Nurses frequently work 12 and even 15-hour days, with the vast majority spending those hours on their feet. It’s not surprising, then, that hospital workers may be disproportionately affected by injuries to the lower extremities. Fortunately, the risks of being on your feet all day can be mitigated with rest and proper shoes.

“Nurses are the heart of healthcare,” says Dr. Joseph S. Tamburrino, a podiatrist practicing in New York. Because of their hours and the hard floors they spend them on, “a nurse’s feet are at risk every day.”

Nursing Is Hard on the Feet

The risks to your feet and lower extremities are many when you’re on your feet for extended periods, and these risks are only magnified when you don’t have the proper support of good shoes.

“The greatest long-term risk for nurses… is called plantar fasciitis,” says Tamburrino. “Basically, it’s an irritation and overstretching of a fibrous band that supports the foot’s arch.”

Tamburrino says that nurses are also at risk for heel spurs and arthritis. Further, if they have existing conditions — such as hammertoe, bunions, or an ingrown toenail — the condition is likely to get worse. This is all in addition to the general soreness and achiness they’re likely to feel in their legs and feet.

How to Choose the Right Shoe

The best shoe is one that feels good right away.

“It sounds obvious, but the best shoe for a nurse is one that feels 100 percent comfortable,” says Tamburrino. He says there is no “breaking in period” necessary with the right shoe.

From treating hundreds of nurses, Tamburrino says he’s found that the best shoes for the job have these five things in common:

1. Laces: Though they may not be as fast as other alternatives, they provide better support.

2. High, rounded toe box: This “allows the big toe room to wiggle and accommodates the shape of one’s foot,” he says, “right down to the pinky toe at the end.”

3. Maximum shock absorption: The shoes, not your feet, should absorb the impact of your daily movements.

4. Supportive insoles: Look for a curved surface that cradles the arch of your foot.

5. Easy to clean, rubber soles: These are less about foot comfort and more about avoiding contamination and preventing slippage, but they are important nonetheless.

Don’t Make These Mistakes

Unlike someone who sits at a desk all day, if a nurse purchases the wrong shoes, she’ll feel it pretty quickly.

1. Don’t buy your shoes online. Buy your shoes in person. A professional fitting, where you can try them on and walk around, is always better than buying them over the Internet, says Tamburrino.

2. Don’t choose fashion over function. Clogs, flats, and other inappropriate shoes may look cute but could cost you where it hurts — literally.

3. Don’t overdo it. Remember to rest in between your shifts. One reason nurses are at such a high risk for foot and leg problems is that they don’t have much down time. More than two million sick days are used by RNs every year due to lower limb disorders, and this includes injuries from improper foot care.

The Takeaway

When you’re a nurse, taking care of your health begins with taking care of your feet and legs. Having a few pairs of high-quality shoes to rotate through will help ensure you maintain a spring in your step even after a long shift.