Here’s How Your Feet May Change After Walking Barefoot

Walking barefoot may change your feet, either temporarily or permanently.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed how people do many things, from socializing to grocery shopping. For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic also changed their work. 

If your job allowed for it, you probably worked from home at some point. Maybe you are working from home, at least on a hybrid schedule. Maybe your company switched completely remote, and you'll never have to go into the office again.

Eighth-grade science teacher Carolina Safar was one of those whose job became temporarily virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic. To avoid sitting at a computer desk all day, Safar stood while instructing students. But not long after, Safar realized that not only did the job change, but her feet changed, too.

And Safar isn't alone. Health spoke to healthcare providers who reported seeing foot changes in people who walked barefoot while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here's what you should know about how walking around barefoot can change your feet and what to do about it.

Are Your Shoes Fitting Differently Than They Did Before the Pandemic? Here’s Why That Might Be Happening
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Foot Changes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In March 2020, Safar went from teaching in a classroom to teaching from the living room behind a computer screen. After not wearing shoes while standing for long periods, Safar eventually started noticing foot changes.

"I did start to notice a few months in that my feet would hurt after the long day of standing in the same spot. But I kept figuring it was better than sitting and pushing through," said Safar. While teaching from home, Safar was almost always barefoot, occasionally wearing house slippers.

When it came time to return to school in January 2021, Safar put on the work and dress shoes that were stowed away. But her shoes weren't fitting the way they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I noticed shoes felt much tighter," said Safar. "And when I went to look for new shoes, I had to size up about half a size." Having your foot measured every so often is important, especially before buying new shoes. Knowing your foot measurement can ensure proper fit.

Types of Foot Changes

Safar's story is just one example of a trend occurring since the COVID-19 pandemic, Elizabeth Cody, MD, an orthopedic surgeon based in New York, told Health. While working at home, people were likely to walk around without shoes more than they previously did, causing foot changes.

"A lot of people think walking barefoot shouldn't be a problem. But actually walking barefoot can exacerbate a number of foot problems," explained Dr. Cody. Those foot problems include:

  • Plantar fasciitis: This causes inflamed tissue along the bottom of the foot that connects your heel to your toes.
  • Foot arthritis: This is an inflammation of foot joints.
  • Foot tendinitis: This happens when a tendon, like your Achilles tendon in your heel, in your foot becomes inflamed.
  • Collapsed arch: This is an issue with a tendon that causes the arch to collapse. With collapsed arches, the entire sole touches the ground while standing.
  • Bunion: This bony bump forms on the joint at the base of your big toe.
  • Hammer toe: This is an imbalance in muscles, ligaments, or tendons. That imbalance leads to a bend in the middle of a toe joint that resembles a hammer.

And some of those problems may cause you to go up a shoe size or two, as in Safar's experience.

What Causes Foot Changes?

Normally, as you age, your foot ligaments stretch out, and your tendons degenerate. If you place stress on your feet, that wear-and-tear process occurs faster than normal. For example, not wearing supportive shoes puts stress on your feet.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, you might have had foot problems that you managed by regularly wearing shoes and orthotics. But without those supportive structures, your foot issues may have reappeared more pronounced than before, Ami Sheth, DPM, a podiatrist based in Los Gatos, Calif., told Health. Also, walking around barefoot on hardwood floors and tiles can aggravate underlying foot issues.

Another reason for a change in your feet during the COVID-19 pandemic is your activity level.

"There are some people who just did more during the [COVID-19 pandemic] on their feet than they ever were doing because they were running around and taking care of their kids or they were exercising more," explained Dr. Sheth.

Are Foot Changes Reversible?

Whether foot changes are reversible depends on whether the change is flexible or rigid. Typically, if the change is flexible, physical therapy can help strengthen the foot and help restore arch strength and height. In contrast, rigid changes are stiff and unmoving. In some cases, surgery can help correct rigid changes.

