Treating foot problems created by the demands of shift work involves recognising a variety of factors, including footwear, according to Joe Brooks, a registered podiatrist and Director of the Australian Podiatry Association.
“Shoes are a factor that could be contributing to pain and problems in feet, but then also, if we combine that with the amount of walking, standing [and] moving that a nurse does on an 8-10 hour shift,” he says.
However, shoes are an obvious and permanent part of workplace health and safety, with slip resistance and a full non-mesh upper a necessity.
Subsequently, Mr Brooks says that while not a total panacea, addressing factors such as footwear can help create positive shifts for people with general, non-serious foot issues.
“They can have a therapeutic effect and can be changed quickly and easily… It can be something that we can really get some ‘runs on the board’ per se quite quickly by changing shoes,” he explains.
Mr Brooks says to recognise the stress factors created by troublesome feet nurses need to understand the influence that foot wear can have, and that working with a qualified health professional, be that a podiatrist or someone else, is an important part of helping to improve day-to-day work place comfort.
“Sometimes changing the shoe can be enough, and getting the right shoe can be the start of your therapeutic journey,” he explains, alluding to the role that orthotics, braces and other foot and ankle treatment options can play for clients.
Mr Brooks notes that shoes are often the best place to start.
“There’s no point putting an orthotic in a substandard shoe, so we may as well get the shoe sorted first, because that’s probably our base-building block, and then if you’re still having pain, problems and concerns, we can then build on that with an orthotic device.”
However, while Mr Brooks promotes the positive role that podiatrists can play advising patients on a variety of treatment options, he also says that it is important for patients to understand the different types of fatigue associated with feet – especially when you’re on your feet all day.
For instance, he says foot fatigue is quite common and normal at the end of a long day of work, but that if the pain is acute, creating a limp, or occurring earlier in the day, then those are causes for more serious concern.
“If your pain level is three out of 10 or more, for longer than a week or two, then I’d be suggesting that you probably need to seek help either from a local podiatrist… or working with your GP [or medical team] if you’ve got chronic medical history.”
However, given the workplace requirements, Mr Brooks advises that those with less acute ailments should aim to get fitted with a comfortable shoe by a “reputable” shoe retailer, potentially resolving a variety of non-medical issues before requiring further intervention from a podiatrist or GP.
Further to that, he notes that well-cushioned footwear, be it a casual trainer or a leather sports sneaker, often are the best at meeting the needs of a staff member pacing across a hardened hospital floor.
“If that person finds that shoe comfortable, then it’s probably a really good starting spot, and comfort then comes back to a shoe that fits well, so it’s got the adequate depth, width and length,” he explains, adding that footwear with an adjustable fixative device (lacing, strap or velcro) is preferred because it stays in shape.
“Comfortable is a really good narrative because it can be subjective.”
For those who are seeking more nuanced advice for their foot and ankle pain, or footwear, they are encouraged to visit the Find a Podiatrist website, run by the Australian Podiatry Association, or alternately, consult with their GP or medical team if they require further specialist advice.