Having a job that requires you to be on your feet all day is a pain in the neck… and back, legs, and feet. Aside from fatigue, prolonged standing brings about a number of health problems, both short-term and long-term.
Standing all day can be just as bad as sitting all day. While standing for reasonable periods burns more calories, improves metabolism, and tones muscles, doing so for too long leads to aches, varicose veins, and poor blood circulation, among others. That’s why we invented chairs.
Almost half of all workers around the world spend the majority of their workday standing. If you work as a food server, shop assistant, teacher, assembly line worker, or in any position that has you on your feet for long hours, don’t skip this article.
Effects of Prolonged Standing
Body parts closer to the ground, e.g., the feet and lower legs, are more likely to be affected by working in a standing position, but even the top of your body can experience symptoms. From the apparent to the not-so-obvious, spending most of the workday on your feet has a direct influence on your health.
- Painful feet. One of the most obvious and immediate negative impacts of standing all day is foot pain. Unfortunately, the sensation doesn’t end once the workday does; it lingers beyond the standing period.
- Restricted blood flow. When you stand for long periods, blood flow to the muscles that keep your body in an upright position becomes limited. This, in turn, leads to muscular strain in the legs, back, and neck, as well as makes you feel tired more easily.
- Increased risk of rheumatic diseases. Extended standing can immobilize the joints in the spine, knees, hips, and feet temporarily, causing rheumatic illnesses down the line.
- Bad posture. As you get more and more tired, you will have a tendency to shift your weight and slouch. Slouching not only encourages bad posture but also makes you less attentive, decreasing productivity.
- Swelling of the legs. Blood pools in the legs and has a harder time returning to the heart.
- Nocturnal leg cramps. As the name suggests, these cramps occur at night and usually cause awakenings from sleep. However, you can also get them while awake at night. Nocturnal leg cramps cause the calf, thigh, or foot muscles to feel knotted or tight.
- Varicose veins. Varicose veins form when blood pressure in the veins increases. While not a serious medical condition, they can be uncomfortable, embarrassing, and lead to more serious issues.
- Cardiovascular diseases. Sedentary behaviors, including prolonged static standing, is associated with changes in the cardiovascular system, such as carotid atherosclerosis and varicose veins (as previously mentioned).
- Premature birth. Generally, you can continue working while you’re pregnant, but be sure to include a variety of movements in your workday. Standing for extended periods can restrict blood flow to your baby or cause you to deliver early.
Preventing and Treating Problems
The human body is most comfortable when standing for short periods. When forced to maintain an upright position for too long, our muscles get tired and problems start to pop up. Here’s what you can do to avoid health issues associated with prolonged static standing.
- Wear the right shoes. Footwear that doesn’t fit properly can cause foot problems or make them worse. When you work on your feet all day, comfortable shoes are essential. Remember to shop for shoes in the late afternoon when your feet have expanded.
The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. recommends shoes with slightly elevated heels (at least 1/4 inch) rather than footwear with flat soles.
- Get new insoles. Aftermarket insoles can provide better support and comfort than the stock inserts in your shoes. If you walk and stand on hard surfaces a lot, shock-absorbing insoles can help. Quality insoles designed for prolonged standing can address various conditions, including structural misalignment and plantar fasciitis.
- Change is good. The body does not like being in the same position for extended periods. Make sure you’re standing, sitting, and walking throughout the workday and transition before you feel any discomfort.
Get moving during rest breaks as well. Deliver something to a colleague, use the bathroom, or take the stairs—anything to get the blood flowing.
- Redesign your workstation. If possible, create an ergonomic workstation where there is enough room for you to change body positions and a footrest for shifting your weight from one leg to another throughout the workday.
- Stretch regularly. Stretch at work, at home, and whenever and wherever you can to relax and lengthen painful muscles. Calf raises and runner’s stretches are great for pumping blood that has pooled in the legs and feet.
Soaking, messaging, and elevating your feet at home is also helpful in recovery.