Your Feet at Work
Your feet can take a pounding in the workplace. The daily demands of your job may include walking, standing for long periods, lifting and jumping on and off machinery. While you are working, your feet may absorb up to three times your body weight and working feet can travel up to 24 kilometers a day! Our feet are the foundation of our entire body, so we should not take our feet for granted.
The work environment itself can create health risks for your feet. Hazardous conditions, such as oily and slippery floors, wet conditions or extreme heat or cold can put feet at risk of injury and lead to foot problems.
A study by WorkCover Queensland in 2013 found that nearly 19% of all workplace injuries for the year involved the feet, toes, or lower limbs. This highlights the importance of foot health in the workplace and ensuring that your employee’s foot safety and foot care needs are catered for.
Foot and lower limb injuries can become problematic and can delay return to usual work duties following injury. If the healing process is not proactively managed, there is a greater risk of complications such as arthritis and degenerative changes which can lead to ongoing problems with pain and reduced flexibility.
Podiatrists can assist in the diagnosis and management of all workplace foot injuries. Effective treatment, including equipping people with adequate foot support and posture correction, can make all the difference in enhancing a person’s capacity for various work roles.
Stress fractures, sprains, strains, corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, chilblains, and tinea are some of the foot problems that can occur or be aggravated at work. Calluses, corns, and blisters can be caused by the pressure of incorrectly fitting shoes.
Arch pain or pain in the ball of the foot or heel may be related to muscle strain, which is associated with poor foot posture. Improving foot posture with more appropriate footwear and possibly specially-made insoles will reduce the strain. It is important to seek help for all foot ailments, including sore and tired feet.
Standing in one spot or walking for more than 4 hours at a time
Overuse injuries are prevalent for people who are on their feet for long periods of time. Proper foot care is paramount to relieving discomfort and preventing more serious injuries from occurring. When your feet are sore and tired you are at increased risk of tripping and falling injury. Supportive footwear and/or orthotics can reduce your risk of injury.
Walking on hard surfaces
Hard surfaces such as concrete lack flexibility and multiple ground force with every step. Workers employed regularly on hard surfaces can benefit from cushioned soles for shock absorption. Custom orthotics may also be useful for additional arch support.
Unsupportive footwear – including high heels
Shoes that are unsupportive or lack appropriate protection. Your toes should not touch the end of your shoes. If you can see the outline of your feet pressing against your shoes, they are probably the wrong size.
Regular high heel wearers place more pressure on the balls of their feet and walk less efficiently than wearers of flat shoes. The effect of wearing high heels for more than 40 hours per week shortens your calf muscle and actually changes your stride even when the heels are off.
High heels can contribute to many discomforts including:
These irritations can all lead to more serious issues as you alter your walking style to compensate for painful injury. Unnatural walking patterns can result in more serious problems with the knees, hips, and spine.
How to reduce your risks
Common overuse injuries among workers include repetitive strain injuries to the Achilles tendon, stress fractures through constant force applied to the feet, arch pain (as arches can be strained through long periods of standing and carrying weight), and heel pain. These problems can be avoided by:
Wearing supportive footwear
Regardless of your workplace, comfortable, properly fitted footwear is essential in maintaining foot health. Appropriate footwear can protect your feet by insulating them against cold, preventing them from getting wet or by cushioning them from the impact of your job.
In many workplaces, safety shoes or boots are necessary to protect against environmental risks. Boots need to be comfortable and correctly fitted and you should always have your feet measured. Remember that the length, width, and depth of your foot should all be considered.
Shoes that are properly fitted with comfortable inners, lower heels, and good arch support are recommended to reduce discomfort and prevent injury. Shoes should be secured on the feet with laces, straps, or buckles. Avoid backless shoes – when there is nothing at the back of the shoe it forces your toes to claw to maintain hold of the shoe. If your feet have to work to hold your shoes in place, your foot muscles may be strained.
Changing position regularly
Keep your muscles mobile and to give pressure points a rest. Keeping joints flexible by moving around is just as important as sitting down and having a rest at regular intervals. Make sure you change positions frequently so that any one particular muscle group isn’t getting more strain than another.
Take care of your feet at home
Many foot problems can be prevented simply by cleaning your feet regularly, inspecting them for corns, calluses and cuts, and keeping your nails in good condition. Your feet are more susceptible to injury if you are on your feet all day, so looking after your feet will make your working life easier and pain-free.
Foot care in the workplace
Employers - As an employer, you can prevent foot problems at work by:
Promoting foot health in your workplace.
Encouraging your staff members to report foot problems, no matter how minor it is. (eg safety shoes that rub).
Looking at the foot health record of your company – multiple foot complaints may suggest the workplace itself is creating foot problems.
Doing a ‘foot risk assessment’ in the workplace – look for ways to minimize the burden on your employees’ feet.
Emphasizing to the safety officer or occupational physician that foot complaints should be taken seriously.
Making sure you stock an adequate range of safety shoes (if applicable) to suit every staff member. If not, outsourcing the supply and fit of safety shoes may be more cost-effective.
Allowing employees a crossover period when they exchange their old safety shoes for a new pair.
Employees- As an employee, you can maintain your foot health by:
Being aware of the hazards in your workplace. If you have concerns about foot safety, alert your workplace representative or your employer.
Reporting any foot pain or discomfort to your employer or safety officer.
Making sure your shoes fit for your workplace (eg safety shoes if applicable).
Remembering that feet shouldn’t hurt. Sore feet are a sign of problems.
Visiting a podiatrist if you have foot problems.
What can a podiatrist do for you?
Podiatrists are highly-skilled health professionals trained to help prevent, diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate medical and surgical conditions of the feet.
While occupational health and safety guidelines can reduce the risk of injuries to employees, professional care can often benefit both employer and employee. Podiatric treatment for occupational health can include:
Managing existing injuries
If you are suffering from foot or lower leg pain, we can recommend treatments to provide your feet with more support throughout the day and relieve any discomfort. Some injuries benefit from sports massage therapy and corrective exercise regimens.
We conduct biomechanical assessments to investigate your posture and the way your lower limbs function. We look to see if you display any biomechanics that may contribute to pain and discomfort and can then develop a treatment plan specific to your individual needs.
Finding appropriate footwear
The importance of workplace-appropriate footwear shouldn’t be ignored, and for many jobs, safety or protective shoes are mandatory for good reason. We can provide expert advice to ensure you have maximum comfort at work.
Fitting custom orthotics
We can also fit you with custom orthotics to provide extra support and reduce muscle, tendon and ligament strain, and to relieve the burden of wear and tear. Orthotics are also available for high heels and can be fitted to provide support, to adjust the balance of the shoe and thereby redistribute your weight over the whole foot instead of just to the front.