By Daryl Conner
Groomers do a lot of their work standing up, and there is a good bit of walking involved in our work as well. Did you know that with every mile we walk we experience 200,000 to 300,000 pounds of stress on our feet? Considering that in our business we are often carrying a dog when we walk, you can multiply those numbers.
Many groomers complain of foot pain. So my disclaimer here is: If you are experiencing foot pain, consider visiting a podiatrist. Podiatrists are defined as physicians, surgeons, and specialists who are highly trained to diagnose and treat conditions affecting the foot, ankle, and related structures of the leg. Podiatrists complete years of rigorous foot and ankle training in podiatric medical school and hospital-based residency training, making them uniquely qualified to care for this part of the body.
If you are not quite to the point where you think a doctor’s appointment is in order but your “dogs are barkin” at the end of the day, here are a few ideas:
How to Choose Shoes
A wise soul once said “Don’t scrimp on your bed or shoes, because if you are not in one you are in the other.” Fortunately, pet groomers don’t have to dress formally for work and this gives us many options to wear very comfortable, safe shoes. Because we are on our feet so much, groomers are prone to foot problems such as plantar fasciitis. This occurs when the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot becomes swollen and irritated. It makes walking very painful.
Proper foot wear can help prevent many foot woes, and groomers’ shoes need to do more than offer support; they need to protect us from the paws and claws of the dogs we work with. There are not many industries where workers have to worry about preventing a Saint Bernard from tap dancing on the top of their feet! Choosing shoes that cushion and cradle can reduce strain and pain in our feet, legs and even our aching backs. Here are some tips to help you find the right footwear for the job:
If you have not had your feet measured in a while, ask to have this done next time you try shoes on. Our feet change as we age, and women’s feet often become a different size after pregnancy.
If one foot is larger than the other (and this is very common!), purchase shoes in the larger size and wear thicker socks on the smaller foot.
Try shoes on late in the day. Feet tend to swell as the day goes on and you will find shoes purchased in the afternoon or evening will fit better than those you buy in the morning.
Don’t just buy shoes by the size on the label. Try them on. Sizes vary by brand and style.
Take time to walk around the store in the shoes. Your feet flex differently when you are walking than when you are simply standing. It is important that the shoes fit while you are in motion.
Good shoes should grip your heel tightly, be wide in the front section to allow wiggle room for your toes, and offer support over the arch to keep your foot from rolling (pronating.)
Look for shoes that offer a cushioned floor bed, such as those designed for runners or walkers. Check out shoes made for nurses or chefs too. They are designed to be comfortable, supportive and no-skid.
Shoes made of natural fibers such as leather or quality man-made mesh can be good choices for the wet grooming environment because they “breathe” and allow air to circulate.
The rubber soles of most athletic type shoes are ideal because they help prevent skidding and slipping.
As important as it is to invest in some good shoes with support, it is also important to not wear the same shoes day after day. Instead, switch each day between different pairs. You could even take this suggestion a step further and keep a spare pair of shoes at work. Then switch your footwear mid-day.
Replacing shoes that show signs of wear is essential. Even well made shoes don’t last forever. If the foot bed is looking and feeling thin and compressed, and the soles are disintegrating, the shoe is not offering the support it should. Tired shoes don’t give us the needed level of shock absorption and can even cause our feet to be improperly aligned, causing bone and joint problems.
How long a pair of shoes will last depends on many factors, including the weight, type of stride, and level of activity of the wearer. If you experience unusual discomfort in your feet, legs or back, check to see if your shoes are worn out. In general, check your favorite shoes every 6-8 months for signs of deterioration.
Sock it to Me
To further increase your comfort, consider the lowly sock. They’ve come a long way since I was a kid in the ‘60’s. I vividly remember hating socks back then. Summer socks were thin cotton and they’d twist and slouch and end up wadded damply around my foot in a miserable lump. Winter socks were wool and they made me both itchy and hot. Fast forward to today, modern fibers are knit so that socks stay where you put them, and wick moisture away from your skin. Not only that, but you can now choose socks that offer padding where you need it.
If you suffer from sore heels or sagging arches, there are socks that will help. A walk through the sporting section will be an eye opener; there are literally hundreds of styles to choose from. Look for light colored socks (some people are sensitive to dyes) with smooth seams at the toe. Experiment with a few different types to find what feels best. Keep in mind that poorly made or ill fitting socks can cause discomfort even if you are wearing a good shoe.
If you don’t currently use anti fatigue mats, you should. “Standing all day at a workstation can be especially detrimental to a person’s body”, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
“Standing for long periods of time causes a decrease in the blood supply to the lower extremities and therefore increases fatigue and soreness in the muscles. Also, prolonged standing creates an accumulation of blood in certain areas of the feet and legs, which leads to irritated and inflamed veins, otherwise known as varicose veins. In addition, the continuous pressure on a person’s feet causes bone misalignment and joint degeneration”, states the CCOHS.
Good mats are designed to decrease the stress on feet and legs by providing a cushioned surface. They have the wonderful added bonus of buffering dropped clippers and scissors. Installing appropriate matting is an affordable and quick way to enhance safety and relieve stress and fatigue in the workplace.
Like most groomers, I originally learned to practice my craft while standing. Then, a while back, I had a leg injury that required surgery and weeks spent in a cast. I was forced to change the way I worked and learn to groom from the sitting position. This was trickier than I thought it would be. I had to retrain my arm and back muscles to accommodate the change. The effort was worthwhile, however, and I find I am much perkier at the end of the day when I sit at least part of the time that I work. The ergonomically designed “rodeo” type stool is terrific for groomers.
There are simple exercises for our legs and feet that can make an enormous difference. Give them a whirl and see how much better you feel:
During the work day, while you are standing, try alternately contracting then relaxing your calf muscles.
Lift one leg at a time and flex and rotate your ankles.
Bend, then straighten your knees from time to time through the day.
Periodically rise up on tip toe, and then come back down.
When you sit down for a lunch break, (you are taking a lunch break, aren’t you?) take your shoes off and elevate your feet to hip level on a stool or chair. While your feet are elevated try these fun exercises:
Spread your toes.
Wiggle them, too!
Point your toes like a ballerina, hold that position several seconds, and then flex them towards the ceiling. Hold, repeat.
Curl your toes, and then turn feet inward so the soles face each other. Hold this position for a few seconds then relax. Repeat.
Roll a tennis ball on the floor with your foot; it is like a mini massage to sore soles.
All of these exercises will stretch and flex your muscles, increasing circulation. And, they just plain feel good!
Buy good shoes, replace them when needed, sit when you can, exercise your legs and feet during the day, and be sure to have good anti-fatigue mats. Your body will thank you.