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Footwear and Musculoskeletal Disorders – What are the Risks?

Footwear and Musculoskeletal Disorders – What are the Risks?
23 February 2021
 

Musculoskeletal disorders affect one in four of us, and selecting the right safety footwear can significantly reduce the risk. 

Simon Ash, UK Sales Manager at HAIX, discusses how employers can take a proactive approach to prevent this kind of injury by ensuring their workforce wear supportive footwear.

 

“The shape of the foot fluctuates throughout the day. Ideally, boots should be tried on in the afternoon to get an accurate size, ensuring comfort throughout the working day. You may also see the most significant changes to your foot's shape when sitting versus standing, so when trying on your boots it is best to emulate your movements at work; whether that means sitting, bending, standing or crouching.”

Imagine a pain that worsens with every step – an unforgiving aching or stiffness and the feeling that your muscles are always overworked. Musculoskeletal conditions are the leading contributor to disability worldwide. In the UK, the disorder affects one in four of the adult population. If your workforce lifts, carries, bends, crouches or sits for long periods in one position, they too may be at risk.

The burden musculoskeletal conditions put on worker health, organisational finances and the UK’s economy is devastating, yet it is preventable in many instances. Employers can take a proactive approach to prevent this kind of injury by ensuring their workforce wear supportive, high quality, comfortable footwear.

 

50 Per Cent of Workers are Exposed to Musculoskeletal Disorder Risk

 

Having access to the right footwear for the job is the most critical factor in foot protection. Research has shown that at least 50 per cent of workers are exposed to the risk of musculoskeletal disorders due to spending prolonged hours standing at work. The correct footwear supports the entire body and reduces the risk of injury.

Safety footwear should support the foot, ankle and lower limbs. This is achievable by choosing footwear designed with superior cushioning technology and constructed from smarter materials. Modern materials used in the interior lining of boots can help prevent blisters and soft-tissue injury by reducing friction and pressure. Discomfort, whether from ill-fitting footwear or from friction injuries such as blisters, can lead to changes in natural body posture while standing or walking. 

When suffering such injuries, we may tend to “favour” weight-bearing on a non-injured foot (limping, for example), or standing in an unnatural position to avoid pain or discomfort. This can lead to strain or injury in turn, or if left uncorrected longer term can potentially lead to more serious musculoskeletal disorders. It is important to invest in boots with a climatic control system that regulates temperatures within the boot because damp feet are more likely to experience friction injuries. If your footwear does not do the above, give it the boot.

 

International Safety Standards

 

You can also check to see if your boots meet international safety standards. The EN ISO 20345 standard, for example, includes features to protect against thermal and mechanical hazards. As well as meeting all the required product standards, key boot features should always include: slip resistance, a lightweight toecap, heel grips and shock absorption. Another benefit is adjustable, easy to use lacing because it makes putting boots on and taking them off faster and easier, so wearers aren’t at risk of potential injury or wasted time struggling to get boots on or off.

A key feature to look for when buying work boots is that they actively work to correct foot posture, which can help reduce lower body and back pain by aligning the spine properly. Doing so will reduce musculoskeletal disorders and provide superior long term comfort.

 

The Best Time to Try on Shoes?

 

The shape of the foot fluctuates throughout the day. Ideally, boots should be tried on in the afternoon to get an accurate size, ensuring comfort throughout the working day. You may also see the most significant changes to your foot's shape when sitting versus standing, so when trying on your boots it is best to emulate your movements at work; whether that means sitting, bending, standing or crouching.

Over your lifetime, try to ensure that your feet are measured when buying new shoes. As we age, our feet naturally change shape and even size. You will also need to have both feet measured, and if one foot is bigger, choose the larger size.

 

Sizing Not an Exact Science

 

The concept of “one size fits all” does not strictly apply to work boots, which are manufactured in standardised sizes. The impact safety features have on overall comfort and fit mean that, for safety footwear especially, sizing is less than an exact science. Not every work boot will fit you properly, even if the “off the shelf” sizing is your usual size because your anatomy is unique. 

Choosing the wrong boot can lead to long-term health effects and the potential for injury. Adaptability to suit individual foot shape is an important step in footwear design. One method for introducing this is to include a variety of easily-changeable insole options to better fit different foot shapes, from wide to narrow. The HAIX Vario fit system is an excellent example of how to improve wearer comfort and boot fit using this approach.

Ultimately, musculoskeletal injuries are a major problem in the workplace. When selecting safety footwear take it seriously, and consider both the long term benefits and potential impacts incorrect choices can have. 

 Picture: a photograph of Simon Ash holding some safety boots

Article written by Simon Ash | Published 23 February 2021

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