Foot Health for People on the Job
If you work in a manufacturing or service job (including retail, health care, food service, teaching, and other professions in which there is a significant portion of time spent on your feet), follow these tips for taking proactive care of the feet and helping to prevent foot conditions and injuries:
- Always wear footwear that complies with your employer’s requirements or recommendations. U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements mandate that safety footwear is required in workplaces where there is “danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, or objects piercing the sole, or when the use of protective footwear will protect the affected employee from an electrical hazard, such as a static-discharge or electric-shock hazard, that remains after the employer takes other necessary protective measures.” Even if not subject to OSHA safety footwear requirements, your employer can help you choose the best footwear for your particular workplace and job responsibilities. Care should be taken to choose footwear with the appropriate outsole for the type of work being performed. If, for example, there are lubricants present in the work environment it is important to use non-slip outsoles. Other specialty safety shoes can address the potential hazards identified by OSHA, including electric hazard shoes or boots, shoes or boots with safety toes, shoes with special metatarsal guards, and shoes or boots with special protective insoles to protect against puncturing from sharp objects on the floor in certain work environments. You don’t have to purchase the most expensive shoes or boots, but it is usually best to avoid very cheap footwear. Consider your footwear as an investment in your comfort and safety on the job. These tips from the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society can help you choose the right protective footwear.
- As much as is possible and practical, rotate several pairs of shoes or boots. Some components of shoes and boots are made of plastic materials that need “recovery” time, and if your feet sweat your footwear may get damp. Alternating pairs each day can help the footwear dry out, regain its shape, and provide better protection.
- Use the integrated approach to selecting and fitting footwear. IPFH recommends an integrated approach for getting properly fitted with shoes or boots, padded socks, and any inserts or orthotics you wear, and purchasing them together as a “system” of foot protection. The integrated approach helps ensure protection, comfort and proper sizing of footwear.
- Consider using support or compression hosiery. Standing for extended periods without moving causes the veins in the feet and legs to have to work harder to return the flow of blood to the heart. Gravity works against this flow, and support or compression hosiery can assist the blood flow in the veins and help reduce the feeling of fatigue and soreness in the feet and lower legs. It is a good idea to consult your physician or a foot health professional before using this type of hosiery to make sure it is right for you.
- If you work on your feet for extended periods of time, take advantage of all opportunities that your job allows to get off your feet for short periods. Try to move around and not stand still for long periods. As much as possible, sit down for breaks and meals, and elevate your feet as you are able.
- At various times throughout the day, as you have the time and opportunity, do simple exercises:
- Raise the heels. This can help relieve cramping caused by extended time standing, and can strengthen the calf muscles. In a standing position, lift your heels so that you are on the balls of your feet. Hold this position for about ten seconds. Repeat the move ten times.
- Point the toes. Lift one foot and plantar flex it (point it down toward the floor). Then flex the foot. Repeat with the other foot. This will help stretch the muscles in the feet to help reduce aches and enhance circulation.
- Roll a ball under your foot. Use a tennis ball or even a golf ball under the forefoot and apply light pressure for several minutes.
- Do a standing stretch. While standing, position the toes against a wall, and gradually lean forward until you feel a stretching in the arch. Repeat with the other foot.
- Do a sitting stretch. Take your shoes off and cross one leg over the other so that the ankle is resting on the thigh of the opposite leg. Hold the toes and bend them back toward the shin, stretching the plantar fascia.
- Do a self-foot massage. Start with the toes, and massage them in circular motions with your thumbs. Continue working the arch under the foot and move toward the heel, applying pressure with the fingers and palms of your hands.
- The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has a good overall foot and ankle conditioning program at this link: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00667.
- Practice good posture. When working on your feet, try to keep your back as straight as possible and your shoulders back, not slouched forward. Keep the shoulders in line with the spine and hips.
- Work with your employer to help create a safe and healthy work environment, including foot health considerations. Safe and healthy employees are an organization’s greatest asset. Providing constructive feedback and working collaboratively with your employer to address workplace improvements and safety standards benefits everyone. Anti-fatigue mats and carpeting are used fairly extensively in the workplace to help reduce lower extremity fatigue and soreness. Research has not shown that these mats alone can have a significant influence, however, when combined with effective work design and quality footwear, they can help. These guidelines from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety are helpful in understanding in what situations anti-fatigue mats are beneficial. General job and workplace design are also key impactors of overall foot health on the job, and employees can work with employers to help influence the design of work and workplaces to help assure a safe and healthy work environment, and to assure that employees have access to quality, appropriate footwear.
- Take proper care of your feet at all times. Practice good hygiene and follow tips for daily foot care. Click here to read IPFH’s recommendations for proper hygiene and foot care.
People who work in service jobs and spend extended time on their feet need to follow essentially the same recommendations as those in manufacturing environments. Workers in foodservice and food preparation, health care, retailing, personal care and grooming, teaching and other professions that require being on the feet for extended periods of times are vulnerable to foot and lower leg fatigue and many of the same foot conditions as those who work in manufacturing environments. Taking proper care, as detailed above, is important; and it is especially important to choose the most appropriate footwear for the job, including socks, shoes, and any necessary inserts or orthotics using the integrated approach.