Having a good start to the day is all about waking up on the right side of the bed. But what about if, when you place your feet on the ground for the first time in the morning, you're met with excruciating pain?
The long-term repercussions that being housebound might have on our health are still being evaluated. And one surprising, and underrated, problem is how being at home for hours on end can impact our foot health.\
As Dr Harpal Jadeja, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Medcare Orthopaedics and Spine Hospital, puts it: “We use our feet every day to get us around without thinking about them. They bear our weight, keep our balance and adapt to uneven surfaces, helping us move around and engage in day-to-day activities and sports. Despite the vital role they play, our feet, unfortunately, remain neglected until we feel pain and need relief.”
Being at home is both a positive and a negative
According to Dr Jadeja, being homebound for months on end is having an impact on our feet, both in positive and negative ways.
“By staying indoors, we have reduced our walking and weight-bearing activities. On one hand, this helps in the case of painful conditions like bunions and heel pain,” he says. It also reduces the risk of foot-related injuries like sprains and fractures.
However, it can also lead to problems in the long run. “Inactivity over a period of time can increase body weight – which can lead to more degenerative changes in the weight-bearing joints,” says Dr Jadeja. "Staying indoors also increases domestic chores such as cooking and washing dishes that require standing for a prolonged period. This may aggravate heel pain from plantar fasciitis."
Dr Prabodhan Pravin Potdar, specialist orthopaedics at Burjeel Day Surgery Centre, Al Reem Island, adds that there are many ways our feet are affected by the isolation period.
“Lack of space around the house can lead to toe injuries. Meanwhile, a sedentary lifestyle, weight gain and loss of stretching gives rise to foot stiffness and plantar fasciitis.”
What is plantar fasciitis? The problem with tile floors
According to both doctors, heel pain, like that caused by plantar fasciitis, is one of the most common foot complaints at the moment.
It occurs when the plantar fascia, a thick band of protective tissue attached to the heel bone that fans out to the toes, is partially stretched or torn, leading to an inflammation of the tissue.
Some of the most common causes of the condition are excessive activity, inactivity and sudden increase in weight over a short period of time. "It's ironic," says Dr Potdar, "because doing too much as well as doing too little might lead to this condition." And the prolonged isolation period may not be helping.
According to him, walking barefoot on hard tiles around the house contributes to the issue. “Tiles do not offer significant grip and the chances of having micro tears in the plantar fascia are quite high,” he says.
It can all lead to symptoms like a sharp, throbbing pain in the morning when one first places their feet on the floor. This pain might gradually improve with movement over the day. Other symptoms of the condition include a constant ache and stiffness of the foot, and swelling around the heel and sole.
Dr Potdar says wearing indoor footwear that has a firm grip can help. Carpeting also helps if it is throughout the house. Other treatments for plantar fasciitis include using a hot compress to increase blood flow to the area and enhance the healing of the micro tears. Stretching also helps, both from physiotherapy and from certain yoga positions.
"Avoid jumping or running during these episodes, and weight reduction by dietary means can also help. Visiting an orthopaedic surgeon is essential to confirm diagnosis since other less common conditions may present similarly."
Dr Jadeja recommends also having adequate rest during this period. "This is one thing that that will help many painful conditions of the foot and ankle, especially where injury and inflammation is concerned. Massage is also recommended."
If the pain persists, contact your doctor. When it comes to plantar fasciitis, physiotherapy and surgery may have to be recommended.
Finally, even as restrictions ease and more people get back to their normal lives, doctors recommend exercising precaution. “Individuals getting back to active lifestyles after periods of inactivity run the risk of sustaining stress fractures or acute tendinitis,” says Potdar.