Cases of “Pandemic Foot” Are on the Rise

I started running for the first time at the beginning of 2022. As my feet hit the pavement, I felt some tightness up and down my shins, but I thought it was just a part of “getting used to” running. Turns out I was wrong. After a couple of runs, I was limping and unable to put weight on my left foot. A few visits to a podiatrist, and one MRI later, I discovered that I was part of a growing population who are experiencing overuse injuries in their feet as a result of getting active again after being sedentary for so long. There’s even a term for it, according to The New York Times: pandemic foot.

“During the pandemic, early on, we were seeing potentially less [injuries],” explains Dennis Cardone, MD, a sports health expert and chief of the Division of Primary Care Sports Medicine at NYU Langone Health. “People were a little bit less active, but as they start to return to activity, there has certainly been a spike to [injury] levels that are higher than pre-pandemic.”

It only takes about two weeks to start losing muscle mass when you stop working out, so for many people who spent months staying home and reducing their physical activity, potentially “muscle weakness, a muscle imbalance, or just lack of conditioning has led to these injuries,” explains Dr. Cardone. “The other part of it is different activity—so many people were just doing one type of activity and then suddenly they changed.”

What workout shifts are most likely to lead to pandemic foot

If you’re used to running on the smooth, flat surface of a treadmill and you decide to hit the trails, the change in terrain underfoot can be a difficult adjustment for your body if you don’t progress slowly. Same goes if you’ve been sticking to mainly low-impact workouts like Pilates or yoga, but then decide to start doing higher impact activities like running or jumping rope. If you don’t allow your body the time to build up to the new level of stress you’re putting on it, this can quickly lead to overuse injuries.

After my various foot doctor visits I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and mild tendinosis, which in layperson terms means I used my foot too often without allowing it enough time to recover in between runs, and now it was inflamed. Once I started going to physical therapy I also learned that the root of my problem stemmed from higher up in my body—my hips and my glutes weren’t strong enough to allow my feet and ankles the stability and strength they needed for high-impact activities.

Dr. Cardone explains that this is quite common in women because “women have a wider pelvis than men,” he explains. “This leads to a sharper angle in the knee and leads to more overuse problems in the front of the knee; those can indirectly also lead to ankle injury. Women [also] tend to be more flexible than men…so it means their ligaments are just not as tight [and] their muscle tendons work a little harder to give them stability.” He says nine out of 10 women he sees present with knee joint or glute strain.

As such, Dr. Cardone recommends strengthening your hips and glutes in an effort to offload stress on your ankle.

April 18, 2021 | 6:36 pm