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Putting a foot wrong - why nurses need to care for their feet

Putting a foot wrong - why nurses need to care for
Photo: Putting a foot wrong - why nurses need to care for their feet
While rewarding, nursing is one of the most demanding jobs there is, both physically and mentally.

And although nurses are well versed on how to manage conditions such as burnout and exhaustion, one area that’s not often focused on, is feet.

“Many people don’t realise the importance of their feet and as I often quip to my patients, foot problems are often a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’,” says Podiatrist and Wound Care Consultant, Joseph Frenkel.

“There are increased risks for nurses who are on their feet all day and those risks are mostly from repetitive strain injuries,” he says.

“As Podiatrists, we see the effects of these injuries on skin, nails, supportive tissues, joints, muscles and even circulation.”

Mr Frenkel says the most common pathologies seen in repetitive injuries are skin conditions such as corns, calluses, thickened toenails, fungal infections; joint complaints such as bunions and arthritis; muscular, tendon and ligaments strains such as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinopathy, and circulation changes such as varicose veins.
While there’s no escaping the reality of nurses being on their feet all day, there are things they can do to prevent serious issues.

“Our footwear makes a significant difference in protecting our feet, as all of the aforementioned conditions can be improved or even resolved with the right pair of shoes.”

According to Andrew Maitland, Director of Melbourne Podiatry Clinic, the most common footwear mistake made by nurses is choosing shoes with minimal cushioning, those that slip-on, and poor durability.

“Certain brands of footwear tend to be popular within the nursing profession, but often these brands are not appropriately designed for the demands of day-to-day work.

Good cushioning, lace-up and a stable and firm midsole are important features for nurses who are on their feet for long periods. We recommend getting a shoe expertly fitted either by a podiatrist or a speciality shoe store.”

Mr Frenkel says thorough foot washing is also an important step in foot care, particularly for nurses.

“When showering, many of us incorrectly assume that the passive flow of water cleanses our feet, but feet require actual washing with soap, for at least 20 seconds per foot.

“Consistent foot washing also reduces odours and disease-causing microbes, as well as being a practical method of daily foot inspections to screen for any changes.

“The other often neglected part of the shoe-wearing environment are our socks.

“Quality, natural-based materials in socks, can make a significant difference to the comfort, smell and warmth of our feet.”

So, how do you know if your feet are suffering? The most obvious sign, is pain.

“Very often we dismiss or ignore a foot problem and because we use our feet so frequently, even minor problems can become serious in short time periods,” says Mr Frenkel.

“Another common early sign is a visible change in our feet.

For example, if there’s a lump that wasn’t there previously, it’s always best to see a health professional find out whether it’s something that needs further treatment or investigation.”

If you are experiencing any symptoms, it’s important to seek professional advice, through either a podiatrist or specialist physiotherapist.

“Physiotherapists are musculoskeletal experts trained in diagnosing and addressing entire body issues,” says Andrew Wynd, Sports Physiotherapist and Director of Freestyle Feet.

“Some Physiotherapists have a special interest in feet, and this would be a good choice to see.

“Podiatrists are trained in just the lower limb, and they also tend to work with making inserts/arch supports. Either is fine as a starting point.

As the foot anatomy and function is extremely complex, Mr Wynd says it’s crucial to see a registered health professional who has a special interest in this area.

“If the practitioner cannot diagnose what is wrong and you are not seeing any improvement. Time for a second opinion.”

As with most ailments, prevention is better than cure, and Mr Maitland recommends keeping active, as a preventative measure.

“Nursing is often a very physical job and therefore it is key to ensure you maintain your mobility and balance as well as general strength,” he says.

“Check your feet regularly for signs of swelling or bruising or any areas of increased pressure or friction.”

Mr Wynd agrees, and says having joints that are supple and mobile is crucial to optimal foot health.

“Using a massage ball or tennis ball being rolled under the arch for five minutes per day is a great place to start.

Having strong muscles is equally important. Start with some calf raises – leaning forwards against a wall and raising up onto your toes.

“Prevention is much, much easier than the cure.

“Taking notice of your feet, exploring how they work is a crucial first step. Spending some time barefoot is a great way to start this process and then integrating some simple exercises on a regular basis will greatly reduce the risk of developing foot or ankle pain.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.