Health & Safety
Feet! Love them or loath them, they’re a crucial part of the body and yet people are more prepared to spend money on having their hair done or having their teeth whitened than they are on looking after their feet. Shoes are chosen for how good they look rather than for the support they offer or the comfort that provide. And then they wonder why they hurt so much.
We were designed to walk on soft ground. Instead, more and more often, we walk around on hard tiled or concrete surfaces. This constant pounding takes its toll on the feet as well as the ankles, knees, hips and lower back which have to absorb the impact. Every day, the average person takes 18,000 steps, sustaining thousands of pounds of pressure on the 26 bones in their feet. This constant compression causes pain, discomfort and fatigue. Over time serious disorders like arthritis, heel spurs and Plantar Fasciitis practically cripple many people.
We aren’t helped by our shoes. The foot has an arch to lift and support the bones in the foot, which in turn support the spine. However, most shoes have a flat inner sole, offering no support to the arch as it struggles to carry the weight that is being pressed down on it as we walk. This can lead to fallen arches, which in turn puts pressure on the knees and lower back as they collapse inwards or, as is becoming and ever increasing occurrence, the problem of Plantar Fasciitis (often referred to as ‘Policeman’s Heel’) which can lead to people being forced to take several weeks off work.
Because the arch isn’t being supported, it means that much of a person’s weight falls on the heel and ball of the foot, which is where people get hard calloused skin. This becomes painful over time and, in an attempt to relieve the pressure on these points, people move their weight to the side or front of the foot. Now they’re walking out of alignment and this has the additional effect of putting pressure on other parts of the body including the knees, hips and back or even causing shin splints.
Safety boots, a must in all modern industrial workplace, can often add to the problem because, whilst they give much needed protection to the toes, the hard metal plate often found in the base can cause severe pain to people on their feet all day as the sole of the foot presses down on it.
One company in Ireland that we spoke to recently is now facing huge problems in getting their staff to wear their boots, such is the pain that many of the workers are experiencing from having to wear them. The company tried to resolve the problem by installing pressure mats at work stations, however people move around the factory and they can’t move the mats with them. Instead they now have the added problem of the risk of people tripping over the mats.
The obvious solution is to put an insole inside the boot to absorb some of the impact on the foot. The problem is that foam and gel insoles flatten and wear out quickly and over time can be an expensive item to be constantly replacing them. Also, many of the foam insoles are flat and give little or no support to the arch and even memory foam insoles suffer from amnesia after a while. On the other hand gel insoles, if the moulding doesn’t fit the foot, can put pressure in the wrong place causing even more discomfort.
So what other options are there?
You could try liquid orthotics.
New to the UK liquid orthotics were designed over twenty years ago in America as a solution to the increasing problem of plantar fasciitis. Instead of using gel or foam the designer used a bladder containing glycerine to provide support for the foot. But why use a fluid?
Well, unlike foam or gel, you can’t compress a fluid, so it won’t flatten when you stand on it, it simply displaces across the foot. Because it won’t compress it doesn’t need to be bulky meaning that as it takes up very little room in the shoe. In fact they’re so thin they can be worn in any type of shoe – even high heels.
Also, because fluid has no shape, it moulds to the individual foot, providing support to the arch as well as the heel and ball of the foot. The support to the arch is phenomenal because, as anyone who remembers Archimedes and his Eureka moment will tell you, when he sat in the bath and the water poured over the side, he calculated that you displace your own weight. So a persons weight pressing down on the heel and the ball, forces the fluid up under the arch with the same pressure, lifting and supporting the arch naturally without the use of a hard orthotic. This support usually relieves the pain caused by Plantar Fasciitis immediately as well as lifting and supporting fallen arches and relieving the pain and pressure on the knees that they can cause. By lifting and supporting the arch the fluid helps spread the weight more evenly across the whole of the foot, relieving the pressure points on the heel and the ball and making walking a lot more comfortable.
But the benefits of a liquid orthotic don’t stop there. As the heel comes down, the pressure exerted on the foot, rather than pressing against something solid, is transferred into the fluid, pushing it forward so that, when the ball of the foot comes down, the fluid is there to absorb the impact and be pushed back to the heel for the next step. Therefore, rather than just cushioning the impact, the insoles act like a shock absorber in the shoe, relieving pressure on the joints.
This constant movement, pushing the fluid backwards and forwards across the foot, gently massages the muscles in the foot. If you massage a muscle it increases the circulation, bringing more blood and oxygen to the legs and feet, helping reducing tiredness caused by standing or walking over long periods of time. Trials in the US on liquid orthotics showed that, if used for six hours a day, the average increase in circulation to the feet and lower legs was around 53%, a significant increase if you’re on your feet all day.
This increased blood flow also helps prevent the build up of rubbish in the feet which, at the end of the day when the circulation tends to slow down, can lead to the build up of sugars for diabetics and uric crystals for people who suffer from gout. So, not only are liquid orthotics a lot more comfortable, they also provide other benefits that ordinary insole can’t.
How durable are they? The fluid is sealed in the insole using radio frequency technology and so is unlikely to leak but, because they contain a fluid they are, of course, susceptible to being puncture by a nail or stone in the shoe. However, such is their durability, most liquid orthotics come with a twelve month warranty.
Before you look into expensive solutions to a simple problem, look at a simple solution which may not only solve your footwear problem, but will also help improve the health of your staff as well.