The Standing Desk.. Can standing be harmful to your health? Discover 7 tips that can help prevent foot pain from standing for extended periods of time.

If you work in an office environment and have been following one of the latest trends, you have bound to have heard of a standing desk. On first look they appear to tick all the right boxes with the latest research showing that sitting can be as bad for your health as smoking! So standing all day must be much better for your health than sitting, right?

Yes, it certainly is better for your body. However, on closer inspection, it appears standing desks can have a painful side effect; extended periods of standing can lead to issues in the feet and legs.

Standing at Work

Whilst standing upright in quiet stance (not moving – standing in one place), the intrinsic muscles of the feet become inactive and the dynamic mechanisms (surrounding muscles in the lower leg) do not engage. This means the arch of the foot is being supported only by static mechanisms, primarily the plantar fascia as well as the plantar ligaments. These structures are not designed to take your weight all day long, and strain is inevitable during prolonged quiet standing.

Research shows that people who were required to stand all day (without any rest intervals) had a higher occurrence of foot problems than those who sat. Retail workers, grocery workers, hairdressers, and nurses are just some examples of people far more likely to present with heel pain and forefoot pain over other workers who sit down in their workplace. Standing can also lead to the development of varicosities (issues within the veins in the lower legs) as well as venous stasis.

Whilst employers can provide a wonderful alternative to sitting, it is very important that they also take precautions in reducing the occurrence of foot pain, and prevent any further complications associated with standing without rest.

Here are 7 tips to keeping your standing worker happier on their feet.

Some ways to still stand at work but reduce your risk of foot and leg pain are:

  1. Change it up - Instead of switching to a pure “standing desk or standing all day,” consider options that would not require upright standing all day in the workplace. For example, there are “sit-stand” workstations, which are adjustable to allow the worker to alternate between periods of sitting and standing. This provides alternatives to sitting without the negative effects of prolonged standing in one place. Simply getting up from a sitting desk every hour and taking a five-minute walk is a good alternative to sitting all day.
  2. Make changes slow when you are changing your work position - If you are starting a new job or you’re switching from a sitting desk to a standing desk, the change should be gradual. This ensures your body adapts to the change. Most injuries occur because people change without building resilience. Just like easing into marathon running, one needs to ease into marathon standing.
  3. Soften the standing surface – The harder the surface the greater work required on the feet and legs. So to minimizing potential negative effects of prolonged standing on the feet and legs use anti-fatigue work mats, or softer flooring. Hairdressers have learned the benefit of such changes to their health.
  4. Chose the right footwear - As with all foot conditions, footwear is critical in both the cause and prevention of pathology. Many people work in a setting where they must wear fashionable footwear that is unsuited for prolonged standing. They must recognize that a change to casual, healthy shoes is critical to avoid problems in their new standing lifestyle.  Even with casual shoes, there are potential problems with prolonged standing. Many people today prefer wearing very flat, flimsy casual shoes that lack any form of intrinsic stability. Structured shoes, which support the foot and minimize strain on the plantar fascia and calf muscles is vitally important for reducing pain and fatigue.
  5. Calf Compression bandages - People with early signs of venous insufficiency including edema (swelling) and varicosities in the lower legs should wear calf compression hosiery when standing in the workplace.
  6. Regular exercise - Patients can perform stretching and strengthening exercises for the feet and legs during the day to minimize the undesirable effects of prolonged standing. At the very least, taking breaks every hour for 5-10 minutes by walking or sitting will help people avoid prolonged strain on the lower extremities when standing in one place.

There are a number of factors that contribute to why a patient may be in pain. Employees should consult a podiatrist when looking at jobs with prolonged standing. Workers also should consult a podiatrist quickly if they start to notice pain in their feet or legs in order to prevent chronic foot conditions. Whether that is footwear modification, stretching, exercises, orthotics or alternating periods of sitting and standing, our podiatrist can help you come up with the best solutions.



Article by Nicola Tonson - Osteopath at ATUNE Health Centres

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