Relief for Hurting Feet

Long days in the shop are rough on feet. Here, woodworkers share sympathy and suggest practical ways to ease the pain. September 7, 2006

For those of you who are in the shop most of the day, have you found a comfortable shoe? Are the shoes with springs in the heal area worth the extra money? After 12 or 13 hours, my dogs are howling. I have tried shoe inserts, tennis shoes, even Redwings. Nothing has made a big difference.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
Have you seen a podiatrist? I had sore feet for years and I finally went to see a foot doctor. Turns out I have plantar fasciitis. It's basically a weak arch. Anyway, the doctor made me some custom orthotics to slip in my Redwings. They actually take a cast of your foot, and it sure did help a lot. My insurance paid for it too. It might be worth checking out if you havenít already.

From contributor A:
Before you fork out the $300 for the custom orthotics, you might want to try Birkenstock shoe inserts or Superfeet. Here in California, you can buy Superfeet at any of the Kaiser pharmacies. The Birkenstock shoe inserts are usually prescription. If worst comes to worst, you can get a cortisone injection which will knock out most of the pain. The key to avoiding plantar fasciitis is to wearing adequate foot support. Try to lose any extra weight.

From contributor B:
Pardon the clichŤ, but I feel your pain. Visiting a podiatrist would be a good first step. If it is your heel that hurts the most, what you may have is a heel bone spur. This growth of bone rubs against the tendon and the pain is horrible. Initially, the doctor made me some orthotics (rubberized casts of your feet that make up the difference between the way your feet are and the way they should be) and this transferred the pain for a while. But these are expensive, they wear out, and your prescription may change, so itís an ongoing treatment.

I have tried different shoes also. As an act of desperation, I once had Redwings and cut out footprint shapes from anti-fatigue floor pads and glued them to the bottom of the shoes. What I wear now are Brooks Radius running shoes. They cushion the heel and are very comfortable, but have limited durability in a shop environment. They are comfortable enough where I don't need the orthotics anymore, about $85.

From contributor C:
If you have insurance that will pay for orthotics, see a podiatrist. I put it off for two years until the pain got so bad I could hardly walk. Three cortisone shots, and 15 lbs of weight loss still didn't do the trick, and I only weight a buck eighty. I also had physical therapy, which helped but did not rid me of the pain. The bone spur got so bad I finally had to have surgery. I was completely off my feet for 5 days, and couldn't put a lot of pressure on my foot for nearly a month. Not good for business, but I was able to get by. It's been two years since my surgery and the pain is completely gone. I am active again and can still go barefoot for about a day before I start to feel a little sore, and let me tell you, living by the beach in Southern California, barefoot is good. I do still have to wear my orthotics in every pair of shoes I own but at least I don't have to buy the real expensive ones anymore. I'm back to wearing VANS.

From contributor E:
I had the same problem a few years ago, sore feet and legs from standing on concrete all day in the shop. On an inspiration, I bought a pair of Redwing boots with a thick foam like sole and then inserted foam pads inside as well. That relieved the problem after a few months.

I've also added rubber mats by each tool and work station, and the rest of the shop is carpeted (free, from the trash barrel of a local flooring dealer). The carpet has several plus factors. Easier on the feet, deadens the sound a little, and is a kind of insulation for the floor in colder weather. The down side is that I need to use a vacuum to pick up sawdust and chips.

From contributor B:
Plantar fasciitis is caused by inflammation due to pressure dynamics. It is a common misconception that it is caused by a bone spur. The surgery that is performed does not remove any bone but cuts through the plantar fascia (a sheath of fiber which cushions the sole of the foot). By all means, see a podiatrist if you either don't trust your primary medical physician or if they can't alleviate your pain. Just keep in mind that they will most likely recommend custom-built orthotics which will cost you a couple of greenbacks or surgery which will cost you approximately six to eight weeks of productive work and more greenbacks if you're insurance doesn't cover it.

From contributor F:
Whatever you do, go with the idea on the carpet. It covers about 50% of our 7000 sq ft. shop. Everywhere except the spray room and the wood milling area. With good dust collection and small carpet pieces to shake out, it's made the shop quieter and more comfortable. Make friends with a local carpet guy and he will be happy not to fill up his dumpster.

From contributor G:
I, too, am plagued, but my source is arthritis of the big toes. The pain is quite intense, and in turn causes my entire foot/feet to ache. The reason is that every step I take all the little muscles in my feet twitch like mad trying to alter the movement of my foot to minimize the pain. The resulting ache can be unbearable at times. I've worn custom orthotics for years, and they helped a lot, but now this toe thing is beyond what an orthotic can do.

