The pandemic has been hard on our feet

In March 2020, Krista Fahs, 53, began working from home. As she spent the day sitting at her desk, the saleswoman working for a computer dealer forgot about the sneakers she wore every day. He suddenly realized that he was washing his clothes, playing with his cat, and even going to visit his neighbors without putting on his shoes. “I was walking barefoot all the time,” he said.

After spending a few months working from home, he began to feel a sting of pain in his heel, but ignored it until last month, when it became too intense to be overlooked. Even when he was in bed, the pain never stopped. “This is ridiculous,” he recalled. “I didn’t even know how to sleep because of the pain.”

The onset of the pandemic coincided with a significant decline in foot trauma, said Robert K. Lee, chief of foot and ankle podiatric surgery at Santa Monica Medical Center at the University of California, Los Angeles campus, but his office It soon became repopulated with patients like Fahs complaining of foot pain. “I thought, ‘Ah, so this is the effect of the pandemic on the feet of the whole country,'” he said.

There is no specific data on the increase in foot pain, but James Christina, executive director of the American Medical Association of Podiatry, said it has been an obvious trend for many of the organization’s 12,000 members.

Rock Positano, co-director of the New York Special Surgery Hospital’s Non-Surgical Foot and Ankle Service, has seen such a significant increase in foot pain — between 20 and 30 percent — that he described the phenomenon as a “pandemic foot.” .

Now that spring has arrived, regulations are easing and people are eager to get their bodies and hobbies back from the pandemic, so they’re taking to the streets, says James Hanna, a podiatrist and president of the Podiatric Medical Association. New York State. Many are aggravating existing foot injuries or creating new ones.

“People thought they could pick things up or do something they hadn’t done in two years,” he said, “but their feet aren’t ready for what their bodies want to do.”

By instituting a couple of simple steps, Hanna assures those who have foot pain that this pain can be relieved as well as prevented.

Some of the most common ailments of the feet occur simply because the foot was subjected to greater exertion during the pandemic. You may have chosen to walk long distances instead of using public transportation or spent a lot of time barefoot at home. “People don’t realize how many miles it takes to walk and stand in their homes,” Positano said.

Fahs was diagnosed with one of those overuse injuries, plantar fasciitis, in which the ligament under the arch that supports the arch becomes inflamed, which often feels like a pain in the heel. “I knew what it was because my brother, my sister, and one of my best friends also suffered recently.”

Metatarsalgia is another injury from overuse, also caused by inflammation, but in the joints of the toes, which causes pain in the pad of the foot.

For those starting out with ambitious athletic routines just emerging from the pandemic, Achilles tendinitis has been a common diagnosis. The tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel bone and, with a sudden increase in use, can become irritated and swollen.

These injuries not only affect the health of your feet. If left untreated, they can “go up” and cause pain in the knees, hips, and back. “People think they’re falling apart, but no,” Positano said. “They’re using their feet too much.”

Overuse injuries are not the only reason people have been suffering from foot pain lately. Maryland Podiatrist Priya Parthasarathy has also seen an increase in toe and foot fractures. Some are caused, he said, by accidentally kicking furniture – the result of being at home and barefoot more often – and by tripping and falling on pets. “You see one, then you see two, then three, then four,” he said of those pet-related fractures, “and you say, ‘Wait, there’s definitely a connection here.’

Meanwhile, Judith F. Baumhauer, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has had to remove more bunions, which are bony bumps on the base of her big toe. Without proper footwear, the foot sometimes stretches — actually widens — and anatomical structures may change. Among other problems, this can also aggravate bunions.

“They let their feet do what they want,” says Baumhauer, “and now that they have to go back to work, their feet rebel.”

Baumhauer said the pandemic weight gain could also be to blame for the increase in foot discomfort. He explained that even a couple of extra pounds have an impact. “It’s literally a matter of physics,” he said, explaining that the foot supports four times the strength of our body weight when walking. Losing or gaining 2.5 kilograms would mean a change of “nine kilograms in the ankle and foot,” he said.

Jacquelyn M. Dylla, an associate professor of clinical physiotherapy at the University of Southern California, says one of the main triggers is for people to do too many things too quickly. Many, without realizing it, have suffered atrophy and loss of bone density due to inactivity, which makes it more difficult to stabilize on uneven surfaces. “Smaller injuries are causing more catastrophic problems,” he said. “I have patients who look like they were in a car accident,” he added, “but they only twisted their ankle on an excursion.”

Even young children, after one or two years of virtual schooling, experience problems when they fully join the sport. “You have a child sitting at home every day for a year who goes straight to cross country,” said Parthasarathy.

Podiatrists say that one of the solutions to foot pain can be quite simple: wear shoes with support. That means a semi-rigid sole, a wide toe and a small heel lift. Make sure you take the right steps in a shoe store and, if you don’t want to wear street shoes in your home, buy a specific pair for indoor use. If you wear older footwear, make sure that the sole is not too worn, as it may be too worn to provide substantial support. You can also add insoles to support the arch of the foot.

According to Dylla, it is also essential to prepare our body for a new activity by strengthening it first. This means exercising the feet with flexion exercises of the toes and arch. “There are abs to strengthen the abdominal muscles,” Dylla said. “Flexing the arch is the equivalent.”

In Hanna’s opinion, the best advice might be to start slow. “If you’re going to start hiking, do it at a moderate pace for a short distance,” he advised. “If you tolerate it well, maybe you can go faster at longer distances.”

If you have persistent foot pain, consult a podiatrist. There are many simple ways for doctors to relieve pain and prevent the onset of chronic problems. If you’re upset, “get medical attention,” Baumhauer said, “because we have a lot of tricks up our sleeve.”

Podiatrists also say that stretching is crucial to prevent and treat foot discomfort. “Adequate warm-up,” Hanna said, “I can’t stress this enough.”

In the morning, even before going to the bathroom, Hanna recommends flexing her feet by pulling her toes toward her body. Then imagine that your fingers are a pencil and write the alphabet. “If you do that, you will activate all the joints and you will be much less likely to be injured.”

Although the calf seems far away from the sole of the foot, its stretching plays an essential role in walking without pain. “When the calf and Achilles tendon are tense,” says Lee, “a lot more tension is created in all the joints of the foot.”

He suggests putting himself in a position of attack with one foot in front of the other, his hands resting on a wall and his feet resting on the floor. You should feel the stretch in the calf of the back leg. He suggests doing this several times throughout the day.

Massaging the arch area of ​​the foot can also prevent injury by keeping the sole of the foot agile. Lee advises catching a tennis or golf ball while sitting at a desk or watching television. “Roll your foot on the ball and massage that area to loosen those fibers,” he says.

However, if you have pain in your heel, see a doctor to have your foot checked before stretching. In some cases, Positano said, there may be undiagnosed tears in the plantar fascia that can make stretching worse.

If you have persistent foot pain, make an appointment with a podiatrist. There are many simple ways that doctors can relieve pain and prevent the onset of chronic problems. If you’re upset, “look for attention,” Baumhauer said, “because we have a lot of tricks up our sleeve.”

Mara Altman is a journalist and author of Gross Anatomy: Dispatches From the Front (and Back).

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