The retail and hospitality worker's guide to foot care

Despite it being many years ago, I still remember the days of retail work, when I’d fall into the bath after a twelve-hour shift with the soles of my feet burning like hellfire.

It’s a common problem for anyone who works standing up, and something that office workers just don’t have to contend with.

The HSE estimates that almost 200,000 in the UK people are suffering occupational lower limb disorders caused or made worse by their work. Often one of the causes is prolonged standing.

Common symptoms experienced by people standing on their feet all day include pain and discomfort around the feet, legs, hips and lower back, as well as a higher prevalence of varicose veins for those who have to stand for prolonged periods.

The TUC recommend that employees don’t have to stand for more than 30% of their working days, but as many of us know, the realistic figure in some companies is more like 100%.

Not only is it the fact that you’re stood up for a large portion of the day, it’s likely that if you work on your feet it’ll be on a hard surface, such as at a supermarket or warehouse.

Then there’s the fact that some workers have specific requirements of which shoes to wear (especially if you’re cabin crew and are expected to wear heels while handing out sick bags and showing people the emergency exits).

Podiatrist Andrew, who owns City Chiropody, tells ‘Standing on your feet can easily make your feet tired and sore, especially if you work on a hard floor in a supermarket, warehouse or even the pavements.’

Caring for your feet starts long before you clock on for your shift, though.

‘Wearing good solid well fitting thick bouncy soled shoes can help
prevent soreness,’ says Andrew.

If you’re allowed to wear trainers, something structured yet supportive like Allbirds trainers or a pair of Nike Flex should be lightweight enough to wear throughout the day without exacerbating pain.

Although they’re not exactly pretty, chefs and nurses swear by shoes from ToffeIn and Crocs to get them through the day. It might be worth swallowing your pride and getting a pair if you’re struggling by the end of the day.

The College of Podiatry have a guide on their website that gives a good rundown of what you should be looking for when it comes to work shoes.

When you’re on your break, Andrew advises taking your shoes and socks off if possible to give your feet a moment to breathe.

He adds, though, ‘Its possible your feet may swell naturally and putting the shoes back on may be more uncomfortable!

‘Putting them on a footstool can help reduce the swelling and a nice relaxing cool
foot bath afterwards can help as well.’

Daily foot care tips

  • At the end of the day, rest your feet in a basin of cool water to relieve any swelling and help ease pain.
  • Keep your feet clean, but also make sure to dry them thoroughly to avoid skin conditions developing.
  • If you have to wear specialist footwear at work, wear more comfortable shoes on your commute and change when you get there.
  • Change socks daily, but if your feet are particularly sweaty a moisture-wicking fabric like bamboo could be a good sock choice.
  • Moisturising creams and moisturising socks can help keep your feet soft as part of your regular foot care regime.

If your feet are genuinely in agony daily, it’s time to ask your boss for some leeway here. Obviously in many cases there simply isn’t the scope to sit down for longer, but spacing your lunch into smaller chunks so you can get off your feet in intervals could be a workaround.

For those with a strict dress code that might include heels or uncomfortable shoes making pain worse, the solution could be somewhat more fraught.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 means that your employer must make sure you’re safe at work, so if the shoes you have to wear present a slip risk, this could be dangerous.

In cases where women are required to wear different footwear to men in the workplace, this again poses a problem in terms of gender discrimination.

In both of these situations it’s best to chat openly with your boss or HR team first, and hopefully they’ll be able to accommodate your needs.

Knowing when general sore feet after a hard day turns into a serious problem is also advisable.

Andrew says: ‘It’s probably worth seeing a podiatrist if your feet hurt as soon as
you stand on them.’

They can then diagnose what’s wrong, which is more likely to be an underlying issue.

‘Bad, thick toenails or nails that are ingrown will cause pain,’ says Andrew, listing some of the things that might be wrong.

‘Thick hard patches of skin (callus) and corns on the toes or even on the bottom of your feet can be very uncomfortable too.

‘Fungal skin infections can make your feet painful and can cause splitting in the skin that may become infected. And sweaty feet can cause other infections to be present too.’

As with any medical issue, the experts know best, so they’re the best port of call when you’re sore.

‘Podiatrists are expert at diagnosing and treating these problems easily,’ says Andrew.

‘And don’t worry, we have usually seen much worse!’

What’s the deal with Feet Week?

Feet Week is a week dedicated entirely to feet… as the name probably gives away.

We figured we could all do with something to occupy our minds during the pandemic – and what better topic than feet?

From 4 May to 10 May you can find articles on everything feet, from what it actually takes to be a foot model to what it’s like to be a pro toe wrestler.

You can read all our Feet Week content right here.

Do you have a story to tell? Get in touch at [email protected].

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