We’ve all been there, a long workday standing on our feet, rushing from place to place with little time for a break. The end result is aches and pains and maybe if you are lucky, a little toe rub from your partner when you finally make it home.
Problem is, it is all too easy to brush this off as part of the job. We, nurses, are busy at the best of times, a little foot pain comes with the territory.
This is not a good stance to take (forgive the pun). Standing on your feet all day can have real, long-term health consequences.
Today, I am going to look at what some of these are, and measures you can take to ensure you don’t become one of the statistics.
The size of the problem
Reports suggest that as much as 75% of the global working population spends a disproportionate amount of time during their workday on their feet.
We already know that the medical professional falls into this category, however, when you add the number of workers in industries such as food service, factory work, construction, agriculture, and retail, you begin to see just how widespread the issue is.
Literally millions of people are not taking good enough care of themselves when it comes to the hours they spend standing every workday.
Health Complications due to standing all-day
Standing for too long (anything over 4-5 hours in succession) over extended periods, and you risk a myriad of health complications.
Here’s just a few of them.
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Bunions and corns
- Excess pressure on the joints
- Plantar fasciitis
- Leg cramps
There is also the mental “pincer” effect of these conditions.
Not only do they all cause great physical discomfort, (which of course will impact your ability to do your job), sustained discomfort causes mental stress and can affect the immune and nervous system too.
If not treated, many of the listed conditions will lead to long-term effects and even complications later in life.
- Related Content: Best Shoes for Nurses with Plantar Fasciitis
Main Debilitating Health Risks
Let’s unpack what we have looked at so far and dive into the main health risks of standing all day.
Swollen Legs and Varicose Veins
This is the condition that I have experienced throughout my career and is one of the reasons I hold foot care so close to my heart here on Nurse Focus.
(I have written in-depth on the subject and will hark on about shoes and compression socks to anyone that will listen).
It is widely reported that working in a standing position can cause excessive foot pain, leg swelling, and over time, the development of varicose veins.
It is just a simple mix of physics and biology. As blood flows through the legs, gravity takes its toll throughout the day, impairing your normal circulation.
This causes the swelling, aching, and heaviness that you feel after standing all day.
Varicose veins develop when the valves in your veins become faulty. Blood flows in the wrong direction, pools in your legs, and breaks through capillaries into the surrounding flesh.
Lower Back Pain
I have also experienced chronic lower back pain from time to time, however, thankfully this condition is infrequent for me. (I certainly have colleagues that fair worse in this regard).
In 2016 study measured occupational walking and standing still with low back pain and found a correlation. Essentially, the data showed that you are significantly more likely to suffer lower back pain in jobs where you stand all day, (although desk jobs also pose a risk of course).
This one alarmed me when I discovered it during my research. Standing for long periods of time has been found to put undue stress on the heart. And that’s the same for “fit” and “healthy” young people.
A study in 2000, attempted to assess the relationship between standing at work and the development of carotid atherosclerosis, (in men it has to be said).
Again, physics and biology combine to what can only be seen as detrimental effects.
The researchers found that standing for long periods alters the distribution of blood in your extremities, (gravity at work).
The resulting pooling of blood and strain on the circulatory system changes the blood volume and consistency throughout the body.
In medical terms, the study concluded that standing for extended periods can be linked to ‘atherosclerotic progression,’ or the development of heart disease.
Joint Compression and Arthritis
Conversely, you do not need a medical degree or evidence of peer-reviewed study to appreciate that standing all day over a career spanning decades can lead to joint compression and arthritis.
Standing for long periods means the weight of your body is being supported by the joints of your knees, hips, feet, and ankles.
This strain, alongside in some cases a lack of movement reduces the cushioning and lubrication of your synovial joints.
They wear down faster, and can even tear. Not only will this cause extreme pain as it happens, the inability to fully rebuild and repair, increases the likelihood of arthritis later in life.
Muscle Strain and Fatigue
Finally, there is the normal muscle strain and fatigue that we all too often pass off as being part of the job.
Standing all day means that our muscles and joints are under strain. Just one day of this can lead to swelling and aches and pain in many areas of the body.
According to the UK-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), up to 33% of all worker illnesses and injuries are connected with muscular fatigue and musculoskeletal disorders. Standing all day definitely falls into this.
How to combat heath issues from standing all day?
So how do we combat the health issues involved with being on our feet all day? We can hardly sit around while patients need to be tended to.
While it might all sound like doom and gloom, there are many actionable ways you can limit the potential onset of the above conditions.
Let’s take a look
Wearing the right nurse’s shoes with proper support and comfort
This is the big one. Realizing that your footwear is more than just something you put on your feet for the day, is a massive step. Take care to buy the right shoes for you, and explore the use of compression socks too.
Good quality, supportive footwear will help eliminate many issues from being on your feet all day.
- Related Content: Best Shoes for Nurses with Flat Feet
Making sure that you are staying hydrated goes a long way to improve blood flow and to keep your joints cushioned.
Not only that, but it will afford you more regular breaks for 5 minutes sitting down on the toilet.
Take care of your posture
This may take some adjusting, however, becoming aware of your posture is a really good habit to get into.
Try not to slouch, avoid bending and twisting the wrong way, (at the knees not at the waist, etc). Don’t stretch for items when you can use a step ladder.
Be aware of how you stand so that you can do so with a more upright and evenly supporting posture.
Take your break (Sit down!)
Do not take your break on the move. Use it to spend at least a little time off your feet. Breaks and relaxation are required by law for a reason.
Not only can they be used to relax your muscles and joints, but it can also be time to clear your head too. This will only make you better at your job.
Stay on top of your workload
It is not always easy to be on top of things in a fast-moving healthcare environment. However, where possible, pace your work so that you can reduce the need for rushing around.
A steady workflow will help you achieve most of the points above (time for rest, staying hydrated, looking after your posture).
You will also enjoy your day a whole lot more, and hopefully, end it without any aches and pain.
- Waters TR, Dick RB. Evidence of health risks associated with prolonged standing at work and intervention effectiveness. Rehabil Nurs. 2015;40(3):148-165. doi:10.1002/rnj.166
- Peter Smith, Huiting Ma, Richard H Glazier, Mahée Gilbert-Ouimet, Cameron Mustard, The Relationship Between Occupational Standing and Sitting and Incident Heart Disease Over a 12-Year Period in Ontario, Canada, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 187, Issue 1, January 2018, Pages 27–33, https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwx298
- Maziad, Maya and Deek, Hiba (2021) PREVALENCE OF VARICOSE VEINS AMONG NURSES WORKING IN DIFFERENT HOSPITAL DEPARTMENTS: A CROSS-SECTIONAL STUDY, BAU Journal – Health and Wellbeing: Vol. 3: Iss. 2, Article 2. https://digitalcommons.bau.edu.lb/hwbjournal/vol3/iss2/2
- Camilla Munch Neilson, Nidhi Gupta, Lisbeth Knudsen, Association of objectively measured occupational walking and standing still with low back pain: a cross-sectional study Pages 118-126 | Received 15 May 2015, Accepted 26 Jan 2016, Accepted author version posted online: 11 Mar 2016, Published online: 28 Mar 2016. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/00140139.2016.1164901
- Niklas Krause, John W Lynch, George A Kaplan, Richard D Cohen, Riitta Salonen, and Jukka T Salonen, Standing at work and progression of carotid atherosclerosis, Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health
Vol. 26, No. 3 (June 2000), pp. 227-236 (10 pages). https://www.jstor.org/stable/40967053