Between 30-50% of all individuals spend at least 4 hours on their feet at work. Grocery cashiers and sales clerks can spend as many as 8 to 10 hours a day standing or walking on hard surfaces at their job. Prolonged standing and walking on the feet can place excess stress on the foot and ankle tendons, muscles and ligaments, contributing to the development of foot pain and problems, and exacerbating pre-existing foot conditions.
Much of the foot pain we experience comes from overworked lower limbs. Movement of the foot is controlled by four groups of muscles in the leg. These muscles get a workout not only when our feet are visibly moving (such as when we walk or run) but even when we stand still, because they help keep us balanced and upright. And like nearly all muscles, these muscles can become fatigued, decreasing their ability to properly support the feet and causing discomfort. Standing in place for long periods also tends to result in a pooling of blood in the lower extremities, which can cause uncomfortable swelling.
What You Can Do
- Reduce the time spent standing or walking: Alternate standing and walking with sitting whenever possible. Sitting a few minutes every hour can provide some relaxation and relief for tired legs. If sitting is not an option, walking will provide benefits by increasing blood flow to the legs. When walking is not an option, shifting balance from one leg to the other will allow one leg to rest while the other supports the body.
- Use insoles, inserts or orthotics: If you have abnormal foot mechanics, such as overpronation/flat arches, an arch support may help keep your foot in the correct position, supporting your arches and reducing stress on your feet, lower legs and back.
- Wear supportive and comfortable shoes: Supportive shoes are extremely important. Soft shoes might sound comfy, but generally don’t provide the necessary support for the foot. Today many shoes employ new technology to aid in absorbing shock, distributing weight and supporting the foot. Selecting the one right for your personal situation is key to avoiding foot pain. Proper fit is also important—shoes that are too big or too small will add to foot fatigue and foot pain.
- Rotate Shoes: Changing shoes every other day or even during the day can help to alleviate foot pain and fatigue by changing the pressure points and support of your foot, providing relief to overused areas and activating different muscle groups.
- Sock Selection: The right socks can make a big difference in your comfort. Socks also use technology to help the foot in many ways, such as wicking moisture away from the foot to keep it dry. Antibacterial or copper socks can help reduce foot odor, anti-friction socks can prevent blisters and hot spots, many socks have additional padding under the balls or heels of the foot or across the instep, and some socks even support the arch with additional stretch material.
- Modify the floor surface: Most buildings have concrete floors, the worst surface to stand on. Any type of padding, mats, carpet or even cardboard will decrease the impact on the feet. The best type of padding is an anti-fatigue mat.