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Here's how to wear flip-flops without ruining your feet

TODAY logo TODAY 5 days ago Rebekah Lowin

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They're cute, but they can cause some damage. Keep things safe and comfortable with our tips.

Face it: Flip-flops rock. They keep your feet cool, they're easy to throw on, and they come in a zillion colors and styles that just about anyone can love. They're casual and chic all at once. They're fun. They're friendly.

They're also pretty terrible for your feet.

Flip flops © Shutterstock Flip flops All this matters because we're in flip flop season. So, let the numbers speak for themselves: of the 198,437 emergency room visits due to shoe-related injuries, 25,300 were associated with flip flops in 2014, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission on Emergency Room visits.

"Wearing flip-flops is better than going barefoot because they do provide some protection for the bottoms of your feet, but that's about it," said Dr. Christina S. Long, a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, in a recent interview.

"Flip-flops don't offer any arch or heel support, and you have to grip them with your toes to keep them on. Wearing them for too long or for the wrong activity can cause a lot of different problems."

Podiatrists blame flip-flops for blisters, bacteria, viral infections, bad posture, shooting pains, bunion exacerbation (and formation!), hammertoe issues, athlete's foot, and lack of arch support.

Phew.

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In a 2008 study, researchers at Auburn University found flip-flops actually change the way wearers walk, sometimes permanently. Those changes can wreak havoc on the rest of the body, with distinct and noticeable effects on everything from the wearer's posture to their gait.

What does all this mean? Should you dump all twenty-three pairs in the trash this minute?

Well, not exactly. (And besides, we know you're not really going to listen when we tell you to break up with those bad boys.) Like chocolate cake and red wine, flip flops are totally fine in moderation.

But we do think you should heed these tips for keeping your exposed feet happy and healthy:

Don't drive and flip-flop.

That's a really bad idea. Just like any backless shoe, there's a possibility that your flip-flops will slip off your feet and get stuck under the brake or gas pedal. Driving shoes should always be sturdy and secure. If you're not worried about your own safety, think about everyone else on the road. And ladies, you already know the problems with driving in stilettos. Sandals might be slightly more unassuming, but the danger's still there.

Consider the activity

Flip-flops are fine for short-term use, especially if they have at least some arch support and a cushioned sole, Long said.

"They're good to wear at the beach, around swimming pools, in showers and locker rooms at the gym, on short trips to the store," she noted.

Don't wear them for running, hiking, walking long distances, standing for a long time or playing sports, she advised. Sandals may be a better option, but they're still not as supportive as running shoes if you're going to be active.

Be a big spender.

We don't like overspending, either. When there's a perfectly "OK" plastic version sitting right there on the shelf, we're gonna reach for it. But the truth is, some things are just worth the investment. Your feet and well-being, for instance.

And unless you're shopping in a totally unreliable store, then we're pretty sure that the more money you pay for your shoes, the more likely they are to provide arch support. On the whole, flip-flops aren't the most expensive shoe form, and you're bound to get a ton of use out of them. So pay up!

"Broken in" doesn't have to mean "beautiful."

Just like you would with running shoes, you should replace your flip flops every few months. A little wear-and-tear is cute. A lot is dangerous.

Look where you're going.

Flip-flops offer little to no protection against broken glass, and other sidewalk debris. If you're not willing to give your feet a cover, then at least keep your eyes open and remain alert.

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Treat. Yo. Self.

And we're not just including this one because we like pedicures. Promise. It's important to keep your feet clean, moisturized, and pampered. Sunscreen is crucial. For one thing, everyone can see them, so you really might as well keep them looking their best. But in general, it's a good idea to treat your feet kindly after they've been exposed to so much sun and dirt and water.

Go for leather, if possible.

The American Podiatric Medical Association reminds us that leather makes it less likely for you to get a blister. Bonus points: You'll get that rustic, well-worn look without having to actually break the shoes in too much. Plastic doesn't stand a chance.

Use common sense when you're shopping.

Shoes aren't supposed to fold in half. Nope, sorry, no exceptions there. (Your flip-flops can and should, however, bend just at the ball of the foot.) And "one size fits all" isn't really a thing when it comes to foot safety.

Interested in water shoes? Here are shoes to buy besides flip flops for the beach.

— NBC News' Kathryn Nathanson contributed to this report

This is an updated version of a story originally published in May 2016.

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