Why Standing All Day Can be Bad for Your Health
Transitioning from a hungry undergrad student to a starving intern was quite a shock for me. Besides the life experience overhaul, my body went through some surprising changes. No, I didn’t develop a bunch of muscle mass, but rather some aches and pains. I noticed that my shoulders were tighter, my feet hurt, and I felt I was more prone to headaches. Going from sitting all day writing papers to standing a lot was to blame, and as a result, I had a newfound respect for those who are on their feet all day. Standing all day just plain sucks.
My education allowed me to perform metabolic tests on clients. (Just think of the Gatorade commercial with the guy running on the treadmill with a hose in his mouth.) They weren’t fun for either the client or myself. I tested client after client, and it required me to stand while hunched over a computer looking at data. Fun stuff, right?
Since I just started working I had no personal life. This meant I could spend my evenings and weekends stretching out on the floor of my apartment. Unlike me at the time, you probably do have a life – so you don’t have all day to stretch and work on your mobility issues. You also get to learn from the experience I’ve gained over the years to know that you can do more in less time.
Your Nerves Are Freaking Out
Nerves control muscles. This is why practice makes perfect – you’re teaching your nervous system to communicate with muscles. However, when you’re standing all day, and performing the same moves over and over again with your hands, you start working some muscles overtime while other muscles hardly get worked at all. This can create imbalances that result in joint pain and muscle cramps. Not fun – especially when your business is dependent on keeping these muscles working so you can get paid.
The solution? We need to unload certain tissues. For example, if you spend all day typing on a keyboard, you would simply stretch your hand/wrist in the opposite direction. For someone who stands all day, you can relieve foot pain by stretching out your calf. We can do this by facing a wall, planting both hands on the wall, and pushing into the wall with our legs straight. You should feel a stretch in the muscles below your knee and above your ankle. Tight calves are the first step to developing plantar fasciitis (a pain in the bottom of your heel).
This won’t cure all your aches and pains but it will help prevent muscles from getting too accustomed to your lifestyle. The general rule of thumb is to change your position every 15 minutes; for instance, someone who sits all day would simply stand up and walk around their desk. This simple task is suggested by Dr. Stuart McGill, who always instructs people to give their body brief, but frequent breaks from what they are doing (1).
The Body Functions as a Whole
Your body is only as strong as its weakest link. If you have chronic digestive issues, then you may suffer from a lack of energy and struggle to absorb nutrients from your food. This can affect your ability to lose weight. The same goes for your muscles and skeleton; developing tight muscles from standing all day can resort to a whole host of problems such as knee pain, low back pain, shoulder instability, biceps tendinitis, and headaches (2).
If you have pain in one joint, say your knee, the problem may not actually be your knee but rather the joints above (hip) and below (ankle) it. It can become easy to get frustrated because those not familiar with human movement may not be able to help in your time of pain. A corrective exercise program can be developed to eliminate those pains, improve your quality of life, and even improve your strength levels. It isn’t uncommon for people who stand all day to develop pain in their shoulders, neck, and even their jaw. Chances are you stand performing some form of task that requires you to hunch over with bad posture all day. Trying to exercise with machines or jumping around with dumbbells in your favorite group class can lead to further problems.
It’s The Shoes
The shoes you wear are killing your feet – literally. Your feet are the only part of you connected to the ground all day long. Thus they communicate to the rest of the body about the terrain you’re walking on and how your body should respond. Shoes are like stuffing your feet into a brace. As a result the muscles in your feet don’t need to work hard. Less work equals feet that aren’t as smart as they should be.
Designer shoes present even more of a problem because the farther away the heel is from the ground, the more problems you can have. Are you going to stop wearing nice shoes? I doubt it, but you need to pick and choose your battles. On days where you’re going to be on your feet a lot, wear a shoe that allows the foot room to move and keeps the foot as close to the ground as possible.
Being Nice to Yourself
I’ve had clients break down into tears in front of me. These were tears of frustration because plenty of these clients were working hard on their own yet not seeing any results. Muscular imbalances can stop your progress, and unless you know how to fix them, your hard work is burning the candle at both ends. It’s a shame too because these hard working clients throw in the towel before getting to the actual root of the problem.
You need to pay the bills, and if that requires standing all day, then you might just have to suck it up. But a smart approach means that you can still stay on your feet and live a pain free life. Pain isn’t a direct correlation with aging, and it is also something that you can fix for good.
1. Mcgill, Stuart. Low Back Disorders: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabilitation: 2nd Edition. Champaign; Human Kinetics. 2007; pp 155-156
2. Christensen, Kim D. Tucker, Jeff “Corrective Strategies for Lumbo-Pelvic Hip Impairments.” NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training. Baltimore; Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2010; pp 68-69