The big lockdown foot health problem

Few things are greater levellers than a pair of feet, as proved by the Duchess of Sussex, who allegedly runs a mile if anyone tries to film her bunions. In a 2015 shoot for a now-defunct fashion website, her entourage is said to have sent a videographer packing after he began taking supplemental footage of her feet.

 “I understand she hates her feet,” explained a colleague of the man in question in a newspaper article earlier this week. “When he did that, they all looked at him like ‘what the hell are you doing?’’ and said, ‘you’re done for today’’.

Meghan is not alone, however, in her foot phobia. According to podiatrist Margaret Dabbs, the Queen of Feet who counts Graham Norton, Ozwald Boateng, and numerous City highflyers as clients, many women feel self-conscious about the appearance of their feet, insecurity that is only made worse by the current trend for sandals and open-toed shoes. “They try to hide their feet away; they don’t realise there are always ways to improve the situation through treatment and exercise,” she says. 

Our feet end up being a neglected part of our body but we should all be giving them more attention, Dabbs maintains. Evidence suggests that in some cases Covid-19 presents itself on the feet; GPs are allegedly overrun with concerns about “Covid toe”; red blotches and lesions on the toes and feet that are thought to be another side effect of the virus. “The rash seems to resemble pernio erythema or chilblains and is presumably related to change in body temperature,” Dabbs says. “Viral conditions often affect the extremities and that can include toes.” 

Our isolated lifestyle is also playing havoc with our feet. With gyms closed and many of our daily commutes cancelled, we are more static than usual, leaving us at risk of painful conditions such as Plantar fasciitis, which can stem from inactivity, Dabb says.

Others, meanwhile, have become mad runners, haring off on the 5Km Run for Heroes with precious little training. According to Dabbs, extreme exercise without giving any thought to our feet can result in thickened skin, flattened arches, stress fractures and Achilles tendonitis. 

The easiest way to start noticing our feet is to strip off our shoes and socks, says postural alignment therapist, Ellie Burt, and walk around on them. “It’s no good working out our bodies without thinking about our feet,” she says. “The foot muscles might be tiny but they are crucial to a fully functioning, pain-free body; some muscles such as the Gastrocnemius start at the foot and span all the way up behind the knee.” 

This enforced rest from heeled work shoes is an ideal opportunity to give our feet a chance to recover and wake up, she continues. Heels and indeed any shoe including trainers that tilts our ankles downwards, throw off the biomechanics of the entire body, and load our feet unnaturally, causing problems in joints further up the body. 

Don’t be tempted to ditch your trainers entirely, though, warns Dabbs. If you’re a perpetual heel wearer like Meghan, you should gradually build up the time you spend barefoot or risk ending up with Achilles tendonitis. It’s also a good idea to introduce some barefoot exercises; for those with flat feet, Dabbs’ son James Dabbs, a personal trainer who runs online fitness classes to strengthen the foot as well as the rest of the body, suggests introducing exercises that work on raising, strengthening and lengthening the arches –stair arch raises, calf raises, arch lifts and tennis ball rolls. Pregnancy, ageing, footwear, gait and genetics can all contribute to flat feet, he says, but with regular exercise, you can strengthen your arches and reduce pain in other joints. 

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