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An Unexpected Pandemic Medical Issue? More People Are Breaking Their Toes


A few months ago, Elizabeth Chang of The Washington Post stubbed her toe.

ELIZABETH CHANG: I was in my kitchen packing up to go on a hiking trip in West Virginia. And because we didn't want to leave the place that we rented, we were bringing all our food. So we had gone to Costco. And I was packing coolers full of lasagnas and drinks and all that kind of stuff. And I was racing around my kitchen. And I ran - and I was barefoot. And I ran into a chair, and it hurt terribly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chang soldiered on, but the toe still hurt. And eventually, she ended up going to an orthopedic surgeon.

CHANG: I was seeing more people in boots than usual. And on one of my appointments to check on my toe, I asked my doctor what he thought. And he said there's been a pandemic of broken toes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Another pandemic - and it's because of the pandemic.

CHANG: We're spending more time at home. And we're spending more time shoeless than we usually do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chang reported this out for the Post, talking with podiatrists about the injuries they've been seeing, including Dr. Ben Pearl of Arlington Foot and Ankle.

BEN PEARL: Give me one second. We're going to do one more just so we can compare on the other foot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He was dealing with a broken toe when we reached him.

PEARL: It has been, as I said in the article, a significant increase. I mean, it seems to me, from what I normally see, like, threefold - that many.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it's because homes are just more chaotic now.

PEARL: We get sort of habituated in the house. We're relaxed. We're distracted. You've got a toddler running around. Now you're trying to, you know, wear two hats - the mother, father - and then get in with your company on a Zoom call or at your computer. And then all of a sudden, you clip the table, you know, running after your toddler.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Other specialists told Chang they're also seeing...

CHANG: More people with things like plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the bottom of your feet that can cause horrible arch or heel pain. And it turns out that it's not just people running into things that is making our lives tough for our feet right now. It's also the fact that we're often going around barefoot or at least shoeless on very hard floors. And that's not good for your feet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The solution - well, it's simple, really.

CHANG: One thing you can do is you can go through your house and kind of clean it all up and look for the things that people might be tripping over, like cords.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And wear shoes or slippers with an arch support. And as for Chang's toe...

CHANG: Oh, it's completely healed. It's fine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A tidy end to a new brand of pandemic story. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.