Many things involving your feet can go wrong in the workplace. Many workdays are also lost every year because employees suffer from backache, or leg and knee pain – which can often be traced back to the feet, and how we stand, sit and walk.
The foot and the ankle have 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 ligaments between them, so it’s no wonder that as many as 75% of people will experience a foot problem during their lives, according to the College of Podiatry in London.
And with more than 350 million diabetics across the world, looking after your feet, both in and out of the workplace, has become absolutely crucial. If you have diabetes and you don’t take proper care of your feet, amputation becomes a very real risk.
Here are several things that can hurt your feet while you’re earning a living:
High heels. In some workplaces, these are part of the dress code. This is especially true in professions where people deal face-to-face with clients. As the heel of a shoe increases in height, the pressure on the forefoot increases. High-heeled shoes cause you to lean forward, which can lead to back problems.
Pointy high heels and stilettos are the worst and can actually lead to thickened tendons and shortened calf muscles. Thirty-one percent of women wear high heels to work, according to the Spine Centre in Florida (US). They suggest not wearing high heels for long periods of time, stretching your calf muscles before and after putting on these shoes, limiting the heel height to about 4cm, and varying your footwear.
The wrong shoes for the job. Blisters, calluses and corns are your feet’s way of telling you that your shoes don’t fit properly or that they’re too small – or even too big. Whether you’re working on a building site, in a factory or on a shop floor, poorly fitting shoes will cause the abovementioned problems.
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Shoes that pinch or chafe any part of your feet will do damage. A lack of arch support can also lead to the problem of flat feet. Incorrect footwear for those doing manual labour can lead to crush injuries, punctures in the sole of the foot, and cuts or sprains. Some construction jobs, for instance, require shoes with thick soles to protect the feet. Shoes with synthetic uppers can also cause your feet to sweat excessively and may lead to fungal infections.
Problematic floor surfaces at work. These include concrete floors. Every step you take on these floors is like the impact of a hammer on the heel, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). And then there are slippery floors. Combine these with slippery footwear, and falls, twisted and sprained ankles and possibly even fractured bones, are sure to follow. When surfaces in the workplace are slippery, companies should provide non-slip footwear for their employees.
Continuous standing. Feet are made for walking, not for standing day in and day out. Many jobs, such as teaching, hairdressing, factory work, and working in shops require many hours of standing every day. Add the wrong shoes, and you could get bunions, severe foot pain, osteoarthritis, fallen arches and malformation of the toes, according to the CCOHS. Another possibility is permanent misalignment of the joints of the bones of the feet. Inflammation can also cause arthritis.
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What you can do to protect your feet at work
• See a podiatrist if you experience foot pain at work. Get advice about the kind of healthy, protective and supportive footwear that would be appropriate for your job.
• Speak to your boss to see if job rotation could lower the number of hours people spend on their feet at work.
• Take a spare pair of comfortable (but formal) shoes to work. When your feet start aching, change your shoes.
• Buy shoes in the late afternoon when your feet might be slightly swollen.
• Consider getting orthotic supports for your shoes, especially if you have sunken arches.
• Wear leather or canvas shoes that will allow your feet to breathe. In extremely hot weather, feet can sweat excessively inside closed shoes. Sandals might be an alternative.
For more information on specific foot health problems and a list of podiatrists, visit the website of the Australian Podiatry Association.
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