Moderation is key to achieving good health. From the amount we eat to how much sleep we get, overindulgence in any area of life can be just as detrimental to our productivity and well-being as deprivation. Similarly, research reveals an imbalanced lifestyle can also affect one’s back and foot health. Recent studies illustrate how a sedentary lifestyle can cause high blood pressure and heart disease, while an overactive one can also be problematic.
Workers forced to spend most of the day standing on their feet face an increased risk for debilitating back, muscle, spinal, foot, and joint pain. This broad category includes people working in industries ranging from health and education to industrial, retail, restaurant, postal, and construction.
Luckily, there’s a way to avoid ever dealing with these issues. While an often overlooked preventative measure, wearing supportive shoes that fit well is one of the easiest ways to maintain good back and foot health.
The Dangers of Standing All Day
Standing for too long can cause chronic foot pain, blisters, rough callouses, bunions, and corns. It can also misalign one’s spine, hips, and knees.
Yet in addition to endangering an individual’s physical health, on-the-job prolonged standing can also have deeper social and economic consequences for employers.
“Work-related musculoskeletal implications that can be caused by prolonged standing are a burden not only for workers but also for companies and society,” said medical researcher Maria Gabriela Garcia in an interview with Human Factors. “Long-term fatigue after prolonged standing work may be present without being perceived.”
According to Garcia, such exhaustion reduces productivity over time, affecting an individual’s ability to meaningfully contribute to society and hurting the economy. At the same time, the additional health risks prolonged standing produces will force companies to spend more on sick-leave.
Even the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has publicly recognized the legitimate dangers standing for too long can pose. The department went so far as to even publish their own list of preventative measures and employer regulations. OSHA even highlighted additional researching revealing how prolonged standing makes one more vulnerable to developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). According to OSHA, musculoskeletal disorders are the “most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time….[and] accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases.”
How Can I Avoid Injury Or Damage From Prolonged Standing?
In a perfect world, all jobs would allow for periodic breaks where we can sit down and recharge physically, mentally, and emotionally. Unfortunately, for many, this is not the case. Within the first few few weeks of starting a new job that requires prolonged standing, one can expect to suffer foot and lower back pain as well as blisters. In fact, it may take up to a month before an individual’s body is fully able to adjust.
In addition, overweight individuals may face even more risks. This is because the body is forced to work harder to support excess body weight. If recommended by a medical professional, weight loss may be able to help relieve pain and avoid future injuries.
If your company permits it, it’s wiser to wear sneakers over dress shoes. In fact, it would be healthy for most people to don athletic footwear with a shank, which stiffens the middle part of the shoe. This allows the footwear to resist twisting or accumulate excess tension, helping the shoe bend naturally at the toe as opposed to folding at the arch.
According to the American Association of Podiatric Sports Medicine, it is important to understand the parts that make up a shoe to help you determine which features will best meet your needs. These parts include: heel height, toe box, closure, shoe material, arch support, soles / outsoles, and shoe weight.
Heel Height: How High Is Too High?
Podiatrist Dr. Emily Splichal advises people to never wear shoes with heels higher than three inches. Ideally, she says it is best to don heels measuring between 1-1.5 inches. Heels exceeding this length could alter one’s body’s movement, forcing individuals to take shorter strides and walk slowly while adding stress to one’s knees and lower back. Excessively long heels can also alter the body’s center of gravity, making one more prone to accident. This can also cause chronic lower back issues as the body struggles to maintain stability while standing and walking. Finally, high heels also force people to add more pressure on the heel with each step, a phenomenon also known as heel striking.
Physical therapy, gait and injury expert Jay Dicharry PT recommends that people consider zero-drop shoes while researching heels to alleviate some of the foot and back pressure from prolonged standing. Zero-drop shoes allow for the foot to remain in a natural, near-parallel relation to the ground at approximately 0-4 mm of drop from heel-to-toe. Average shoes generally have a 4-10 mm heel-to-toe drop, which forces the body to adjust to changes in the center of gravity.
Unfortunately, zero-drop shoes can cause foot and tendon soreness and injury for many, requiring all to transition to zero-drop position to avoid bodily harm. When considering zero-drop shoes, it is best to consult a medical professional.
Time To Talk About Toe Boxes
Podiatrists agree that having a spacious toe box, or front shoe area for the toes, is important. Most popular shoes are not shaped like feet and will not promote good health and movement. The toe box should be wider than the area for the ball of the foot, allowing the toes to move and adjust even when one is wearing the footwear. Without space for the toe, one can suffer bunions – swelling in the first toe’s joint – and nerve damage over time. Wearing shoes that squish the toes can permanently and painfully alter the shape of the foot, making it harder to find footwear in the future.
