Written by William Munro, Managing Director of FootActive (www.footactive.co.uk)
In 2019 1.5million working days were lost due to work-related lower limb disorders. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020/21, these issues have been widely exacerbated for both those working from home and those working overtime in the frontline sectors, with changing working habits increasing foot complaints threefold in the last two years.
The sudden increase or decrease in activity levels of workers during the pandemic has led to more reports of lower limb injury due to a decline in muscle and tendon flexibility. Not only are care workers at risk of pain and injury due to their increased activity levels during the pandemic, but their mental health can affect and be affected by this also.
A recent study by Southern Cross University, conducted over three years, found there is a substantial link between foot pain and mental health. The study found that changes in foot health can have an adverse effect on mental health and that long term pain can manifest as mental health issues for those affected.
Reflective of this, oxidative stress, which strongly correlates with depression, anxiety, and other types of emotional stress, is also strongly correlated with inflammation in the body. Dealing with high levels of oxidative stress can increase the risk of foot pain, injury and disorders.
It is imperative at this time that the care sector looks to improve the health of our essential workers and it seems that we must start from the bottom to work our way up. Care workers can adopt the following practices now to help maintain their foot health and, in turn, combat the increased strain on their mental health during the pandemic and beyond.
WEAR APPROPRIATE FOOTWEAR
Flat sole shoes are often the footwear of choice for care workers but are not recommended for prolonged standing. Work shoes should provide adequate arch support to prevent weakness and pain in the legs and feet. If you cannot find suitable shoes which include this support, you can insert orthopaedic insoles into any shoes to help alleviate pain and prevent future foot related disorders.
Walking or standing throughout the day can make muscles stiff and limit flexibility. Performing stretches such as calf raises throughout your working day will increase the blood circulation in your lower limbs and decrease your risk of pain and injury.
Proper preparation and relaxation from a day on your feet can go a long way in preventative foot care, it also gives you some much needed me time which is highly beneficial to your mental health.
Applying ice, massaging and elevating your feet will help your body to heal, loosen any tight muscles and counteract any swelling that may occur.
Seek medical advice early
If your foot or mental health is causing issues with your work, speak with your GP to find a medical solution that works for you. No pain is normal and it should not impact on your daily life.