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Tile Floors and Your Health

Learn how tile floors can affect your feet, knees, hips, and low back.

Tile floors can be a beautiful and practical addition to many homes. Floor tiles can be made of porcelain or ceramic and come in a wide variety of colors and textures. People enjoy the fact that tile flooring is often so easy to maintain. This makes it much easier when cleaning up messes made by pets or young children. Tile floors look sleek and even elegant. Adding tile flooring usually increases the value of your home.

However, tile flooring isn’t best for every single person or situation. Tile provides an extremely hard surface that lacks the shock absorption provided by wood flooring, laminate flooring, and carpet. A glass of water that falls onto a tile floor will shatter upon impact. A ceramic bowl will crack, chip, or be smashed as well. Likewise, the continual striking of your foot onto a hard tile floor as you walk across the room, will cause a force to travel from the floor into the sole of your foot. This force of impact will travel upwards into your ankle, knee, hip, and low back. The impact of walking on a tile surface is much greater than the impact of walking on carpet or a forgiving wood floor.

As you get older, you begin to lose some of the layer of padding along the bottoms of your feet. This means your feet will begin to absorb less impact. In addition, a larger person will strike the ground with greater force than a smaller individual due to gravity. Age, size, and overall health can determine the stress placed upon the feet, knees, and hips, when walking on a tile surface.

Standing on a tile floor can also cause stresses upon the joints because standing is a continuous force upon the skeleton. For example, washing dishes while standing on a tile surface can cause hip pain and back pain from forces transmitted directly from the floor.

The following are examples of health issues that can arise from tile floors. Some health concerns arise from walking, sitting, or standing on a tile floor for a prolonged amount of time:

  • Knee pain – The trifecta which seems to cause the worst issues is: 1) A person who gained a bit of extra weight, 2) and has gotten a little older, 3) who has moved into a house with tile floors. Their skeleton is not used to being on a tile floor, and their knees are bearing the brunt of each step (the axial force being transmitted to and from the floor through the lower kinetic chain).

  • Foot pain – If you have one of the following foot conditions, you may be more at risk for developing foot pain from walking on a tile floor: bunions, plantar fasciitis, Morton’s neuroma, heel spur, gout, fallen arches / flat feet, or arthritis. Both dancers and runners may have sensitive feet due to wear and tear injuries that have developed over time. Hairstylists and barbers are examples of occupations that involve standing on a hard surface for many hours a day. If your job involves standing on an unforgiving surface, tile floors may not be best for you.

  • Hip pain – As previously mentioned, the impact of your feet striking a hard surface will travel upward through the lower kinetic chain of your leg, through your knee, and into your hip. This can cause irritation of the hip joint within the socket. Over time, this can damage the connective tissue inside the hip joint. It can also cause wear and tear of the hip bone, causing arthritis to appear sooner than normal. This can increase your chances of needing a hip joint surgical replacement.

  • Low back pain – Lastly, the force of impact will travel into the pelvis and low back. This can cause lumbago (low back pain) and back aches. This can cause muscle discomfort on one side of the back, or bilaterally (both sides of the back at the same time.) Sometimes this will manifest as a sharp pain. However, it can also cause a diffuse ache which gets worse the longer you stand or walk on the tile floor.

  • Tile can be slippery – When tile floors get wet they can become very slick. Tile floors are known to be in areas of the house where spills may occur. This can be both liquid spills and substances such as kid’s toys, marbles and food. Even when dry, you can slip while wearing socks.

  • Falling down – Tile can be an unforgiving surface to land on. Tile floors are very hard and can cause bruising and sprain injuries when you fall. In the kitchen, it is easy to fall while your attention is on the food you are holding and you cannot grab onto something to break your fall.

  • Fatigue – Due to the unyielding nature of tile floor, the body is unable to accommodate the stress while standing in bare feet. Excess energy is used by the muscles of the foot, legs and back to stabilize your posture on this hard surface. Over time, this can cause you to feel tired.

  • Uncomfortable to lie or sit on – Families like to do activities while on the floor such as puzzles, board games, and blocks. Yoga and other floor exercises which utilize the floor can become uncomfortable quickly. Even when using a mat, the tile floor does not absorb your body weight as compared to wood or carpet.

  • Glare from sun – Tile floors can reflect light during the day. This can bother your eyes directly by causing a continual glare. This glare can also be reflected onto your computer monitor or television screen.

  • Tile floors become quite cold in winter – During chilly weather, these types of floors can make your feet uncomfortably cold. Sometimes it may feel as if the cold from the tile is creeping into your bones, causing an uncomfortable ache.

What can you do now if you already have lovely tile floor and hate to part with them? Here are a few suggestions that may help:

  • Gripper socks – Gripper socks (the type with skid proof soles) often work well in cold weather. They keep your feet comfortably warm while also reducing the chance of falling.

  • Slippers – Slippers work in a similar fashion. You can wear a lightweight pair of slippers during warmer months and a thicker pair during the winter. Be sure to invest in a quality pair of slippers with a supportive sole.

  • Throw rugs – Many people benefit from using well-designed throw rugs with skid proof backing in high traffic areas. This includes the entry way to your home, and the area in front of your couch.

  • Mats in front of the vanity / kitchen sink – Mats with skid-proof backing can also be placed in front of areas where you stand for extended amounts of time.

  • Proper footwear when outside of the home – You don’t need to come home with sore, tired feet and then stand for hours on a tile floor. Wear comfortable shoes that provide arch support when you are at work or doing your shopping.

As chiropractors, we see many patients who have experienced some joint soreness and muscle aches from their tile floors. Some of them are young mothers with small children (carrying babies and toddlers on their hip while walking on a tile floor). Others are professionals who stand much of the day. Chiropractic treatment is able to help alleviate some of the stresses placed on the joints and skeleton. By seeing a chiropractor, and following some of the above recommendations, you should be able to enjoy your tile floors.

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