Our Feet Are Hurting: Pandemic Life Has Increased Foot Strain

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Man working from home

The COVID-19 pandemic and increasing numbers of people working from home have not been particularly good for the feet.

While sturdy shoes have gathered dust in closets, many people are not getting needed foot and ankle support, often leading to aches, pains and injuries. Our feet take a lot of wear and tear, which often goes unnoticed until something starts to hurt.

“More people are spending more time at home and not wearing shoes,” says Jessica Milliman, DPM, a University Hospitals doctor of podiatric medicine. “They‘re walking around all day in socks and slippers, which don’t provide proper support.”

When patients come to her with foot pain, the first question Dr. Milliman asks is what they wear on their feet most of the time.

Patients often aren’t aware that spending too much time without supportive shoes on their feet can contribute to painful bone spurs, tendonitis, arthritis and capsulitis (inflammation of ligaments surrounding toe joints).

There are other contributing factors to foot problems, too. Many people gained weight during the pandemic, which puts extra strain on feet and ankles. And as pandemic restrictions waned, some jumped too quickly back into sports and fitness activities, doing too much too soon, which can lead to joint and tendon injuries.

Taking Good Care of Your Feet

For footwear, Dr. Milliman advises patients to follow an 80/20 rule: Wear supportive shoes at least 80 percent of the time you’re on your feet, inside or outside. And sadly, flip flops don’t count.

“You want a stiff shoe, like an athletic sneaker,” she says. “A stiff shoe means you can’t fold it in half or twist it.”

Dr. Milliman offers these tips:

  • Buy a pair of inside shoes for home use.
  • Replace worn-out shoes, especially sneakers that tend to get a lot of wear. Even if they look fine, old sneakers will not properly protect your feet.
  • Make sure shoes are snug enough that your feet don’t move around inside them.
  • Arch supports (shoe inserts) can help if you have high or low arches. But beware, there are many products on the shelves and many are not particularly helpful. A lot of the inserts don't provide any support. It's basically padding,” Dr. Millman says.

Foot Stretches Can Help

Stretching your feet before and after activity can reduce risk of injury. Try these simple foot exercises at home at the start and end of your day:

  • Sit in a chair, lift one foot off the ground and make circles with the big toe, clockwise, then counterclockwise.
  • Stand with feet together, step one foot back with toes against the ground and heel raised. Hold for 20 seconds.
  • Still standing, raise your heel and curl your toes under and hold for 20 second.

Related Links

Podiatry services at University Hospitals provide excellent medical care and preventive strategies for foot-related conditions. Our highly skilled podiatrists help to decrease a patient’s pain and increase mobility and quality of life.

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