Stuck at home and out of work due to the pandemic, Timothy Hudson decided to embark on a new project: lose weight and get in shape.
Between September 2020 and May 2021, the 32-year-old lost 100 pounds by changing his eating habits, exercising more, playing basketball with friends and running up to five miles a day.
Hudson, who lives in Chester, said he had never felt better – except for his feet.
“It was like a burning, pulling feeling,” Hudson said. “Any kind of strenuous activity I would be out for at least three days.”
Foot pain has been on the rise during the pandemic, as humans work from home kicked off their supportive shoes in favor of flimsy slippers and flip-flops, while others, including Hudson, used the time to become more activewho strained their feet again.
“In March 2020, I said … ‘Oh god, everyone wants plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis,'” recalled Laura Virtue-Delayo, president of the Pennsylvania Podiatric Medical Association.
Her prediction came true: Podiatrists, orthopedic surgeons and physiotherapists say they are seeing more cases of plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis – two common foot pain conditions – than ever before.
Virtue-Delayo, a Scranton-based podiatrist, said her cases of foot pain patients peaked during the summer, when she treated about 35% more people for foot pain than usual. The number of new patients with foot pain has dropped but remains above the pre-pandemic level, she said.
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the thick tissue band that connects the heel bone to the toes, causing a stinging heel pain. Non-supportive shoes or walking barefoot, a dramatic increase in physical activity, exercise that puts a lot of pressure on your heels (such as running or dancing) and obesity can all contribute to plantar fasciitis.
Achilles tendinitis occurs when the tendon that runs down the back of the leg between the calf and the heel is overused. The injury is common among runners and athletes, but can affect anyone who dramatically and suddenly changes activity level.
Plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis were already the main causes of heel and foot pain, and the sequestered pandemic lifestyle that many people have adopted has exacerbated the problem.
Usually it is not a big deal to take your shoes off when you get home late in the day. But during the pandemic, many people’s entire working day has been spent at home. That means many more people are wearing slippers or flip-flops without any kind of arch support or, worse, walking around barefoot, said Rachel Shakked, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle surgery at the Rothman Orthopedic Institute in Philadelphia.
For many people, less physical activity during the pandemic has contributed to weight gain and stiff muscles, which in turn can lead to foot pain.
“The obvious answer is to put shoes on,” Shakked said. “No one really loves to wear shoes in the house. [But] especially if you have hardwood floors or tiles, walking and standing on hard surfaces can cause discomfort in your heel. “
Supportive shoes and lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, are the best bids to keep foot pain at bay, said Richard K. Rettig, head of the foot therapy department at Einstein Healthcare. Sneakers are always a good choice, but if you insist on slippers or sandals at home, choose a pair with arch support.
“If someone can change their lifestyle – lose weight, not walk barefoot, not wear sandals,” they may live foot-pain-free for years, said Rettig, who has not seen an increase in foot-pain patients during the pandemic. However, most people do not change their habits and return to treatment when the pain flares up again, he said.
Other ways to treat foot pain include heel cups that stabilize the foot, ice and cortisone shots.
People who do not find relief with these techniques may need surgery.
When Zachary Bauermaster, an elementary school principal in Lancaster County, first began working remotely in March 2020, the plantar fasciitis that had plagued him since 2019 subsided. he usually wore on at work and he had more time for stretching and low power exercise.
But when his school returned for personal tuition that fall, the pain in his heel was worse than ever. Being smaller on his feet during the work day had allowed his heel to recover, but also led to stiffer calf muscles, his doctor said.
In 2021, the pain was so severe – and unchanged with stretching, massage and cortisone injections – that Bauermaster’s doctor recommended surgery to release the tension in his heel caused by plantar fasciitis and tarsal tunnel syndrome (a pinched heel nerve).
“I was not able to do activities with my three children,” said Bauermaster, 35. “They talked about activities, but then said, ‘Oh, wait, Dad can not do that. He can not run.’
The Bauermaster underwent surgery in mid-January and will have to keep the weight off his foot for several weeks. But he hopes to develop a plan of stretching and training with less impact on his feet, which will get him back to chasing his kids around.
Shaked’s cases of foot pain patients have increased by about 25% compared to before the pandemic. In addition to people damaging their feet by walking barefoot, she has seen an increase in patients with problems related to too much physical activity. If you suddenly become more active, it can lead to inflamed tendons and ligaments – especially if you are wearing the wrong shoes.
Other patients have suffered stress fractures from overzealous walking routines in the neighborhood. (She has also treated at least four people who broke their ankle by tripping over a pet – being at home all the time creates more opportunities for dogs and cats to get under our feet.)
Hudson had never run much before embarking on his weight loss journey.
But after making a double take on the number on the scales, he decided to get started. Hudson works at a school as a one-on-one helper for children with special needs – a job that was not necessary when his school was virtual.
“It gave me that time for self-reflection – I can do this and I have no choice but to be outside,” he said. “Had I been at work, would I ever have had time to go through and do it?”
Hudson started walking and then went on to run. At the same time, he started taking freelance photo jobs, which kept him on his feet for hours at a time.
By the summer of 2021, Hudson had added basketball with friends to his routine, and the pain in his feet became bad enough to see a doctor diagnose plantar fasciitis.
Daily stretching, a more moderate exercise routine and knowing that it stops when he feels that even a sting of pain has helped significantly, he said.
Hudson is back at work now and is figuring out how to balance his old school routine with his recently active lifestyle.
“It’s been a bit of an adjustment, getting up at dawn to train,” he said. “But it’s fun.”
It may not be many people’s idea of a good time, but for Hudson, starting his day with a workout is a reminder of what he accomplished during the pandemic – a new sense of pride and confidence that he can do things he never thought he could.