April Scott enjoys the versatility of her job at a busy Chicago neighborhood day spa. She likes the fact that her spa is a fast-paced operation and that she sees a wide variety of customers eager for her hand- and foot-pampering services, from reflexology sessions to manicures and pedicures.
Her own feet, however, sometimes sing a different tune. “I do a lot of walking, a lot of sitting for long periods and a lot of running outside of work,” says Scott, a twenty something former elementary school teacher. “I’ve experienced quite a bit of foot and ankle pain, and I hate to admit it, but it’s already starting to slow me down. It’s my own fault that I haven’t taken better care of my feet.”
Scott has already had to miss several days of work and cancel nail and reflexology appointments when the pain has become too much to bear. She tried taking a break from running, but found it difficult as it’s the only consistent exercise she gets.
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“People who work in the spa industry should be aware of what’s going on with their feet and see a specialist at least once a year to monitor changes,” says Chicago-based podiatrist Angela Borish. “It’s important to maintain foot health—there’s nothing more miserable than having foot and ankle pain when you’re trying to work.”
There’s no doubt about it: Performing manicures, pedicures, facials and other skincare treatments can be very taxing on spa workers who are standing all day long. The livelihood and productivity of many massage therapists and estheticians depend upon proper foot care. “Busy spa industry professionals have to look at taking care of their feet as an investment in their future,” adds Borish.
And it’s more than just pain. Continual pressure can put strain on the muscles, tendons and joints. Over time, this can lead to bad posture, as the individual walks in an unnatural way to compensate for foot discomfort. The resulting poor gait can also cause back pain and loss of balance.
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One obvious solution is to try to stay off one’s feet, but a packed workload makes this impossible for many spa workers, at least in the long term.
The human foot contains 26 bones and 33 joints (20 of which are actively articulated) and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. Common problems associated with the feet and ankles include: plantar fasciitis (inflammation of tissue that runs along the heel and supports the arch), heel spurs (bony protrusions under the heel), tendonitis (pain and tenderness in the tendons), bunions (painful hard lumps), warts, corns and calluses (patches of thickened skin), flat feet, pronation and neuroma (the result of a pinched nerve between the toes).
“I’ve had plantar fasciitis come and go—and when I get it, it’s hard to walk,” says Scott. “I’ve also experienced tendonitis; I think both of them stem from the combination of running on concrete then coming to work and spending a lot of time sitting, then standing, then running around for long periods of time.”
Scott reports that sitting for longer periods has only aggravated her condition. She has also tried over-the-counter medications, which helped relieve the pain temporarily, as well as stretches that a trainer friend showed her, which helped when performed regularly.
The right footwear plays a major role in foot health. Here are some simple rules when selecting shoes.
Avoid pointed and/or high-heeled shoes if you frequently stand for long periods of time. Think comfort over style. Choose shoes that provide good arch support. Avoid thick, stiff shoes that restrict foot flexibility. “Pain from corns, calluses and bunions can be somewhat alleviated by wearing supportive, more comfortable footwear. Non-supportive shoes, or ones that are too tight, are typical culprits,” points out personal fitness trainer Kyla Jenkins.
Make sure your shoes fit properly and have enough room in the toe box. “If you’re experiencing pain, wear softer, wider shoes until the pain disappears, then switch to a new pair with a larger toe box,” suggests podiatrist Angela Borish.
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Trim your toenails regularly. You’ll not only reduce trauma and create extra room in your shoes, you’ll also reduce the risk of nail breakage, which can provide a port of entry for a fungus like athlete’s foot, or viruses such as warts. Always wear high quality, moisture absorbent socks. Keep feet cool and dry. Invest in a foot powder and foot lotion from a reputable brand.
According to Chicago-based personal fitness trainer Kyla Jenkins, there are several things spa pros can do to alleviate some of these debilitating conditions in the short term. These might include limiting the number of treatments performed back to back, and taking short breaks to rest the feet. “Massaging your feet and stretching them, then pulling your toes up toward you for a few seconds after a workout or during your break at work can help,” she says. Of course, if symptoms—particularly pain—persist, the individual should see a doctor to rule out something more serious.
Hands-On Foot Solutions
Borish and Jenkins both off er plenty of advice for maintaining healthy feet over the long term. These include staying off your feet as much as possible when not working. Relax your feet as often as you can, perhaps by massaging them yourself or booking a reflexology session, which also boosts circulation. Jenkins suggests rolling a tennis ball or specially made wooden roller back and forth between the balls of the feet and heels, which can be done when seated or standing. In addition, applying ice packs and/or elevating the feet may ease temporary swelling or discomfort.
Borish says a straight forward goal would be to massage the feet at the start and end of each day to improve circulation and relax the muscles. Another tip: Place a towel on the floor then scrunch it and pull it in with your toes to help strengthen them. “Doing this for just a few minutes several times a week when you’re watching television can go a long way toward stopping foot pain,” adds the podiatrist.
Spa pros should also walk barefoot, both at home and, if possible, in the workplace. “Going without shoes on soft surfaces for just a few minutes a day can strengthen your feet and help the bones naturally realign,” says Jenkins. Always be aware of your posture and try to keep your weight over your ankles. Don’t lean too far forward or backward, as this can put a strain on the feet. Also maintain a wide stance while standing to improve stability.
–by Kevin Harmon