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Pandemic Health Side Effects No One is Talking About

Yale Medicine foot doctor shares tips for avoiding common health problems.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Skyrocketing COVID case numbers and surges in hospitalizations, amid reports that the Omicron variant causes less severe illness than previous iterations of the virus, make us forget about other health dangers that are lurking around. Many of them are side effects of the ongoing pandemic. Sean Peden, MD, Yale Medicine orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon and assistant professor of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation at Yale School of Medicine, shares with us some of the most common health problems he sees—and their simple treatments. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Aching Feet

older woman with leg pain
Shutterstock / AstroStar

When the COVID-19 pandemic started and many of us began spending more time at home, attire inevitably became more casual—except maybe for a Zoom-acceptable dress shirt. We've gotten used to that by now, but Dr. Peden is more concerned about what people have not been wearing on a regular basis: supportive footwear. 

"Many people are continuing to work at home part- or full-time, which for some can mean wearing slippers or walking around barefoot," Dr. Peden says. "And because of that, many patients are coming to us with foot problems." 

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Male runner touching cramped calf at morning jogging.

"With improper footwear and regular exercise, tendons see additional strain. The classic example of this is strain on the posterior tibial tendon, which is the tendon that supports the arch. During the pandemic, we are seeing increasing numbers of patients presenting with tendonitis in this tendon, which can lead to arch collapse and permanent problems," Dr. Peden says. 

He adds, "Another tendon under considerable stress is the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon is often naturally very tight and will get tighter without proper stretching and exercise. During the pandemic there has been a health crisis of weight gain, which is obvious, and a less obvious crisis I see frequently, which is neglectful footwear. Increased weight and poor footwear is a recipe for Achilles tendon issues." 

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Fallen Arches

Male orthopedist checking patient's foot in clinic.

According to Dr. Peden, "Without proper arch support, the tendon that supports the arch, the posterior tibial tendon, fails or becomes incompetent. This leads to PAINFUL fallen arches." 

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Plantar Fasciitis

Man hands giving foot massage to yourself after a long walk, suffering from pain in heel spur.

"Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common conditions I deal with. I see it in people from all walks of life – sedentary older folks, young active runners, and middle aged laborers. Just about anyone can get it. The most common link among these patients are tight calf muscles and improper footwear. Thankfully, this is a condition that almost always gets better with time and treatment. One of the most effective treatments is to protect the feet with SUPPORTIVE and protective footwear around the house. The pandemic has led to a lot more people spending their entire day in bare feet, and while that can be convenient and comfortable, some of these feet are getting more abuse than they should, even from just walking around the house," Dr. Peden says.

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Broken or Fractured Toes

Close up of bandage on big toe.

"Similarly, broken toes are common. Most toe injuries occur from impact of the toe against furniture, or injuries with bare feet outside. I strongly recommend wearing footwear with some protection, especially at night when it is dark and you cannot see that chair that is out of place. Get a solid pair of slippers and keep them beside the bed so you can avoid a crooked toe!" Dr. Peden warns.

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Give Your Feet a Break

Woman putting on shoes

Dr. Peden advises you to walk more, but wear proper footwear. "The benefits of walking and impact exercise are many. One of the obvious benefits it keeping muscles strong and flexible. Unfortunately, walking and impact exercise does not help with your foot muscles. In fact, impact exercise is more likely to damage your feet than help them. Therefore, when you are walking, whether for your job, for exercise, or in the course of life's normal responsibilities, protect your feet with good footwear. When I say good, I often mean spending a few more dollars on something that is well built. In the end, your feet will thank you, and most likely a more well-made shoe will last longer," Dr. Peden says. 

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How to Stay Healthy

stepping on scale

"Exercise is important part of a health lifestyle. But I do not recommend exercise alone as a means of weight loss. It is far more important to adjust your diet, in particular the caloric intake (or volume of food). Exercise can be very challenging for those with weight and orthopaedic issues. 1 additional pound of body weight leads to an estimated additional 6 pound of pressure or stress on the foot. So for those individuals that come to me with arthritis and weight issues, I am cautious about encouraging them to exercise really hard. This can often make the arthritis pain worse, and really frustrates the patient.  

So, my point is, be cautious and thoughtful when it comes to exercise, especially for those with foot conditions and weight issues, which is a lot of my patients. Consider lower impact exercise, like the use of an exercise bike, elliptical, aqua therapy, etc, as opposed to running or walking on hard surfaces, to avoid foot pain," Dr. Peden says. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

This article was originally published in Yale Medicine

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