It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our daily lives. Some of these changes are subtle, like washing our hands more and wearing masks when we’re sick, while others are more significant—think career changes and lifestyle overhauls.
One major change is the number of people now working from home. In fact, 26 percent of U.S. employees now work remotely, and 16 percent of companies are fully remote. While the flexibility and work-life balance aspects of working from home have the potential to improve your quality of life, remote work can have some unexpected consequences. For example, being at home more may mean going barefoot more often—which can lead to several foot complications, according to one podiatrist. Read on to learn more.
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Going barefoot, especially on hard indoor surfaces, can be bad for your foot health. According to the experts at the University Foot and Ankle Institute in Santa Monica, CA, regular barefoot walking or running can impair foot function and increase your risk of injury. That’s because walking barefoot provides practically zero arch support and excessive pronation—a natural foot movement that occurs when your foot strikes the ground while walking or running.
Over time, walking barefoot indoors on hard surfaces can contribute to collapsed arches and flat feet. People who develop flat feet may experience foot pain in their heels or arch areas and swelling of the ankles, reports the Mayo Clinic. Mark Weissman, DPM, a podiatric (foot) surgeon, told Cedars-Sinai, “Walking around barefoot, with socks, or house slippers, can put you at increased risk for foot problems, including plantar fasciitis, tendinitis and metatarsalgia (pain and inflammation in the ball of your foot). Without proper shoes and arch support, people are more likely to strain their arch, leading to plantar fasciitis. People with flat feet put more stress on the inside of their foot and ankle, leading to tendinitis.”
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Wearing protective footwear indoors offers other benefits besides helping prevent foot health issues. For example, proper footwear prevents stubbed toes and the risk of stepping on sharp objects. It’s important, however, to ensure you have footwear that provides adequate arch support. Arch support is critical for maintaining alignment across your feet, knees, hips, and back. Lack of proper arch support can increase your chances of getting a serious foot condition, like plantar fasciitis.
“I encourage everyone to wear supportive high-quality shoes and to limit time spent barefoot, especially for long periods of standing and walking,” says Jackie Sutera, DPM, a podiatrist and Vionic Innovation Lab member. “Part of the normal aging process is that the natural fat pad on the bottom of feet becomes thinner over time (also called “fat pad atrophy”). It happens with age, weight changes, hormones and wear and tear. Once this happens, you lose your body’s natural shock-absorbing cushion and it can feel like you’re walking on skin and bone.”
Keeping your feet unfettered is by no means all bad. Going barefoot does have its benefits, such as better circulation and strengthening of muscles in your feet, which can improve posture, balance, and proprioception (your body’s awareness of its position and movement).
Several studies have found that habitual barefoot walking can improve foot posture and mechanics and that those who go barefoot have stronger feet and fewer deformities of the foot and toes, according to a 2016 cross-sectional study published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research.
To help protect your feet, consider wearing cushioned indoor shoes or slippers that provide arch support. “Socks are not enough to protect your feet,” states Sutera. “To decrease pain, minimize discomfort, and slow down the deterioration of the fat pad on the bottom of your feet, it’s important to wear supportive, cushioned shoes. Flat, thin, old, or worn-out shoes are not healthy for your feet overall, especially for this vulnerable natural padding.”
Regularly stretching and exercising your feet can help keep them strong and healthy and prevent future problems. The University Foot and Ankle Institute recommends toe raises, toe curls, toe splays, picking up marbles with your toes, and rolling a tennis, lacrosse, or golf ball under the arches of your feet.