How Working From Home Is Hurting Feet And What You Can Do About It

A podiatrist explains why she’s seeing an uptick in foot pain.

Since COVID-19 launched many Canadians into lockdown in March 2020, many of us have been working, exercising, and doing our day-to-day activities from home. As a result, some people are feeling the effects that this change of environment has had on our feet.

Carla Di Gioia, a podiatrist and foot specialist from Windsor, Ontario, explains why the pandemic may be affecting your feet, and how you can deal with it.

In what way has the pandemic affected people’s feet?

We’re seeing more issues with heel pain and arch pain, because some individuals have started to exercise more. They can’t go to gym, so they’re exercising at home without shoes on, and that’s causing an increase in pain. In other cases, some people are walking more. That’s causing an increase in pain, because they’re starting to develop arch and heel pain resulting from poorly fitting shoes or not having proper insoles to help support them with these increased activities.

I’ve also seen an increase in infections, such as ingrown toenails becoming infected. Some reasons why we’re seeing an increase in things [like] ingrown toenails is because [when we first] shut down [in March 2020], that lasted over three months. People didn’t have access to foot care, so they tried to do things at home, and unfortunately, it made things worse.

How can people best support their feet when exercising at home?

It’s really important that they’re wearing proper athletic shoes. We typically would want people to be sized in length and width, to make sure the shoes are matched for their foot shape and the activity that they’re doing. It can be a bit difficult [if stores are closed or have limited capacity], but if you call your specialty shoe store, [you may be able to book an appointment or place an order for pickup]. If you’re wearing the proper shoes, and you’re still having an issue with heel pain, arch pain or ball of the foot pain, it is good to make an appointment with your foot specialist, and see if something [such] as an arch support would help alleviate your pain and help you continue with your activity.[contextly_auto_sidebar]

Should people be wearing house shoes?

A lot of individuals have hardwood or tile flooring [in their homes], which allows for zero shock absorption on your feet, so it’s almost like walking barefoot on concrete. You don’t want to do that at work, and you don’t want to do that home, either. I’ve had people come in because they are working from home, or they’re online learning, and they’re either barefoot, in flip-flops, or [wearing] a very flat slipper—that’s not really good for individuals. Depending on your foot type, you might need [more] support: so proper athletic shoes in the house, a slipper with a bit of a heel height, and even wearing custom orthotics or custom insoles in the shoes. Extra cushion and support would definitely be beneficial for people that are studying or working at home.

How can people best take care of their feet during this time?

[A lot of] people are so worried about COVID that [they may be hesitant] to leave their house to do activities, such as going for a walk around the block, for example. If we’re not exercising, if we’re not doing something for our overall health, people will become more stressed out. There needs to be a good balance, we need to be safe, but we do need to do a little bit of activity for our mind and body. Whether it’s going for a walk around the block [while, of course, following local public health advice], using an exercise bike at home, doing yoga, or finding some kind of workout program, it’s all beneficial to help deal with the stress that we’re under because of COVID.

Just be mindful of any pain. And, If you’re seeing any [other] changes in your feet—bruising, swelling, or redness around the toes—it is important that you see your foot specialists for these things.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This article was originally published in January 2021; updated in January 2022.

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