Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, doctors have seen a surge in women with painful foot conditions. To the rescue: simple strategies to ease common symptoms.
The pandemic has affected everything from our mental health to our physical fitness, and it’s also having a surprising impact on our feet. “Over the past year, I’ve seen an uptick in patients with plantar fasciitis, tendonitis and stress fractures,” says Elena K. Wellens, DPM, a podiatrist at Rothman Orthopedics in Philadelphia.
How are these concerns related to COVID? “The average American used to spend at least eight hours of their day outside of their home in shoes. Now, patients have been working and exercising in a more relaxed atmosphere that often includes bare feet,” says Dr. Wellens. Even if you’re not working from home, any changes in habit, footwear or activity can cause pain. Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent and treat foot woes naturally. Here’s how.
If you’re walking more:
Since early 2020, 72 percent of people increased the time they spent walking—but many walking shoes marketed toward women don’t have optimal arch support. This can lead to plantar fasciitis, which occurs when the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot is inflamed, causing stabbing pain. The fix? “Wearing stiff-soled walking shoes can reduce the strain on the foot and arch,” says podiatrist Haseeb Ahmad, DPM. “And over-the-counter inserts (like PowerStep and Superfeet) can be beneficial.” Massaging the arch can also provide relief and prevent fasciitis by loosening the tissues, adds Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, a podiatrist in New York. She suggests massaging the bottom of your foot lengthwise as well as across the arch daily. You can also wear shoes and sandals designed especially for plantar fasciitis.
If you’re barefoot more:
Many of us began walking around the house barefoot during the pandemic — a change that can cause Achilles tendonitis, asserts Dr. Sutera. For women who suffer, the band of tissue that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone becomes inflamed, causing pain in the calf and the back of the heel. To combat and prevent heel pain, she advises limiting barefoot time to carpet or cork flooring. And since tight calf muscles lead to increased strain, Dr. Ahmad recommends doing daily calf stretches. One to try: Stand with the ball of your foot on a step and hold on to the railing, dropping your heel so it’s below step level. You’ll feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds; repeat on other foot.
If you’re moving less:
As we’re spending more time at home, studies show we’re moving up to 50 percent less. This can lead to poor circulation, which prevents the flow of oxygen to the feet and can cause symptoms like swelling, tingling and cramping. But finding time to move around during the day, especially when confined to a small workspace, can help. Dr. Ahmad suggests downloading a free app (like Stand Up! The Work Break Timer) that will alert you to get up and move around throughout the day. And once your day is done, Dr. Ahmad advises lying on the floor and putting your legs up on the wall. “Elevating your legs and feet at the end of the day can reduce fluid buildup.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.