For example, a bunion is a bony growth that results from hallux abducto valgus (HAV). HAV occurs after prolonged on the joints of your big toe. A bunion forms when that joint becomes unaligned. While physical therapy can treat HAV, the bony growth is rigid change.

Also, some collapsed arches are flexible changes. If the lowered arch height is flexible, physical therapy can possibly help. In contrast, with rigid changes, you can accommodate your foot's structural change. And if you're experiencing painful symptoms, you can manage discomfort.

Should You Wear Shoes Around the House?

If you're working from home instead of at an office, you're not walking around any less than normal. In fact, you're most likely walking around at home more than you realize, pointed out Dr. Sheth.

"Most of the people that are just at home are probably doing more work on their feet than I am at the office because mine is more structured. I get up, I walk to a room, I sit down, I get up, I walk, I sit down," said Dr. Sheth. "Whereas, at home, I'm willing to bet there's a lot more multitasking going on. There's a lot more running around that people just don't realize. 'Just let me throw in this load of laundry real quick. I'll be right back.' 'On my way from point A to point B, I'm just going to grab this.' People are doing a lot more moving around than they've been used to."

But working from home doesn't mean you have to always wear something on your feet. Instead, keep track of when your activity peaks during the day and make sure you have shoes on during that time, recommended Dr. Sheth. 

At the end of the workday, if you're not active, it's totally fine to kick off your shoes. But especially during the workday, wearing "anything is better than nothing," added Dr. Sheth.

At-Home Footwear

Generally, a shoe that feels comfortable, supportive, and sturdy tends to be the best for many people, according to Dr. Cody. A supportive house slipper or thick-cushioned sandal can do the trick. Some good brands include Vionics, Birkenstocks, Taos, and Aetrex, recommended by Dr. Sheth. 

Consider wearing a supportive and shock-absorbent shoe if you stand all day while working from home. Also, consider trying orthotic inserts if you'd normally stick them in the shoes you previously wore to the office, suggested Dr. Sheth. At home, though, you can put the inserts into something less formal, like a running shoe.

Maybe you went barefoot at home and haven't noticed any foot changes or pain. If you prefer going barefoot, you can most likely keep doing what you're doing, said Dr. Cody.

When To See a Healthcare Provider

To determine if you need to visit a healthcare provider for foot changes or pain, you must first get to know your feet. 

"Take a look at your feet, and if something doesn't look right, don't just ignore it," said Dr. Sheth. "Call a podiatrist if there are any issues."

People with health conditions that may cause foot complications, like diabetes or poor blood flow, may also want to visit a healthcare provider, added Dr. Sheth. 

Other Things To Remember About Foot Changes

In contrast, some people may have previous foot problems that subsided during the COVID-19 pandemic, noted Dr. Cody. With some people, the shoes they wear to work are tighter, less comfortable, and less supportive than any casual shoe. 

In fact, gradually transitioning to barefoot walking may improve your foot health. Many shoe choices contribute to bunions, hammer toes, blisters, corns, and neuromas. 

For example, tight-fitting shoes may cause bunions. In contrast, barefoot walking can help strengthen your foot muscles. Barefoot walking also helps your feet and toes return to their natural positions.

Look at the shoes you wore to work before you switched to working from home and note the changes you need in a shoe, recommended Dr. Cody.

"For one person, that might mean finding wider shoes. For someone else, it might mean finding a show with a thicker sole. Interestingly, a little bit of a heel can sometimes help their foot problem," said Dr. Cody. "I'm not talking a stiletto. Just a small heel, like an inch or so."

Finally, make sure you're physically ready to return to your preferred type of work shoe. For example, if you previously regularly wore high heels, you will probably need to strengthen your calf muscles. You might also need more stability until those muscles strengthen. 

A Quick Review

Some people may have noticed foot changes from standing or walking barefoot during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as inflammation or strains. In contrast, others may have seen that their foot issues improved when they no longer wore dress shoes at home.

If the structure of your foot changes, you may need to adjust your shoe choices for better support. Consult a healthcare provider or podiatrist if you're noticing foot changes.

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