WFH: Shoes or No Shoes?

LISBETH HOYT, PT, DPT.

If you’re eleven months into working from home and have new foot pain, you aren’t alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things about our daily routines: from new home from work setups to home gyms, and a shrinking list of reasons to leave the house, you may go longer than a day without putting on shoes. And even on the days, you do make it out for a run or some errands, your total time in shoes is still significantly less than pre-quarantine life. Every once in a while, the all-day barefoot life is fine (because we have become accustomed to wearing shoes for our entire lives). But after months of this, our feet are starting to take a toll.

Like my last COVID-19 related blog, I will re-emphasize that there are no current long term studies on most things related to the pandemic. We’re one month away from the one-year lockdown anniversary and it’s safe to say we’re still learning new things every day. However, collectively as staff at Custom Performance, we’ve seen a significant increase in foot-related injuries such as plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, metatarsalgia, and even stress fractures.

The transition from constant shoe-wearing to minimal time in shoes made the little muscles in our feet work harder to maintain arch support while standing. Additionally, this puts increased stress on the tendons and ligaments in our feet. To put this in perspective, imagine trying to run a marathon when you’ve only ever run five miles. Your muscles, tendons and ligaments aren’t prepared for that type of strain. The same goes for the muscles in your feet! They weren’t ready to work all day without some help from shoes.

In addition to walking around your apartment without shoes, you might have started working out barefoot too. With the transition of some of our favorite fitness classes to zoom, many people are doing HIIT workouts that include burpees and jumping in their socks. We’ve seen a higher rate of foot overuse injuries, ankle sprains, and even boney injuries just from this addition of barefoot exercise.

So how do you fix your feet? For starters, get your feet checked out, either by us or a podiatrist to determine the source of your pain. You will most likely need some foot and ankle strengthening in addition to some modifications to your daily footwear routine. Try to alternate between wearing shoes and going barefoot for different parts of your day. If you’re worried about wearing dirty running shoes around your house, invest in a pair of indoor-only sneakers. Slippers are also a great alternative to wearing a shoe inside, but make sure you have a pair that’s appropriate for you. Maybe add some blue light blocking glasses to your cart for all that screen time and you’re set to continue the work from home life!

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