There was a thread some time ago on this subject, and I recalled the name Blundstone coming up repeatedly. I figured what the heck, I'd tried just about everything I could think of, including a great pair of air-cushioned Nikes, and my favorite hiking boots. Well, let me tell you, skeptical as I was, those Blundies are the best footware I've ever worn. They have surprisingly good fit for a pull on boot, and just the right combination of sole cushioning and stiffness. Turns out, in my case the stiff sole is critical. It prevents my toe bending when I walk. Apparently this can be taken to another level with a very thin steel plate in the sole, and an outside built up rocker sole. So your foot stays flat, but you still roll from heel to toe as you walk. Iíve never talked to anyone before or since that has Blundies that doesn't just love them.

From Brian Personett, technical advisor CNC Forum:
As far as shoes, before you shell out 100 plus bucks for a pair of Nike Shox, there are far better alternatives. I am a huge believer in quality footware, high end running shoes do offer some big advantages. If you don't get the proper ones however, you may well shell out $150 for a pair of shoes that won't last a month. For instance, I am a supinator while most people tend to be pronators when they walk. I was fairly neutral until I started wearing orthotics, then I became a supinator. Most high end running shoes are made for pronators. If I wear shoes like that, I will have them destroyed in less than a month. Asics is the only brand I've found that makes shoes specifically for supinators. Brooks, Mizuno, Saucouny, New Balance, all make fantastic products, but if it's not suited for your foot, you'll be unhappy with the results. Also note that New Balance does make some cross trainers for supinators that I have had tremendous success with. They typically are not mesh however, and I really like a lightweight mesh running shoe.

Also don't discount a quality sock in this equation. Thor-Lo makes some decent socks in their "Run" line. My personal favorites however are Smart Wool. Don't be scared off by the price. They're a far better value in the long run than the 10 pairs for 12 bucks cotton jobbies at Wal-Mart. Don't freak out that wool socks are going to be too hot to wear in the summer. I wear the Smart Wool Adrenaline pretty much all summer and I can guarantee you they're cooler than cotton. If you're having foot problems I would strongly encourage you to get to a podiatrist. They can steer you in the right direction regarding your feet and your feet's health.

From contributor I:
On concrete all day every day - feet are going to hurt. I'm a little gal and my tiny feet kill me after just a few hours. You guys spending all day have my sympathy. Brian made some great suggestions - wool socks WILL help a lot! More tips: when you take a break (and TAKE them!), sit with your feet elevated, shoes off if possible. This will help with normal swelling and will encourage better blood flow. Change positions often and get rubber mats - we have them everywhere. They are used in stalls that house million dollar thoroughbreds, and they are great. One of my guys was a soldier who said his feet were his most important mode of transportation - these tips came from him.

From contributor J:
I'm going to go in a slightly different direction. I agree that good shoes are very important, as are heavier socks. After wearing tennis shoes of different varieties, I changed to boots. I tried on all kinds of boots, and have been most comfortable in steel toed work boots from WalMart. Not the high end ones, but the $15-20 variety. I wear the sole off a pair about every 6 months. I like having steel toes when handling 3/4" sheet goods a lot, and the ankle support has really helped. My hips and knees don't hurt like they did when I was wearing tennis shoes.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the responses. I have been thru a bout with heel spurs, but now my pains so to speak are that my feet ache, kind of like if you were standing in one place for a real long time. Also my knees start bothering me, and I know I could stand to lose a few pounds. I believe I will see a podiatrist first and go from there.

From contributor L:
My father suffered for as long as I can remember, and as far as knew left me with the cursed inflamed hip and lower back. I believed it was hereditary. I have worked two jobs for most of my adult life, with Redwing Irish Setter boots - the only thing I could keep on my feet longer than eight weeks. After years of suffering and chiropractic visits, my new wife, an aerobics instructor, suggested I try the Nike Shox with the heel shocks. In two days I went from bedridden to jumping and springing around, with almost immediate relief, and no relapses. Try a pair (about 60.00), cheap if they work.

From contributor M:
Probably like the rest of you I'm a very frugal person (have to be in this business) so I have a tendency to wear my shoes until there is a hole in the sole. I started changing them out sooner, like when the outside of the heel starts to wear visibly. Low and behold, my heel and knee pain totally disappeared! I also found a good homeless shelter that was interested in my old sneakers. I had almost a dozen of the old work shoes, event the really worn ones. They were happy to take them. While youíre at the carpet guys shop getting some remnants, see if he has no slip carpet pad, makes an excellent surface to sand and route on.

From contributor E:
The carpet pad idea as something to rout or sand on is one Iíve used for some time.

From contributor N:
I have been wearing a pair of New Balance 974 for about a year and a half. They show almost no wear. Our concrete floor is very smooth. They are light, comfortable, soft, and are the most stable shoe I have ever worn. I purchased them from Cabelas. This may be a model that is proprietary to Cabelas. I remember some of the New Balance they sold were.