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How the pandemic is changing our feet

How going barefoot 10 extra hours a day can cause an overuse injury

The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted almost everything we do. Once upon a time, most of us commuted to a workplace, but many of us now work from home. This shift has led to a change in dress, basically eliminating the need for fancy shoes and replacing those fancy shoes with sock feet or bare feet. While this may seem like a positive for foot health, Toronto-based pedorthist Anthony Harper says he’s seen an uptick in soft-tissue injuries since the pandemic began. He attributes this change to two things: more people are running, and fewer people are wearing shoes to work.

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Spring injuries

Harper says the spring usually brings an influx of soft tissue injuries as people do too much, too soon after being relatively sedentary over the winter. “With the pandemic, people have been running and walking more and probably not building up slowly. This, coupled with walking around barefoot at home, can lead to overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis.” 

Barefoot at home

Since many people are wearing shoes for 10 fewer hours a day than they used to, Harper says some are developing injuries. “We’re seeing people with plantar pain who’ve never had it before, or people whose pain has come back. I think this is partially coming from not wearing shoes as often any more. Essentially, your foot is working harder when you’re barefoot. You’re going through this full range of motion that allows the arch to collapse a little more, which adds additional stress and strain.”

Issues that arise from walking barefoot are different than those from wearing dress shoes. “It’s not that people are getting injured less, it’s that the injuries we’re seeing are different. Issues that stem from dress shoes are more often bunion- or metatarsalgia- (pain at the bottom of the foot) related.  These issues will probably come back when dress shoes are worn more commonly again.”

What to do if you’re experiencing foot pain

If you’re a runner who has recently developed foot pain, wearing a supportive house shoe can make a big difference. “There are certain sandals that have a reinforced or stronger base to help the foot. If you’ve got good biomechanics and structure, then this might not even be an issue, but if you’re hypermobile or have a flatter foot, a house shoe or shoe with some arch support will help. Birkenstocks, for example, are a great idea. You’re looking for a house shoe with a little more structure to it.”

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