How Standing All Day on Your Feet Can Be Bad for Your Health
Many professions require extended periods standing on our feet. In the restaurant industry, for example, it is common for professionals to take an average of 12,000 steps in an 8-hour shift. Traveling from the back of the house to the front of the house or waiting for the “campers” to leave will keep you on your feet longer and have you putting in more steps. While in moderation this can be healthy (think of all the calories you’ll burn), over time it can cause some unexpected effects on your feet and lower body.
What are the main effects of working on your feet all day?
Prolonged standing and walking have been linked with a higher degree of ailments, particularly affecting soft tissues (such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, and the feet); the spine (manifesting generally as low back pain or neck pain); the circulatory system (more specifically the venous system); and some others. Let’s dig into the science behind each one of these to understand why these phenomena occur.
Effects on the Feet: Standing places significant pressure on the entire body, and the repercussions are greater on, what is known in orthopedics as weight bearing joints (WBJ). The negative effects’ maximum expression on these joints are seen in the joint of the hips, knees, ankle and feet. The stress placed on these WBJ reduces the normal lubrication and cushioning of synovial joints, causing them to tear over time. The combined effects of pressure and tearing can cause extensive amounts of pain and make it difficult to move or walk. In fact, lower limb disorders associated with standing cause more than 2 million sick days per years.
Effects on the Spine: Our spine is a sensitive, crucial part of our anatomical architecture. As the central sustain structure of the body, it assimilates the effects of long periods of time standing. These come, mainly, in two forms: 1) postural compression of vertebrae that causes intervertebral discs to experience over-compression; and 2) stiffness and cramping of para-vertebral muscles (i.e., the muscles that run parallel to the spine). The result? Pain that can manifest in the form of low back pain, generalized back pain, or upper –neck pain.
Effects on the Circulatory System: There is a substantial body of evidence stating the correlation between standing and peripheral circulatory diseases, such as varicose veins (VV). Prolonged standing at work –conclude the main studies- “constitutes an excess risk of hospital treatment due to varicose veins and accounts for more than one fifth of all cases of working age”.
According to the Canadian Institute of Public Health, other conditions are also associated with long periods of standing, such as: swollen or painful feet or legs; bunions; plantar fasciitis (which stands for the sole – ‘plantar’; and inflamed connective tissue that goes from heel to toe – ‘fasciitis’); tendinitis of the Achilles tendon; hip and knee problems; increased chance of knee or hip arthritis; and muscle soreness and fatigue.
So, what can be done to avoid standing-related problems?
There are a few things that can be done to avoid problems triggered by long periods of time spent on your feet. The first –and most simple one- is alternating periods of sitting with periods of standing. The second is related to correcting the foot deformities caused by extended periods of standing using orthotics and/or corrective footwear.
In a normal individual, if you imagine a line from the knee-cap to the foot’s sole, that line should end between the big toe and the second toe. In moderate and high degree alignment deformities, the lower limbs lose this anatomical structure, and therefore the line gets displaced causing pain and discomfort.
Custom made orthotics and corrective footwear support the skeleton, muscles and fascia in the correct position. This is crucial to relieve many lower limbs and back pain symptoms. In particular, if someone spends extensive periods of time standing, orthotics help to improve posture, relieve WBJs’ stress, support ligaments, treat overpronation –“flat feet”, and decrease the likelihood of other related conditions (such as plantar fasciitis, knee lesions, etc.) of appearing.
For example, Klogs Footwear specializes in shock absorption footwear known to reduce heel and lower back pain. Drew Shoe is another great option for orthopedic footwear and offers superior insoles and an array of styles and widths to accommodate a variety of foot conditions.
While more research needs to be done to understand how exactly orthotics –and other shoe inserts- might be better utilized by individuals standing up for prolonged periods of time, the prevalence of patients reporting substantial benefits from these interventions conforms with health care provider’s and the American Association of Orthopedic Surgery in the recommendations for their utilization.
**It is advisable to consult a health-care professional such as a doctor or podiatrist before taking action based on any information found on our website. Our goal is to provide information and educate others on a number of issues relating to foot health, not give medical instruction.
Derek Roach is a foot health specialist and has worked in the foot health industry for over 10 years. He is knowledge in various foot conditions and shoe features to help with those conditions. Also, he has been quoted on CNN, The Penny Hoarder, HuffPost, Dapper Confidential and other popular publications for foot and shoe-related topics.