Robyn Hughes, ND has been an advocate for a more natural toe box shape for years. Hughes says that shoes with a narrowed, or tapered, toe box can cause blisters which may lead to infection. In addition, they can also cause other complications: corns, calluses, crooked toes, runner’s knee, shin splints, sesamoiditis (pain resulting from toe bone fractures), fungal / ingrown toenails, hammertoes, foot / leg tendon issues, plantar fasciosis (pain and swelling of the underfoot tissue that connects your heels to your toes), bunions and bunionettes.
“[The] toe box taper is the principle underlying cause of these conditions, but few healthcare professionals educate their patients about the hazards of this common shoe design feature,” explains Hughes. Interestingly, she adds that the foot and back issues caused by poor shoe design are not present in cultures that spend more time sitting or barefoot. In fact, even our ancestors may have had better foot health. Without sufficient protection and support, our toes and feet contain bones that cannot cope with the constant intense shock hitting hard surfaces – such as city concrete – can produce.
While having a spacious toe box is important, it is also crucial to make sure there is not too much space. This can cause the foot to rub and bang against the shoe all day, causing pain and blisters. In addition, such shoes will also lack the stability and arch-support your foot needs to maintain optimal balance and functionality.
Closure: The Battle Between Laces And Velcro Is One Of Customization Versus Convenience
Licensed podiatrist and former president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine Rob Conenello, DPM believes that when it comes to laces or Velcro shoe closures, “you want a shoe that is going to optimize performance, so the closure should enhance the shoe’s fit and function”. Conenello recommends laces over less-traditional closure methods such as Velcro because these methods don’t “provide the form-fitting feel that you get from going eyelet to eyelet with traditional laces”. Essentially, laces allow for shoe customization.
Conenello and other podiatrists encourage people to use heel-lock modification as needed to ensure appropriate shoe closure. Heel-lock modification refers to threading laces through the top two eyelet holes to prevent the shoe from slipping around on the foot while walking. He stresses that the goal should be achieving a “neat fit” of the shoe, meaning that the shoe is fit snugly enough to remain in place but not so tightly that blood flow is constricted or the foot is unnaturally squashed.
“With a lace shoe, you can control the pressure over the foot better than you can a shoe with one or two Velcro strap because you can tighten or loosen the laces…You also have more options in the way you thread and tie the laces,” explains Kevin Fraser, podiatrist and president of the Pedorthic Association of Canada in Winnipeg.
Eyelets, or the holes through which the laces are threaded, are also important to consider when shoe shopping. It is important to avoid hooked eyelets if you do not have a Kevlar or waxed lace. This is because the actual eyelet will be torn and shredded quickly, making the shoe more difficult to fit properly.
Almost as popular and customizable as laced shoe closures are monk-strap or buckle shoes. Monk-strap shoes require no lacing but allow for neat fit through the use of a buckle and strap.
Materials And Features
You should carefully consider if the materials used to produce a shoe will meet your needs. Footwear material will determine durability and longevity, as well as if the shoe holds its shape. Leather shoes, for example, will mushroom out depending on the type of leather and which chemicals were used to treat it.
In addition, avoid adding extra adjustments to the shoe before considering the indirect consequences of those changes. If you purchase a pair of waterproof boots or shoes, you should not double up on that by adding additional coats of waterproofing chemicals. That will decrease the airflow (how well they ‘breathe’) of the shoe. To preserve the features and functionality of the shoe, you should wait to re-apply waterproof material when the original fails.
Adequate breathability, flexibility, and stability are necessary and the extent to which you need each depends on why you’re buying the shoe. If you’re not sure what the best option is for you, it’s wise to consult a professional.
Arch Support: The Foundation Of Foot Health
Your arches allow your foot to support the weight of your body with the least amount of effort, absorbing pressure and shock as you walk and run. Everyone’s arches vary but fall into three main categories: low arch (flat feet), medium / neutral arch (approximately 60% of the population), or high arch (affecting only about 20% of the population). However, not everyone needs to worry about arch support. For people with a neutral stance, adding extra support can potentially do more harm than good, causing supination – a condition in which the foot rolls outwards with each step. It can also twist the foot into an unnatural shape.
Additional support is crucial, however, for people with low arches. People with flat feet experience overpronation when they walk, which means that the foot rolls excessively inwards. This misalignment of the skeletal system adds pressure on the ankles, knees, and hips which can cause chronic pain. Like those born with flat feet, the arch naturally collapses over time, meaning people generally need more support as they age.
