When Your Feet Hurt, You Hurt All Over

Non-traumatic, occupational foot problems are so common that they can occur in virtually any workplace and under any working conditions. Surveys suggest that two out of every three workers suffer from foot problems. Underlying medical issues such as diabetes, obesity, and circulatory problems can seriously complicate foot problems. 

Common foot problems include the following: Severely aching feet, blisters, calluses, corns, rheumatism, arthritis, toe malformations, fallen arches (flat feet), bunions, and sprains. Fungal infections, such as athlete's foot caused by hot and humid environments, strenuous work, and footwear with synthetic (non-porous/non breathable) uppers are also common.

Some work-related factors can lead to foot problems, particularly jobs requiring long periods of standing. Standing for hours, day after day, not only tires the worker's feet but can also cause foot injuries. Continuous standing can cause the joints of bones of the feet to become misaligned, and can cause inflammation that can contribute to the development of arthritis and inflammatory conditions such as plantar fasciitis.

Footwear that fits poorly and/or is in need of repair contributes to foot discomfort. Pointed toes and high heels are particularly inappropriate as occupational footwear. Poorly fitted or chosen footwear can cause, or aggravate, any pre-existing foot problems. In many cases fashion sometimes takes precedence over choosing well-fitting, supportive safety footwear.

Employers should provide training and information on the health hazards of wearing improper shoes, the principles for selecting proper ones, and the simple rules of general foot care.

Good footwear should have the following qualities:

  • Inner side of the shoe must be straight from the heel to the end of the big toe.
  • The shoe must grip the heel firmly.
  • The forepart must allow freedom of movement for the toes.
  • Fastening across the instep to prevent the foot from slipping when walking.
  • Low, wide-based heel; flat shoes are recommended.

People buying footwear for work should consider the following:

  • Do not assume that footwear which is too tight will stretch with wear.
  • Have both feet measured when buying shoes. Feet normally differ in size.
  • Buy shoes to fit the bigger foot.
  • Buy shoes late in the afternoon when feet are likely to be swollen to their maximum size.
  • Ask your doctor's advice if necessary.
  • Consider using shock-absorbing insoles where the job requires walking or standing on hard floors.

Consider socks:

  • When selecting footwear, one should remember that tight socks or stockings can cramp the toes as much as poorly-fitted shoes.
  • Wrinkled socks, or socks that are too large or too small, can cause blisters.
  • White woolen or cotton socks may be recommended since dyed or synthetic socks cause skin allergies in some people.

Feet are subject to a great variety of skin and toenail disorders. Some simple rules of foot care:

  • Wash feet daily with soap, rinse thoroughly and dry, especially between the toes.
  • Trim toenails straight across and not too short. Do not cut into the corners.
  • Wear clean socks or stockings and change them daily.

To avoid athlete's foot follow these guidelines:

  • Select shoes made of leather or canvasnot synthetic materials.
  • Keep several pairs of shoes on hand and rotate shoes daily to allow them to air out.
  • For some workers, non-colored woolen or cotton socks may be recommended since dyes may cause or aggravate skin allergies.
  • Use foot powder.
  • If problems persist, see a doctor or health care specialist.