Working on your feet all day can do a number on your feet, legs, and back. (Of course, sitting all day can be just as detrimental to your body). Each year, more than 120,000 work-related foot injuries are reported, and about two million sick days are taken because of leg and foot problems. So whether you’re cooking on a restaurant line, cutting hair in a salon, teaching in a classroom, or folding T-shirts at a clothing store, making an extra effort to take good care of your feet and legs can go a long way toward staying healthy and happy.
Wear the Right Shoe
“Contrary to popular belief, running shoes aren’t the best for prolonged standing,” says Lucille B. Andersen, MD, a foot and ankle surgeon with Webster Orthopedics in San Ramon, California. “They are good for impact, but running shoes don’t have enough support for many people.”
She suggests clogs.
“People who have to be on their feet, like doctors, nurses, and chefs—you will see that most of us wear well-made clogs. They support the foot and have good padding on the insoles,” she says.
Make Sure They Fit
Many people wear shoes that are too small. This cuts off circulation to your feet, increases your chances of blisters, and makes walking or standing uncomfortable, if not unbearable. Getting your feet properly sized can help you make the best decisions when purchasing shoes and can reduce discomfort.
Johanna Youner, DPM, a board-certified foot surgeon and podiatrist in New York City suggests being fitted for your shoes later in the day. “Your feet are naturally larger at the end of the day,” she says. “And for some, buying shoes a half size larger to fit arch supports or custom orthotics will be tremendously helpful.”
Stretch When You Can
As you stand or walk all day, muscles become stiff and can become painful. Stop every hour or so and do a quick set of stretches to relax and lengthen tightened muscles.
- Calf raises. Stand on the edge of a step or platform. Standing tall with your abdominal muscles pulled in, secure the balls of your feet firmly on the step with your heels hanging over the edge. Raise your heels a few inches above the step as you stand on your tiptoes, and hold for a second. Lower your heels back to even with the platform. Repeat 10 times. This move helps pump blood out of the foot (where it has pooled while you were standing) and back to the body. “[Calf raises] can also help prevent blood clots from forming,” Andersen says.
- Runner’s stretch. Face a wall, and place your hands against the wall. Extend one leg behind your body. Push your heel to the floor as far as it will go. Hold for a moment to feel the stretch and then switch sides. Repeat three times on each leg.
Take Care of Your Feet at Home
When you’re in the comfort of home, you can help your feet recover from the day and prepare for tomorrow. Try one of these treatments.
- Ice them down. “As much as people don’t want to hear it, immersing the foot—as long as the person doesn’t have vascular problems—in a bucket with water and ice for 20 minutes works to combat the swelling and inflammation that prolonged standing creates in the foot,” Andersen says. “Each step we take or minute we stand, we are creating micro-damage that the body has to heal. Using ice is an easy, effective way to help the body heal faster.”
- Massage your feet. Roll your foot from heel to toe over a tennis ball or baseball, Youner suggests. The gentle massage on your feet and arches will stretch tight foot muscles and help your feet recover more quickly.
- Elevate. Propping your feet above the rest of your body (against a wall or on a stack of pillows) will help decrease the day’s swelling.
See Your Podiatrist if the Pain Persists
If the pain continues, gets worse, or you begin to notice increasing symptoms such as numbness, stinging, or tingling in your feet and toes, make an appointment to see your doctor. “Pain is a sign that something is wrong,” Youner says. “Do not walk through pain.”