The use of prosthetics, or insoles / orthotics, can give our feet the extra arch support needed for a healthy stance and gait. Using orthotics can dramatically help provide overall comfort, in addition to avoiding or decreasing foot pain. Over-the-counter orthotics such as Superfeet and Spenco are affordable ($25 – $100) compared to custom-fabricated insoles, which often cost $500 or more and require a professional to reproduce once worn out. Using over-the-counter orthotics can not only remedy back, knee, and hip pain but also extends the life of shoes dramatically, as the insoles can be replaced once worn out.
Inside Insoles And Outsoles
Outsoles are the material on the bottom of the shoe on the outside while insoles, commonly referred to simply as soles, are the bottom of the inside of the shoe that touches the sock / foot. Noting the material of an outsole is important, as is determining the grip provided by the outsole, because you’ll need to make sure it meets your needs in terms of traction and durability.
In general, it’s better not to purchase shoes with too much built-in cushion on the bottom and sides because this will, in time, wear out if the shoes are being used on a regular basis. It’s a much more fiscally-efficient idea to simply plan to purchase orthotics, trim it to match the factory insole, replace the factory insole with the orthotic, and repeat the process whenever needed.
When researching various soles, it is crucial to determine what qualities are important for you. For work shoes, you’ll need to remember that certain designs and materials grip better on different surfaces. For example, somebody who works in kitchens would likely seek out shoes capable of gripping well on grease or spillage. On the other hand, a roofer may be more interested in footwear that can grip on ice. When in doubt, it’s a good idea to consult an expert at a specialty store or an individual with experience purchasing shoes for your needs.
It’s also important that the soles of the shoes are thick enough for your needs. Construction workers will need boots that can protect them if they step on a nail, while a teacher may not need to be as concerned about sharp objects.
You can learn about the right outsoles for you by noticing the wear patterns on the bottom of your current shoes. It will be important to pick footwear with outsoles that provide support in the areas that seem the most worn on the bottom of your current shoe. While trying on a pair of shoes, test the soles by walking on hard and soft surfaces before purchasing them.
Weighing-In On Shoe Weight
The materials used to construct a shoe determines its weight. When assessing shoe weight, the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society stresses the importance of considering the purpose of the footwear. Shoes made of heavy, durable, and thick materials – or that have large toe boxes – are likely going to be heavier and less breathable than shoes designed for fast movement with minimal materials.
Invest in quality!
The following are signs your shoe is a good fit
– The ball of your foot fits comfortably into the widest part of the shoe.
– The shoe bends naturally with the foot, at the joint of the toes.
– Your longest toe (not necessarily the big toe) should be a thumb’s width from the toe of the shoe. If you’re unsure if the shoes are long enough, try kicking the floor or the wall. If you feel the impact of the kick on your toe, it would likely be best to go up a size.
Most people spend at least a third of their day on their feet, with individuals in prolonged standing jobs facing long shifts without being able to sit. Consequently, spending extra money on quality footwear may be a wise investment in your health. It will certainly pay off in the long-term when you experience ewer back, knee, hip, ankle, and foot issues – and less time away from work for these problems.
Using orthotics, as previously described, can help drastically increase the lifespan of quality footwear. Likewise, having two pairs of shoes will make each last longer, especially if you work in hot or moist environments. Shoes need time to dry between uses to avoid the growth of mold or fungus, the development of odor, and the formation of blisters on the feet. Moisture-wicking socks made of smart-wool, synthetic socks with coolmax fiber and socks made of merino wool or bamboo can help prevent moisture from building up.
Successful Shoe Shopping
So now that you know what to look for in a good shoe, you’re ready to purchase your footwear!
It’s a good idea to seek professional help if this is the first time you’re buying shoes for primarily health reasons. Sales representatives at specialty athletic or running shoe stores can provide the expertise you may need. In fact, REI employees can even fit and trim insoles for you upon request!
Shoe experts in specialty stores may also be able to offer specific information on brands, materials, and more. In addition, having your foot professionally measured can help to make buying well-fitting shoes faster and easier. Another popular alternative is to trace the outline of your foot before shopping to use for size comparison once you’re in the store.
It is best to shop for shoes in the afternoon or evening after a long day because the foot naturally swells as the day passes. You’ll get your truest fit after a long day of work. You’ll also want to make sure to wear the same socks you would wear with the shoe being purchased. If your dress code requires you to wear professional, thin, nylon socks, the fit of a shoe will be looser than if you were wearing flannel socks. If you need to, bring an extra pair of socks to use for trying shoes on in the store. Use caution if you try on shoes with a pair of socks provided by the shoe store. These socks will generally not be the same size or thickness as the socks you’d normally wear, and this can give you an inaccurate fit.
