Foot Care FAQs
If you’re on your feet most of the day at work, your legs and feet are probably the most important piece of equipment you use at work. You can replace a lost screwdriver or broken computer tablet but not your feet.
Foot pain is not uncommon - 20% of people have it constantly or often. So look after your feet.
What should I do?
Look after your feet whatever your job. Working options are seriously reduced without them.
We should all:
- wash our feet daily in warm soapy water and dry them thoroughly afterwards (but don’t soak them, it can reduce the skin’s natural oil)
- change socks regularly and always if you sweat
- use a moisturiser on dry skin
- trim nails regularly (cut straight across to avoid ingrowing toenails)
- shop for shoes in the afternoon (your feet swell as the day goes on so shop when they’re at their largest)
- be aware that communal changing areas are where you pick up athlete’s foot and verrucas.
Foot pain is never normal - see your GP.
What about at work?
Get to know where you’re working and what you’ll be doing.
What’s the temperature like? Cold areas can bring additional problems like chilblains.
Are the floors slippery, either because they’re wet or highly polished? Do you need non-slip soles? Or even waterproof shoes?
Do you need hard-top shoes if, for example, you are working in construction, lifting or cutting grass?
Do you need to protect your metatarsals (the bones connecting the midfoot to the toes)? These sort of boots don’t just protect you from the obvious – dropping something on your foot – but from cuts, burns, solvents and other dangers too.
If you’re given safety shoes, wear them. They should bear a CE mark showing they meet European standards. But make sure they’re also comfortable.
How do I know if my shoes fit properly?
If you’re on your feet, boots or shoes are vitally important. Buy the best you can.
Shoes should have a fastening – usually lace-up – holding the heel in place and preventing the toes sliding into the toe box of the shoe.
There should be enough room at the top to allow the toes to move freely. Wide toe boxes help balance and reduce the risk of sores and hammer toe. Protect and look after your toes – your big toe works really hard all day taking 40-60% of your body weight.
The shoe lining should be wrinkle-free and without rough or obtrusive stitching.
Boots are best made from a non-synthetic material. Leather or canvas reduces the risk of sweaty feet, athlete's foot and foot fungi, especially in hot weather.
Break in new boots BEFORE your first shift. Blisters are not unusual at first. If you get a blister, clean it and cover it.
Remember that your boots need to fit comfortably with good quality socks. Socks should be thick enough to keep your feet warm, but not too tight to affect your circulation.
What are the most common foot problems?
Bunions - a bony swelling at the base of the big toe. They tend to run in families but the exact cause is unknown although poorly fitting shoes don’t help.
Corns and calluses - rough skin caused by the rubbing of shoes/socks. If your feet are bony without much natural cushioning, consider different socks and/or insoles. It’s worth seeing a podiatrist, as they can advise on the cause and you can prevent it happening again.
Verrucas - warts of the sole of the feet caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Moist skin is most vulnerable. You can buy treatments like salicyclic acid from the pharmacist.
Ingrowing toenail - very painful, perhaps with bleeding or pus. Ill-fitting shoes, poor toenail cutting technique and fungal infections are all factors. See a podiatrist, as surgery is possible if needs be.
Athlete’s foot - a fungal skin infection that likes damp feet and toes. A pharmacist can recommend an antifungal medicine.
Fungal nail infection - not as nasty as it looks but will not clear up on its own. Again, this requires treatment with antifungal medicine
Hammer toe - the toe appears permanently bent. Again poorly fitting shoes can be a cause.
Chilblains - toes go very red. Caused by the cold, they can be itchy and burning at the same time. They should clear up by themselves in a week.
Metatarsalgia - pain in the ball of the foot affecting the metatarsal bones which connect the midfoot to the toes. There are several possible causes, including wearing unsupportive footwear.
What about the law on foot care at work?
Your employer has a duty of care and responsibilities under health and safety legislation. A workplace risk assessment should be carried out and if safety footwear is needed, it should be provided at the employer’s expense. You can’t sign a disclaimer to avoid wearing them. The employer has a responsibility to ensure you do.
Any other tips?
- To get your circulation going and reduce inflammation after a shift, roll a frozen plastic water bottle underneath your heel and arch.
- Watch out for irritants. They can get in the cracks in your skin and cause dermatitis. If you develop skin problems or an allergic reaction, seek help immediately.
- Take your days off. Even with the best shoes and the best foot care regime, you can’t work every day without eventually getting overuse injuries.
- Learn some leg warm-up stretches and do them before work. For example, stretching the calf can reduce heel pain.
Date of last review 04/04/16
Date of next review 04/04/19
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