Slippers and rubber clogs may feel comfy but they can be really bad for your feet
CNA Lifestyle finds out why choosing comfort over style can still earn you corns, calluses, blisters and even foot deformities.
Singaporeans go practically everywhere in their slippers, be it a quick run to the coffeeshop for chicken rice, a trip downtown for dinner and a movie, or a beach holiday in Bali (starting with the flight out of Changi Airport).
If there weren't a dress code at the office, we're pretty sure the musical smacking sounds of flip-flops would fill the corridors of corporations from Shenton Way to Simei.
There's good reason for this national obsession with slippers. There are about 250,000 sweat glands found on the feet and they produce as much as 240ml or half a pint of perspiration every day, according to the California Podiatric Medical Association. This moisture, combined with the tropical heat, is enough for anyone to want to give up shoes in order to stay dry and, well, functioning.
But here’s the thing: What may feel comfortable may not actually be good for your feet. Which makes the usual excuses you hear like "I don't care about looking stylish – I care about being comfortable" sound pretty silly now, doesn't it? If you have calluses, corns and deformities such as bunions or claw toes, they are indications that you have been, or still are, wearing ill-fitting shoes.
CNA Lifestyle takes a look at some common footwear options that top many Singaporeans’ comfort list, but may not be good news for your feet.
Whether you favour the thong style or the ones with a strap across your toes, slippers aren’t exactly the best for your feet. Flip-flops cling loosely to the feet between the first and second toes, and this design has multiple flaws, said Leow Yen Yong, a podiatrist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
“They offer the feet close to no support, there is no fastening system to secure the foot in place, there is nothing securing the heel, and they offer the foot minimal protection,” he said.
The ones with the horizontal straps aren’t great either. “These slippers are only slightly better than the thong ones as the larger band of material on top helps to better fixate the foot,” said Leow.
With those attributes, your feet move about excessively when you walk. And when the movement is extended over a prolonged period of time, it may lead to overuse injuries of the muscles and tendons in the feet and legs, resulting in tendinitis or heel pain, said Leow. “Other problems that may arise are the worsening of any foot deformities, nail issues, and callus and corn build-up.”
What you can do: If you don’t have any issues or pain, chances are, you can continue wearing your slippers – just not all the time, please. But if you are experiencing issues, switch to something else as soon as possible, said Leow.
Deemed as the more down-to-earth sisters to high heels, ballet flats are popular among women as both work and casual shoes. But they have their shortcomings, too. “Flats lack supportive cushioning, and the toe box is almost always too narrow for the foot,” said Leow.
With the popularity of online shopping, many e-shoppers may also end up ordering the wrong sizes. Women who buy ballet flats that are too small for them are all too familiar with blisters and skin tears. “One of the more commonly seen problems in our patients are calluses. Calluses are hardened skin lesions that form from continual, excessive amounts of pressure on the skin,” said Leow.
WHAT YOUR FEET NEED
The next time you go shoe shopping, bear these points in mind: Space, support, firm heel counters, and fastenings.
Space: There should be a thumb’s width between the end of the shoe and your longest toe. “A very common misconception to see if there is enough space in the shoe is by sticking a finger between the heel counter and the heel of your foot,” said Leow Yen Yong, a podiatrist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. “Our heels should be sitting right at the back of our shoes.”
The shoe box (the front end of the shoe) should also be wider than your foot. “A good way to tell if your shoe is wide enough is to trace and outline your shoe on a piece of paper, then trace your foot on top of it,” he said. If your foot’s tracing is wider than your shoe’s, the size is not right for you.
Support: The majority of the support in your shoe comes from the mid-sole. It should be firm for the most part, but not rock hard, said Leow. To test, bend your shoe. It should flex at the front portion where the balls of your feet sit, and not in the middle or at the heel.
Heel counter: The heel counter, which forms the back portion of the shoe, should always be firm. You shouldn’t be able to fold it down. “This feature will secure your foot in place, and prevent excessive motions in the foot that can ultimately lead to foot pain,” said Leow.
Fastenings: There should be a fastening system on your shoe, some way to tighten or loosen it, said Leow. Shoelaces, velcro straps or buckles are good choices. If a shoe doesn’t have a fastening, it is likely to be constructed to fit tighter to stay on the foot, like slip-on shoes, he said. This tight fit is a major cause of one of the most commonly seen foot problems: Bunions.
But don’t shoes expand with wear, and doesn’t that justify getting shoes that are just a smidge smaller? “This holds true to a certain extent. However, ballet flats often become too loose and may begin to rub on your skin, causing blisters, calluses and corns to possibly develop,” said Leow. For this reason, it is also not wise to wear shoes that are too big for you.
What you can do: If you shop online, do what the experienced e-shoppers do: Head to a physical store and try on the footwear you have your eye on before ordering them online. That way, you’ll know if the size fits you for sure.
To up your street-style cred, these shoes are usually designed with a narrower and tighter fit to “hug” the foot, observed Leow. “These types of shoes may not be appropriate for people with broad feet.”
The tight fit may also predispose your foot to friction on every aspect: The sides, top and bottom. This, in turn, will lead to the development of corns, calluses, abrasions and potentially, foot deformities in the long run, warned Leow.
What you can do: If you add padding or cushioning (the shoe already lacks adequate space to begin with), you will increase the chances of corns, calluses, and abrasions developing instead. So, if you experience pain or discomfort in these shoes, they may not be right for you – no matter how on-trend they look.
“These may well be the most ideal type of footwear as they generally have all the features of fit and support,” said Leow. But to truly benefit from the shoes, they should always be selected according to the specific activity, advised Leow. A shoe that is meant for running isn’t going to suit your needs for, say, CrossFit training.
“Take jogging, for example. It is a high-intensity activity, and for the Average Joe, your shoes should ideally have a supportive shank to provide your feet with adequate support,” he said. “If someone were to use a minimalist sports shoe – where the mid-sole is very flexible but offers less support – for long hours of weight-bearing activity, it could lead to an easier onset of fatigue in the legs, or in the worst case scenario, pain.”
What you can do: If you are experiencing pain in your feet or legs, and changing your shoes has not improved anything, consider seeing a podiatrist. “They can assess your shoes, analyse your gait and perform a biomechanical assessment with the possibility of dispensing insoles if necessary,” said Leow.
They are back and still as ugly as ever – perhaps even more so. The clog’s other flaw is its lack of a heel counter. “The heel is not secured, causing the foot to slide back and forth, and creating friction on the bottom of the foot,” said Leow. “It also causes the toes to claw to stabilise the foot.” But it does have a redeeming quality, that is, its deep and broad toe box, he said.
Like slippers, which also lack heel counters, your feet will move excessively during walking. Over time, this may lead to similar overuse injuries, such as tendinitis or heel pain, said Leow. Worsening foot deformities, nail problems, and callus and corn build-ups are also commonly seen, he said.
What you can do: Rubber clogs may be suitable for short-term use, but they are definitely not recommended for wear throughout the day. If your feet are in pain after wearing clogs, you may need to consider changing to a different style of footwear.