Remember that the purpose of shoes is to support the natural function of the feet. The best shoes provide adequate support in a natural shape that bends in the same way that your foot does; shock is absorbed, stance is optimized, your skeletal system is supported, and gait is energy-efficient. Finding the right pair of shoes for you may be time-consuming and costly, but you definitely get what you pay for!
Your ability to function at your job, with as little pain and fatigue as possible, depends greatly on your choice in footwear. Footwear also determines the severity of skeletal and foot issues in your future, potentially saving you from years of chronic pain after retirement. Making good shoe choices now will certainly pay off for years to come.
KEEN Utility Women’s PTC Oxford Work Shoe
KEEN Utility Women’s PTC oxford is the best choice for professionals that value safety, comfort and style. Its oil and slip resistant outer sole provides the protection from accidents in kitchens, hospitals and wet work areas. The memory foam footbed feels soft and snugly hugs your feet for maximum comfort. These oxford style shoes look professional in every angle and can be wiped clean in quick minute.
• Seriously comfortable due to the soft and padded uppers and insole
• A combination of comfort and professional look
• Provides great ankle support
• Made of durable and lightweight materials
• Solid leather makes it easy to wipe clean at the end of the shift
• Does not have any ventilation so feet can feel hot
• The soft material makes the shoe lose its shape easily
• The athletic laces do not look appropriate for oxford-type shoes
• Might need some time to break-in
• The top layer of the insole peels off easily from the bottom foam part
Dr. Martens Women’s 8065 Mary Jane
Style and comfort come together in these wonderfully crafted shoes from the iconic Doc Martens. Made of fine smooth leather, the upper is a thing of beauty that will last a long time. A Goodyear-welted product, the sole upper are heat sealed and sewn together to endure hours upon hours of walking and standing. The double strap detail adds a touch of sophistication on the overall look. This stylish pair also provides comfort in the form of air-cushioned soles. You can wear it anywhere with confidence knowing that the soles are oil, fat and slip resistant.
• Great for everyday wear and can last up to two and a half years
• Round and wide heels provide great support
• Easy to slide on and off the foot even when buckled
• Timeless and classic look that goes with a lot of outfits
• Solid, well-crafted and fashionable design
• Needs to be broken in otherwise it feels stiff and uncomfortable
• The shoes look larger than the actual size
• The buckle is difficult to fasten and undo
• Can be too heavy for everyday use
• US size is not correct and needs to go down one size for the perfect fit
crocs Women’s Duet Busy Day 2.0 Satya Mule
These shoes are made for people who want to focus on their work instead of worrying about their feet. The uppers are made of stretchable material that envelops the feet like second skin. The footbed works like a cradle for your feet with the added arch support and a cushioned heel. Standing and walking on these shoes is a breeze, thanks to the springy foam footbed. Whether you’re running around at work or running off to somewhere else, your feet are on point anywhere you go.
• Shockingly comfortable and comparable to memory foam shoes
• Has durable industrial grade cushioned inside heel
• Has more arch support than most Crocs
• Great look that can be worn at work and on a casual day out
• Has the tendency to slide off the foot
• Runs two sizes too small and are too narrow for some
• Does not provide enough stability and support
Shoes for Crews: Freestyle
When your job involves a lot of walking and running around slippery surfaces, you need a pair of shoes that can keep up with you. This stylish pair from Freestyle ensures that your safety is top priority with its patented SFC Mighty Grip® outsole. The padded collar and removable cushion insole provides great support so you can do your job feeling comfortable and carefree.
• Feels comfortable for up to 14 hours a day
• Has a very professional look
• Made of light and durable materials
• The slip-resistant sole is great for slippery situations at work
• Reasonably priced at less than $35
• Extra insole cushion such as memory foam might be needed for added support and comfort
• Wears down quickly despite light workload
• Does not provide good arch support
• Takes a while to break in
• Vinyl coating on the shoe’s surface wears off easily
Merrell Women’s Jungle Moc Pro Grip Slip-Resistant Work Shoe
You can trust Merrell Jungle Moc Pro Grip to let you perform at your best in any work situation. The breathable mesh lining provides great ventilation, while the M Select FRESH treatment keeps unwanted odors away. You can walk and run around in comfort all day supported by the removable EVA footbed and Merrell Air cushion. You don’t need to worry about slipping on the job knowing that a SureGrip outsole has your back. The solid grained leather upper is sure to withstand wear and tear for a long time.
• Feels warm, dry and secure all day
• No breaking in necessary
• No shoelaces makes it easy to slip on the feet
• The solid leather provides protection from any spillage
• Great for all day wear
• The sides are too high and hurts the ankles
• Inserts are needed for better arch support
• The inner sole feels hard
• Not very durable as it starts to break apart after four months
• Runs a few sizes bigger