Americans’ work wardrobes are taking on new meaning as we continue to shelter in place during the coronavirus crisis. For many, that means exchanging a suit for a pair of comfy pants and leaving shoes at the front door.
While this new relaxed wardrobe has its comfort benefits, going barefoot or simply wearing socks may come with some health and wellness issues, according to podiatrists.
“Walking and standing barefoot for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces, can cause many foot conditions like heel pain or plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, sprains and even stress fractures, just to name a few,” said podiatrist Jacqueline Sutera, who is also an adviser to the Vionic footwear brand.
To help keep these conditions from developing or for those who already require footwear with enhanced arch support and deep heel cups, Dr. Sutera recommends wearing a supportive slipper at home, preferably with a thicker sole and some cushioning.
Dr. Lori Weisenfeld-Katz of NYC Sports Podiatry in New York, agrees that older adults or those with poor circulation, varicose veins or whose feet tend to swell after standing for long periods of time, should wear shoes at home for added protection, especially now that we’re spending more time indoors. “People don’t realize when they’re wearing shoes, it offers some compression and stops some of the swelling,” she said.
And Weisenfeld-Katz noted there are other benefits to wearing shoes indoors. “People walking barefoot at home also tend to stub their toes,” she said. “It’s the most common way toes are broken in your own home.” Going a step further, she advised that when exercising at home, the proper footgear is essential in order to prevent injuries.
But going barefoot can be done in a healthy way, explained Paul Langer of Twin Cities Orthopedics in Minneapolis. Dr. Langer, who is an adviser to the Superfeet shoe and insole brand, said that individuals need to watch for any signs of foot pain and determine their own comfort level. “The more variability you can get through your footsteps or movement patterns, the less likely you are to suffer from overuse injuries,” he said. “When barefoot, you have different movement patterns than when wearing shoes. This variability is helpful in reducing risk of injury as long as you’re doing it in a range that feels good to you.”
Eventually the all-clear will be sounded for workers to return to the office, but Dr. Sutera said there’s no reason to fear stepping into a pair of shoes after weeks or even months of going barefoot. “It really shouldn’t [matter], unless there have been drastic changes in body weight,” she said. “You will just need to get used to them again. Do it slowly and switch it up throughout the day and week.”
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