Written By: Paul Langer, DPM — Superfeet Wellness Panel Member. Paul Langer is a sports medicine podiatrist who treats athletes of all abilities at Twin Cities Orthopedics in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the author of Great Feet For Life and lectures internationally on the topics of lower extremity health and footwear.
Our lives have changed drastically in a few short months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of the changes have had ripple effects on parts of our lives and health that have been unexpected, even for those who have been lucky enough to avoid infection. And there have been some silver linings. Many of us have had more time with our families and have not had to battle long commutes to work.
New pandemic fitness routines = new injuries
In the early stages of the pandemic when our state went into a lockdown, I was seeing patients in clinic who had developed an overuse injury after either changing their fitness routine because of temporary health club closures. Many people also decided to take advantage of more free time to start a new fitness program. Activities like walking and running are especially popular with both groups as those activities allow for social distancing and are easily accessible. It is not unusual to see overuse injuries in those who have changed their workout routine, especially when changing fitness routines relatively abruptly
Pain from going barefoot at home
An increasingly common contributing factor to overuse injuries in the time of Covid-19 has been seen in those who are working from home for the first time. Prior to the pandemic, most of us wore shoes for the duration of the work day. Suddenly, many people are working from home and either aren’t wearing shoes while working at home, or are wearing shoes less than before. This change has contributed to some people developing foot or lower leg pain.
Just as an increase in activity or change in workout routine can increase the risk of injury, so can an increase in barefoot activity or change in footwear.
Now, I want to emphasize that going barefoot is a normal and healthy activity that each of us should do regularly to help maintain strength and range of motion of our feet. But, it is also important to understand that any change to an activity can be a risk factor for pain or injury. So while I do advocate barefoot activity, going from wearing shoes all day at work to wearing shoes less or not at all can be a problem for some. A transition period to such an activity would be ideal, but in the beginning of the pandemic, none of us had that luxury.
Easing in to going shoeless
A safer way to transition would be to go barefoot for an hour or so the first day and then gradually increase time without shoes based on comfort or pain. Most people could tolerate barefoot activity better if they did some strengthening exercises for the feet and lower legs.
Periodically wearing comfortable sandals or shoes inside may provide enough protection to minimize pain as a part of the transition. House slippers are great for keeping the feet warm but they rarely have enough support to help those who are vulnerable to pain — one option is to look for slippers with enough space to add a supportive insole.
So, my answer to the question of whether you should wear shoes in the home? I typically advise my patients to do at least some activities either barefoot or with minimal support to build foot strength (as long as it does not cause pain) but to also mix up their footwear as much as necessary within their range of comfort.
As with any activity, it is smart to listen to the signals your body gives you and respect any limits. For example, four hours of barefoot activity may be the limit for some in a workday, even if they spent weeks transitioning while doing exercises and alternating footwear. A gradual transition to any change that affects your health is always important.