Foot injuries and stress fractures on the rise since start of pandemic, doctors say

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Since the pandemic began, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Sims said he’s seen a rising number of people suffering from stress fractures after sharply transitioning from sitting at home all day to rigorously exercising.

“I’ve seen a lot more people overextending themselves with activity that were not trained up to do it. I’ve seen a lot more stress fractures and a lot more just overall joint irritation, tendon irritation,” he said. “That’s what COVID-19 has brought about: people who are normally not active and they have more time on their hands, and they’re trying to be healthier.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress fractures often result from increasing the amount or intensity of an activity too quickly.

Dr. Sims explained that there are 23 bones in the feet, making joints between those bones vulnerable to over-activity. Stress fractures can result in having to wear a special boot or staying off your feet for a couple weeks or months, he said.

Although Dr. Sims believes there will be less foot traffic this holiday shopping season than usual, he predicts the number of stress fractures will continue to rise. He said people above the age of 50 are most at risk, due to having less bone density.

“What normally takes a 30-minute grocery store trip is an hour and a half… not just shopping, but most activities get kind of congested at this time, so we do see more overuse injuries more than anything” he explained. “You may work a job where you’re home most of the day, then you go for a Saturday shopping for 3 hours. It has to do more with being sedentary then active. The transition causes a lot of stress on the bone,” he said.

If you plan to walk for 4 hours or longer, he recommended choosing a running shoe with a sturdy sole and good arch support with a wide toe box and a wide heel.

He said to avoid shoes you can bend in half or twist, particularly flat shoes, slip-on sneakers or tennis shoes marketed as having “memory foam” support.

“Memory foam or Crocs that you can roll in a ball or twist a lot, it seems as if they would be more comfortable, but the reality is they don’t provide any side-to-side stability and they don’t provide as much support for your arch,” he said.

High heels with more than a 3-inch heel are also bad for your feet and frequently cause problems, he said.

While partaking in an activity that involves several hours of walking or standing, taking breaks will help prevent injuries, he said.

“Go home, take a lunch break, then go back,” he suggested. “If you’re not normally on your feet for 7 hours a day and you try to power through consecutively, you’ll get hurt. You’ll have injuries. Definitely after every hour or so, sit down for 10-15 minutes.”

Finally, if you have diabetes or loss of feeling in your feet, he said to always inspect your feet after a long walk.

“You can end up with small little blisters or ulcerations on your feet that you would not notice otherwise. These ulcerations can get infected and could worsen. That is often a problem I see with people who have diabetes or neuropathy,” he said.

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