Working on your feet all day can do a number on your feet, legs, and back. In the United Kingdom, around 2.4 million work days were lost in 2009 and 2010 due to lower limb disorders. A 2014 survey of 1,000 American adults from the American Podiatric Medical Association found that half of respondents lived with some form of foot pain. Much of this pain and discomfort could be prevented by wearing the right shoe for the job and following a daily foot care routine.
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.
Flat sole shoes may seem like the obvious choice if you work on your feet, but these shoes aren’t recommended for prolonged standing. According to Canada’s Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc., your heel should be elevated by at least ¼-inch and should be less than 2 inches.
Work shoes should also provide good arch support. This helps reduce weakness and soreness in the legs and feet. If your shoes don’t provide enough support, you can purchase arch support insoles from a drugstore or an athletic store.
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 better decisions when it comes to purchasing shoes and reducing discomfort.
Johanna Youner, D.P.M., 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.”
Muscles can become stiff and painful as you stand or walk all day. Stop every hour or so to stretch, relax, and lengthen tightened muscles.
Calf raises help pump blood out of the foot (where it has pooled while you were standing) and back to the body.
- Stand tall on the edge of a step or platform, 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.
Another great stretch is the runner’s stretch.
- Face a wall and place your hands against it.
- 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.
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 your feet
“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,” says Lucille B. Andersen, M.D., a foot and ankle surgeon in Pleasanton, California. “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 your feet
Propping your feet above the rest of your body will help decrease the day’s swelling. You can place them against a wall or on a stack of pillows.
Make an appointment to see your doctor if the pain continues, gets worse, or you begin to notice increasing symptoms such as numbness, stinging, or tingling in your feet and toes. “Pain is a sign that something is wrong,” Youner says. “Do not walk through pain.”
You may have a condition such as bone spurs or plantar fasciitis. Bone spurs are a form of outgrowth, and plantar fasciitis is the result of damage or tearing in ligaments of the heel. Fallen arches can also contribute to your foot pain.
You asked, we answered
- What treatments or medications are available for chronic foot pain?
Treatment of chronic foot pain depends on the underlying cause. Some conditions, such as bunions, may require surgery to correct the problem. If the foot pain is caused by inflammation or arthritis, there are several medications that may help. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, decrease inflammation and relieve mild to moderate pain. For more advanced inflammation, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids either as a topical cream or an oral tablet. Topical analgesic creams that are available without a prescription may provide relief. If your foot pain is related to a medical condition such as gout, osteoporosis, or rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor may prescribe medication specifically for these conditions.- Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, COI
- Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.