Standing all day, whether work or at play, can do a real number on your feet, legs, and back! Each year in Canada, thousands of work-related foot injuries are reported and an increasing number of sick days are taken because of leg and foot problems. Whether you’re cooking at a restaurant line, cutting hair in a salon, teaching in a classroom, or folding T-shirts at a clothing store, making an extra effort to take good care of your feet and legs can go a long way toward staying healthy and comfortable.
Problems that can result from extended periods of standing
The most commonly reported symptoms from extended periods of standing are discomfort, fatigue and swelling in the legs. Workers required to spend too much time on their feet are at greatly increased risk of pain and discomfort affecting feet, shins and calves, knees, thighs, hips and lower back. In fact, studies have shown that musculoskeletal disorders are the most common causes of work-related ill-health, and that 17 per cent of these disorders affected the lower limbs.
There are many other debilitating and potentially very serious health concerns related to prolonged standing. Worsening of existing coronary heart disease, varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency have been associated with prolonged standing, as has pain in the lower limbs and feet. Further studies suggest back pain associated with work is about twice as common in those who work standing compared to those who usually work sitting, even after controlling for age and lifting weights.
Older workers and those employed in heavy manual jobs frequently develop knee and joint pain as they get older, and may become progressively less able to cope with constant standing. Other workers, for example those with arthritis, varicose veins caused by pregnancy or who have suffered a back or lower limb injury are also at an increased risk.
The effects of standing all day can show up almost right away and prolonged standing or walking can often accelerate health problems and soft tissue injuries. For example, standing all day on your feet can result in:
• Varicose veins
• Plantar fasciitis
• Low back pain
• Muscle soreness and fatigue
• High blood pressure
• Knee or hip arthritis
• Pregnancy complications
• Neck and shoulder stiffness
• Chronic heart and circulatory disorders
• Poor posture (and its effects)
• Various foot problems and pain
• Knee problems
• Swollen or painful feet or legs
• Stretched Achilles tendon (tendonitis)
• Joint damage
• Poor circulation and swelling in feet & legs
What causes these problems?
Like many work-related hazards, standing usually is designed into a job. The physical layout or work practices of a task may force workers into awkward positions to reach across wide surfaces or do things repetitively without breaks. Standing is worse when you can’t move around much, or when you work on hard surfaces and/or wear unsuitable footwear.
Muscles work to hold you upright. Without resting or moving around, joints from the neck to the feet can become temporarily “stuck”. When this happens regularly, muscles get tired and their tendons and ligaments can be damaged, causing soft tissue injuries.
Standing still also reduces blood flow to muscles and stops the “muscle pump” (regular muscle movements) that returns blood from the feet and legs to the heart. Other body fluids won’t move unless leg muscles contract. When blood or other fluids don’t move properly, veins get inflamed and feet, ankles and legs swell, causing muscle ache.
What can you do to prevent standing-related injuries?
You can reduce the risks associated with prolonged standing – especially those suffering from chronic tired feet and stiff leg muscles. Below are simple actions you can take to get you through your day while avoiding …or at least reducing health hazards.
- Alternate standing with sitting: Find the time to sit if you are standing for long periods of time. Use break periods or slow periods to sit.
- If you’re pregnant, try to put your feet up at work and rest with your feet higher than your head.
- Change positions frequently: Try walking around, stretching and standing in different positions to move your weight around.
- Wear comfortable and supportive shoes: Many stylish shoes are made nowadays that not only look great, but are power-packed with support and comfort features. Gone are the days of such shoes looking like something your great-grandmother would have preferred. See what we’re talking about on BioPed Footcare’s shop site.
- Custom made orthotics support the skeleton, muscles and fascia in the correct position – key to relieving many foot and leg pain symptoms. In particular, if you stand on your feet for extensive periods, orthotics help to improve posture, relieve joint stress, support ligaments, treat overpronation, increase comfort while walking and can help to reduce other foot conditions such as heel (plantar fasciitis) and forefoot (metatarsalgia) pain. Ensure the orthotics are manufactured correctly, by seeing a foot expert who has a process designed with your best fit in mind. Don’t know what to look for? Find a BioPed location and we will explain it in person.
- Lower the heel and spare your toes: Keep the really high heels and the very pointy toes for parties and special events. These are not ideal shoes for somebody who works on their feet all day long. Lack of space for toes reduces circulation and encourages a range of problems from cramping of feet; heels push the toes deeper into the end of the shoe and if that end is pointed, there is very little space for the toes to go.
- Cover hard floors: If you are confined to a certain space and it has a hard floor covering, request a rubber mat or a rug to be placed on the floor. This will cushion the area that you are standing on, reducing the impact on your legs and feet from the hard surface.
- Compression hose and socks: Compression socks are well known among people suffering from leg or foot problems but they have benefits that many people, including active individuals and those who stand on their feet all day, can take advantage of. With the growing awareness of compression socks and their health benefits, modern styles and colours have emerged.
- Alternating knee flexion: Bend your knee and try, without going beyond your natural range of motion, to touch your heel to your buttocks with one leg and then the other. This will help loosen up the quadriceps (the four major muscles in front of the thighs).
- Figure-8 hip rotations: Circling your hips in a figure-8 motion will prevent both hip tightness and blood stagnation in the lower extremities by shifting your balance from one side to the other.
- Hacky-sack kicks: Kicking an imaginary ball with your instep will help loosen the origin connection points of your gluteus maximus (buttocks), which is the largest muscle in the body. The “glutes” can become tight, especially where they attach to your sacroiliac joint, whether you’re in a sedentary seated or standing position. Just a few kicks on each side can prevent tight glutes.
- Hamstring stretch: A great way to activate the hamstrings and stretch them simultaneously (strengthening and lengthening) is to do an active hamstring stretch. Simply stick your buttocks out, keeping your back flat. Rock back on your heels. Keep your knees slightly bent. Squeeze the inside of your thighs together without actually moving the knees and reach your chin forward. Unlike the more popular passive way to stretch, this active stretch should provide immediate relief to your hamstrings.
- Calf stretch: If you can’t take a quick work break to do a downward-dog stretch, place both hands shoulder width apart and level on a wall, or, even at desk level. Place one foot forward and bend the knee so that the knee is directly over the ankle. The rear leg should be straight. You should feel the rear calf muscles stretching. As with the hamstring stretch, try to isometrically contract your thighs by activating the inner thighs without actually moving the knees.