If you’ve been spending a lot of time at home in ugg boots, not doing so much exercise and stacking on the coronakilos over the past two years or so, you may have noticed something strange going on with your feet.

They may not fit back into leather shoes. Or if you do manage to squeeze them in, your shoes feel really stiff and look set to give you blisters.

What’s going on? Have your feet expanded? Is this permanent? Do you need to buy new shoes?

Read more: What is toe jam? From harmless gunk to a feast for bugs

Our feet are flexible structures and adapt over time to our footwear – or lack of shoes.

That’s what happened during COVID lockdowns and long periods of being at home, when many people swapped regular shoes for comfortable options such as thongs, slides and ugg boots. Our feet responded by spreading out and becoming wider.

That wasn’t a big surprise for podiatrists like us, health professionals who specialise in looking after people’s feet.

We’ve long known that people who walk barefoot – or wear wide shoes that give the foot plenty of room to spread out – have a much wider front of the foot (forefoot) than people who wear narrow shoes.

That’s because the lack of pressure from shoes allows the five, long metatarsal bones in each of your feet to align normally; each metatarsal head (end of the metatarsal bone) takes the load as you walk.

Once your forefoot becomes wider, it stays like this unless you force it to adapt by wearing narrow shoes.

How much wider a foot becomes, if given the space, depends on how elastic your ligaments are. Some people are “hypermobile” and have very “loose” joints because their ligaments are more stretchy.

Some people have described this as “Flintstone feet” or “ugg boot foot”.

What else is going on?

Being less physically active and leading a more sedentary lifestyle while at home for long periods may have also led to weaker core muscles.

Core muscles are the ones around our buttocks, hips, abdomen and lower back. They are particularly important in controlling the position and function of our legs and feet.

If you lose core fitness, your legs can rotate internally (your knees face each other), causing your feet to roll in (or pronate).

As this happens, your feet can become flatter, changing their shape to become longer and wider.

Read more: Core strength: why is it important and how do you maintain it?

How about the coronakilos?

Many of us have also put on coronakilos (also known as COVID kilos or quarantine kilos) during the pandemic. In fact, one in three Australians gained weight during this time.

An increase in body weight creates more force on the feet. If your feet have a normal or low arch, your feet will become flatter (will pronate more), creating increased pressure, particularly under the mid-foot.

So if you put on weight, your feet can become longer and wider.

Read more: COVID kilos: why now is the best time to shed them

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Article originally published by The Conversation on June 15, 2022.