Are Flip Flops Really That Bad?

Flip flops may seem harmless, but they have earned their reputation as the enemy of healthy feet. Flip flops can have devastating effects on compromised feet. Unfortunately most people have shoe-shaped feet due to pointy footwear with heel drop.

Flip flops are most certainly not the type of shoes for those with foot pain. Because of the lack of design in a flip flop, your toes must constantly grasp (or “claw”) the sole. As a result, toes do not have an opportunity to relax during normal gait.

Activation of the toes on shoe-shaped feet leads to more pressure on the metatarsal heads. Moreover it may lead to overuse of the Flexor Hallucis Brevis muscle (the one that directs your big toe) leaving it inflamed and your feet tired after prolonged waddling around.

Flip flops change your natural stride, a change to zero drop soles without cushioning puts an extra demand on the forefoot. Altogether this pattern can contribute to the formation of bunions.

Some other more serious issues to which flip flops contribute are arthritis of the foot bone, plantar fascia inflammation and bursitis. Each of these conditions can be very painful and can significantly impact daily life.

The one thing positive about them is that they don’t provide any arch support. Any type of support means supporting laziness of the intrinsic muscles. In other words: if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Anatomy of the Foot

The extrinsic muscles connect to the anterior, posterior and lateral sections of the leg. These muscles are responsible for rotating the foot outward and inward. It also allows the foot to move in a downward direction (when pointing) as well as in an upward direction (when pulling).

Having shortened muscles will limit range of motion. Limited ankle mobility is often overlooked when picking functional summer footwear.

The intrinsic muscles are very small muscles located within the foot. Their main job is to assist in the movement of individual toes.

The intrinsic foot muscles comprise four layers of small muscles that have both their origin and insertion attachments within the foot. There are ten intrinsic muscles located in the sole of the foot. Clearly, as small as they are, they play an incredibly powerful and important role in carrying the human body.

The foot’s intrinsic muscles and toe function are finally getting more recognition for their role in healthy feet. In fact, intrinsic foot muscle deterioration, due to limiting footwear, can cause foot conditions like flatfoot and plantar fasciitis.

Studies suggest that strong intrinsic foot muscles help maintain the foot’s health, and intrinsic weakness may also contribute to painful foot conditions.

How about Barefoot Sandals?

Before you give up on freeing up your toes and decide to lock your feet up during summer, you should first rethink what you consider functional summer footwear. While flip flops are your worst choice due to the many conditions associated with them, you do not necessarily have to trade in summer style for foot health.

Certain barefoot sandals have found their way on the approval list of podiatrists and specialists. Barefoot sandals that stay on the foot when lifting the leg, without any involvement of the toes can give that summer feel combined with functionality.

An ankle lace or strap is usually sufficient to keep the sandals secure without toes clawing. If you have a foot condition, some cushioning is recommended too.

Just remember: a wafer thin flexible sole on a barefoot sandal is only suitable for healthy feet with proper fat pads.

Zero Drop Footwear

The open toed option is not just about fashion. Walking (or running) with an open toed barefoot sandal actually strengthens the intrinsic muscles and helps eliminate foot conditions.

Traditional shoes deaden proprioception by eliminating sensations between the foot and the ground we walk on. Add cramped toes in a narrow toe box and limiting natural movement causes the lower extremities to compensate for lost foot function.

Without the elevated heel like traditional shoes have, your center of gravity will fall more towards the mid foot. This mimics your natural stance as if you were barefoot, thus enabling your feet to carry your body the way they are meant to.

A functional barefoot sandal eliminates all of the technology and style elements that popular shoe brands have added to shoes. They give just the right kind of cushioning and stay on the foot. Putting the emphasis on your feet being all the technology you’ll need.

Unsure if zero drop, minimal footwear suits you? Have your feet checked with our functional foot map method.

Let Your Feet Run Free

Now the good news is that research is changing to what type of footwear is beneficial for healthy feet. The realization that the intrinsic muscles play a far greater role in foot health than previously known has changed the vision of a functional footwear.

Looking for a summery barefoot feel isn’t necessarily good or bad. But being able to sport flip flops really depends on the current state of your feet.

Since most feet have become shoe-shaped instead of foot-shaped, you’re better off with a proper barefoot sandal.

Consider taking all the padding off your feet (just leave on the straps) and let the wind blow between your toes. Happy feet await you.