There is a definite upside to working from home, and a relaxed dress code is one of those perks. We’ve been able to ditch heels and dress shoes for slippers and going barefoot or wearing only socks around the house. However, that seemingly positive perk is proving to be a problem for a growing number of remote workers.
Apart from the perils of social isolation alongside easy access to snacks and a far more sedentary lifestyle, working from home has produced another danger to our health and well-being: heel pain. The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) recently announced that its members — who include most of the nation’s Doctors of Podiatric Medicine — are noting a significant rise in heel pain and associated issues. The reason? Our growing fondness for going barefoot or wearing comfy, albeit non-supportive, footwear.
The medical name for the heel pain that many people are currently experiencing is plantar fasciitis. It refers to an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a long, thick band of ligament that protects the arch of your foot. At one time, this condition was commonly known as policeman’s heel because it was once a common condition experienced by police out walking the beat. It’s a common problem among runners and now remote workers.
Remote workers spend far more of their time barefoot or in slippers, socks or other non-supportive footwear. Our feet are literally not getting the support they are used to or the treatment they need to stay healthy. When we stand or walk around without that support, there is nothing to support the arch. Our body weight strains the bottom of the foot, along with the tissue that forms the plantar fascia.
The plantar fascia is in the shape of a bowstring. Tension or stress on this bowstring causes small tears, and repeated stretching and tears can result in inflammation and pain.
Working from home is not the only risk factor for plantar fasciitis. Being female puts you statistically at more risk, as does being a runner, ballet or aerobic dancer.
Other conditions can put you at greater risk or can increase the severity of plantar fasciitis. These include:
Flat feet or high arches can put you at greater risk of developing plantar fasciitis as can an abnormal gait or abnormalities in how your weight shifts when you stand.
Additional weight can amplify the stress on your plantar fasciitis.
Most people develop plantar fasciitis between the ages of forty and sixty
Occupations or physical activity that requires excess running, walking or standing can also put you at risk.
The result is a stabbing pain in the heel, arch or both that will worsen in time if it remains untreated. Generally, it will last for several days to several weeks. Heel pain is the primary symptom of plantar fasciitis, but other conditions may also be present, including:
- Pain and stiffness when you wake in the morning that grows worse throughout the day
- Pain which worsens when you climb stairs or stand on your toes
- Pain that occurs after long periods of standing
If plantar fasciitis is left untreated, it can lead to chronic heel pain and prohibit some physical activities. Chronic sufferers may change how they walk to alleviate the pain in their heel, but this can cause additional problems with their foot, knee, hip or back. The plantar fascia can also rupture, although that happens very rarely.
Plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed with a physical examination and a discussion of your medical history. An examination of your foot and your pain location can generally provide a good indication of the issue. A doctor may order imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, to rule out a stress fracture or other issue causing your pain. These types of test are seldom required.
The good news is that most cases of plantar fasciitis can be treated at home. Start by wearing well-fitting shoes with a cushion in the heel, even when working from home. Maintain a healthy weight and regularly stretch your feet, particularly before exercise. Avoid exercising on hard surfaces.
Applying ice to the area where the pain occurs and resting can also help. Over the counter pain or anti-inflammatory medication can control the stabbing pain of plantar fasciitis. If the pain worsens or doesn’t disappear following at home-treatment, you should consult a podiatrist.
Physical therapy can help with stretching and strengthening supporting muscles, including the lower leg. Night splints, which stretch your calf and the arch of your foot while you sleep, are another excellent option. Finally, your doctor might prescribe orthotics in the form of off-the-shelf or custom-fitted arch supports (orthotics) to help re-distribute pressure to your feet more evenly.
For more problematic cases, doctors may prescribe cortisone (steroid) shots to ease inflammation. Surgery is rarely performed for plantar fasciitis.
Of course, with any condition, the best cure is to avoid it altogether. If you’re working from home, be sure to wear supportive footwear, stretch your arches and avoid sitting or standing in one place for too long. Plantar fasciitis is very painful, but it is also completely avoidable.