As anyone who has to work long shifts on their feet knows, standing and walking all day can take its toll on your health and your comfort. While long-term sitting has (appropriately) gotten a bad rap, it turns out that long-term standing can have comparably bad effects, too.
“Standing five hours a day contributes to significant and prolonged lower-limb muscle fatigue,” says WebMD, reporting on a small sample-size study. “This may raise your risk for long-term back pain and musculoskeletal disorders.”
The same symptoms of foot pain and discomfort can act as warning signs of other problems cascading up the lower extremities. Muscle fatigue and the effects of blood pooling can cause varicose veins, lower back pain, and potentially even nerve issues, such as sciatica.
To make life on your feet easier, you can follow the 5 general tips below. Also, be sure to book an appointment with a Salt Lake City podiatrist if you have persistent problems or want personalized recommendations to reduce any negative health impacts from long-term standing.
For those of us who have our own workstation, it’s vital to have everything you need within easy reach. Having to bend forward or overstretch our arms can put major strains on the muscles, especially when these movements are performed repeatedly.
To solve this issue, Canada’s Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) recommends having any work surfaces at about elbow height. Delicate work can involve a workstation slightly above elbow height, allowing the worker to rest their elbows. High-impact work, such as work that requires downward forces, should be done on a surface 7-10 inches below the elbows. All other work should be just an inch or so below elbow height.
Having all needed objects arranged in a semi-circle around the worker can reduce the need to bend or stretch out. When the worker does need to use something out of reach, they should turn to face the object rather than pivot from the waist.
Those of us who share workstations might not be so lucky as to be able to adjust our working environment in this way, but the above tips can still help. Remember to stand close to the register/computer or whatever is being used, and to relocate objects or take a few steps towards them rather than repeatedly reach out to grab them.
The biggest problem with long-term standing, according to health experts, is not just the strain on muscles but the overall effect of remaining in one position.
With most standing job roles “the worker has fewer body positions to choose from,” notes the CCOHS, “and the positions themselves are more rigid. These restrictions give the worker less freedom to move around and less opportunity to alternate which muscles are used.” CCOHS also cautions that “this lack of flexibility in choosing body positions contributes to health problems.”
One immediate solution is to provide yourself with a footstool. Really, any solid object can be used as a foot prop, which allows the person to rest one foot at a time while also changing positions regularly. The worker should also switch between standing positions from time to time when they are unable to sit or take breaks. Changing positions switches up the muscles being engaged, and it also promotes regular blood flow throughout the body.
People can lessen the impact of long-term standing by taking frequent breaks, at least every 2 hours. They should be allowed to sit, walk around, or even prop up their feet for a moment. These short breaks keep the body engaged and vary the muscles being used while promoting blood flow. They also give fatigued muscles a much-needed break.
Longer breaks should be used as an opportunity to stretch. Calf and ankle stretches are particularly important, as are stretches for the upper back and hamstrings. One simple stretch is to approach a table or desk that’s about waist height and to bend over at the waist, creating a flat “tabletop” on your back. This relieves the load placed upon calves while giving the calves and feet a nice little stretch.
What we’re walking on all day can have a huge impact on the, well, impact our feet feel while standing. Hard surfaces are, naturally, less than ideal in this department. They generate shock with every footfall, and they force our foot, ankle, and calf muscles to do all the work of creating support for the entire body.
Standing mats should be provided to workers to provide support while reducing shock impacts. Anti-fatigue mats provide the best support because they cushion shocks without going overboard. Thick foam-like mats, on the other hand, can make standing actually more difficult, accelerating muscle fatigue as workers are forced to correct balance. Anti-slip mats can work well in areas with hard surfaces, as well.
The shoes you wear can make a major difference in how tired and sore you feel at the end of the day.
“If you know that you have some trouble with your feet, then having proper footwear is really important,” Maura Daly Iversen, dean of the college of health professions at Sacred Heart University, told VICE News. “Because, over time, that’s going to bother your knees, that’s going to bother your hips, and it’s going to bother your lower back.”
CCOHS recommends shoes with fairly thick soles, which provide better shock absorption as well as enhanced support for arches. Avoid shoes that pinch the feet, like pumps, and instead, opt for shoes that offer lots of room while still fitting closely. A bit of a heel can help, actually, but high heels are naturally far less desirable. Non-slip shoes are also important in workplaces that have slipping hazards.
Compression socks can help individuals who aren’t able to walk around or keep the blood flowing as easily. These reduce fatigue as well as the risk of conditions like varicose veins.
Repetitive stress on our feet, ankles, and calves can take a collective toll on our health. Over time, these conditions can be more difficult to treat with simple things like stretch breaks. Seeing a podiatrist in your area can allow you to diagnose any persistent problems and address them head-on. You may benefit from custom orthotics, for example, or a specific rehabilitative regimen.
If you’ve been stuck on your feet and want help making it easier on you, reach out to the offices of Elizabeth Auger, DPM. Call (801) 845-3960 or contact us online to book a podiatrist appointment at a location near you.