Forget your corona stone or your lockdown roots — are your feet ready for freedom? Experts say that a year of padding around at home, barefoot or in slippers, has weakened the muscles and ligaments in our feet.
ow, as sandals weather hits and we start wearing ‘proper shoes’ again for social events and in workplaces, they say we may be heading for pain and discomfort. Here’s how to fix your lockdown feet.
Walking barefoot is no bad thing, says postural alignment specialist Caroline Clarke: “Humans are designed to go barefoot; there are 7,000 nerve receptors in our feet which, along with our eyes and ears, help to keep us balanced.”
However, pre-lockdown, our foot muscles had grown reliant on the support that shoes provide. Suddenly taking that away can cause pain and inflammation. One common condition is plantar fasciitis — pain in the inside of the heel and the underside of the foot caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, the ligament that connects your heels to your toes.
Roughly one in 10 people will develop the condition in their lifetime — usually between the ages of 40 and 60 — but podiatrist Louise Stuart says that, since the start of lockdown, she has seen an increase in clients with the condition and other resulting musculoskeletal problems such as knee pain.
“I’m seeing a lot more Achilles tendinopathy in clients with high-profile jobs who are working from home. Heels cause the Achilles to shorten, but when you stop wearing them, you get constant pulling on the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendon.”
Give your feet a workout
Simple exercises can strengthen your feet as we head out more and engage in more exercise, lowering the risk of injury and pain. “My approach to foot health is completely exercise-driven,” says Clarke. “For me, the core starts at your head and ends at your feet. Our feet are our foundations — they’re our balance point into the ground. If you’re not holding them correctly, this can have a knock-on effect on the rest of your body.”
A simple exercise to help with muscular pain in the arch of the foot is to use a tennis ball while sitting or standing. “Put the tennis ball under your foot and just let it roll around. If you put the tennis ball near the front of the foot, wrap the toes around it and lift them up and down. That will start to stretch the muscles in the foot,” she says.
Another of Clarke’s exercises is the “holding leg stretch”. Lie on your back with one knee bent and place a belt around the ball of the foot that is elongated. Straighten your leg and flex your toes towards you with the heel down, then raise the leg around three to 12 inches off the ground, with the belt taking the weight of the whole foot.
Strengthen your calf muscles
You might be desperate to squeeze your feet back into your favourite pair of high heels. But Clarke says after a long period out of proper shoes, our calf muscles will have lengthened, meaning they’ll tighten and constrict when we put them back into heels, which can be painful.
She says stretching out the calf muscles can help. Try standing with your back against a wall, with your heels hips-width apart and your feet at 10 to two. Keeping your heels, your buttocks, your shoulders and your head on the wall, slide your body up and down the wall by raising your heels off the ground. Make sure you come down through the big toe joint, and don’t bail out through your ankles.
Gradually retrain your feet by wearing heels around the house for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. You could also rethink the type of heel you’re wearing to see if there is a specific one that works for you.
“I have to either wear high heels or cowboy boots because anything between that hurts my feet. Gradually experiment to find out what works,” says Clarke.
Swap slippers for sandals
“Occlusive footwear like slippers prevents airflow to the foot, making it sweat. This warm, moist environment can become a breeding ground for fungus,” says Stuart. If you’re experiencing powdery dryness on the foot that isn’t responding to moisturisers, Stuart says it is important to seek help from a podiatrist.
(© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021)