The average American employee spends about 57 percent of their time standing at work, and roughly half of workers spend at least three-quarters of their day standing. Some employees, such as restaurant waiters, chefs, and maids, spend nearly 100 percent of their time standing at work.
While sitting all day can be harmful to your health, there are also health risks of standing all day as it can lead to swelling in the legs, back pain, and other physical problems. However, one of the biggest complaints is foot pain. Understand why your feet hurt from standing, how sitting versus standing affects your health, and how to relieve the stress of standing all day.
Why Do My Feet Hurt After Work?
If you work on your feet for eight hours a day, it's quite likely that you'll feel sore at the end of the day. Your body weight is absorbed entirely by your feet when you stand or walk, and your feet aren't designed for intense, constant pressure. The constant pressure often leads to more serious health problems.
One of the problems associated with extended-standing is varicose veins. Varicose veins are enlarged veins because the blood flows in opposite directions. While it is usually more of a cosmetic concern, it can also cause aching and discomfort in your lower legs and feet. Some people even require surgery to become comfortable. One study showed that those who work on their feet all day are much more likely to develop and become hospitalized for varicose veins.
Plantar fasciitis is another condition that causes foot pain. This is essentially inflammation that starts at the heel bone and runs down to the toes. The most common symptom of Plantar fasciitis is heel pain. One recent study said, "It is thought that repetitive tensile overload from standing for long periods of time or running causes changes in the aponeurosis that can be either acute or chronic."
Several studies also show that most people working long hours on their feet experience general discomfort and pain in their feet and general muscular fatigue. In fact, the study showed that even periods as short as 30 minutes can cause physical fatigue, discomfort, and pain in the lower legs.
General pain in the feet is usually because your body is not designed for prolonged standing as your foot distributes weight unequally. For example, your heel and the palm of your foot carry most of your weight, so the weight distribution is spread unevenly throughout the foot.
Not only is this pain uncomfortable, but some studies also show that it reduces reaction time and has a negative effect on the person's performance . In a study, respondents were given various creative-problem solving challenges and the longer the person had been standing, the poorer the results became.
Sitting vs Standing at Work
While there are certainly risks to standing at work, there are arguably just as many risks to sitting at work. Employees with sedentary jobs often battle with issues like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, obesity, and high cholesterol. Constant sitting can also lead to chronic back pain, neck pain, and other discomforts.
Another major risk that few people factor in is how a sedentary job affects your mental health. New studies suggest that sitting for longer than six hours per day increases the risk of mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Therefore, it's important to find a balance of both sitting and standing at work. Maria-Gabriela Garcia, an author and the lead researcher on one study revealing the negative effects of prolonged standing, says that two hours of standing on a job is fine, though, "a longer period is likely to have detrimental effects."
Often, employees (and some employers) are opposed to implementing changes that require either more sitting or more standing to meet the recommended 2 hour maximum of standing. However, studies have shown that it is possible with encouragement from teammates, and employees report increased health after the changes.
How to Relieve Foot Pain from Standing All Day
If you can't incorporate more sitting into your daily routine, there are plenty of other options for reducing foot pain, and they require zero consent from your employer.
1. Exercises and Massages
Strengthening the muscles in your legs and feet is a great place to start. Research done by Mahidol University examined a group of patients with Plantar Fasciitis (PF), a condition that causes heel pain. Those that performed strengthening exercises experienced significantly less pain than the group that did no strengthening exercises. There are several exercises here that will help strengthen your leg and foot muscles. There are also many messages that you can do to relieve the pain in your feet after a long day.
2. Focus on Posture
While you're on the clock, be sure that you're using good posture at all times. Using poor posture can damage ligaments and muscles that aren't intended to carry your weight. The resulting pain usually transfers down to your feet and lower back, causing sore feet.
Next time you're standing at work, try the following posture exercises:
- Keep your feet a shoulder-width apart
- Stand tall with your shoulders back
- Keep the weight on the balls of your feet
- Keep your head level with the rest of your body
3. Use Anti-inflammatories
Anti-inflammatories are another great way to reduce foot pain, and the most common ones include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Discuss this with your doctor if you intend to use it for an extended period of time.
If your feet hurt after work, a great way to relieve foot pain is by taking an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt is a natural anti-inflammatory that becomes magnesium and sulfate when dissolved in water. This helps relieve pain from sore muscles. Fill your bathtub with water and then dissolve one cup of Epsom salt in the water. Soak your feet for about 10 to 15 minutes in the water. Not only will the Epsom salts help, but the warm water is also soothing for sore feet.
4. Compression Stockings
Multiple studies have also shown that compression stockings are useful at reducing foot pain. Compression stockings encourage the blood to flow back up from your lower legs, reducing inflammation and swelling in your feet. If you experience extreme pain, you can purchase graduated compression stockings, which places more pressure on the lower leg.
5. Shoe Insoles
Shoe insoles are another popular way to reduce pain in the lower legs and feet. Studies of assembly line workers that stand for eight hours per day reported that shoe insoles effectively reduced pain. In-soles are effective because they help distribute the weight more evenly throughout your foot. Without in-soles, your feet distribute the weight unevenly causing more pressure on certain parts of the foot than others. With in-soles, that weight is distributed more evenly and helps avoid fatigue.
How to Improve Your Workspace to Reduce Standing-Related Injuries
Talking with your team members about how you can incorporate more sitting into the daily routine is a great way to start relieving foot pain. Open the conversation by explaining the health risks of constant standing and provide suggestions on how you can incorporate sitting and remain productive.
For example, suggest that your team invest in anti-fatigue and non-slip mats. One study conducted by Loughborough University found that respondents reported significantly reduced fatigue in their feet, legs, and back when standing on anti-fatigue mats. Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a section recommending employers to purchase anti-fatigue mats.
Investing in quality shoes is also important. Your shoes should have a thick sole to absorb pressure and a hard outer toe to avoid damage if something falls on your toe. You may also want a slip-resistant sole as slip-and-fall accidents are a leading cause of worker compensation claims.
Additionally, talk with your employer about how you can incorporate more sitting or breaks into the workday. If sitting is not possible, ask how you can incorporate more motion into your day. If you stand in one place for too long, certain parts of your feet repeatedly experience the same pressure, whereas when you move, the pressure moves to other areas of your feet.
While eliminating all pain might not be possible, there are resources available that can make an 8-hour shift on your feet more bearable. It's also important that you take care of yourself as foot pain can morph into more serious issues, like plantar fasciitis and varicose veins. Take action immediately on the things you can change today and discuss with your team how you can make the work environment more healthy.