While 20% of work-related ACC claims involve the feet, ankles or lower limbs,1 statistics from across the ditch show that one in two workers experience heel or arch pain at least once per week. 2 That’s a lot of pain and discomfort day in and day out - and given that most of us are on our feet to some capacity at work (with many relying on moving throughout the day), this means foot pain can pose a risk not only to our health, well-being and comfort - but also to our employment, potentially leaving us unable to successfully complete our work duties.
Even the act of standing, which feels like it should be so natural and effortless, can place a significant strain on our bodies with many muscles through your feet, legs, hips, core and back needing to stay constantly engaged to create stability, while your feet bear your full body weight over time.
Whether you’re a tradie, retail or healthcare worker on your feet all day, or spend your 9-5 sitting in the office, achy and sore feet and legs can affect anyone. Today, our podiatrists are talking about the causes of foot pain when you’re at work, including how it can be managed and prevented.
First: Foot Pain After Work Is Not Normal
We must start by clarifying that foot and leg pain after work, regardless of how long your day has been, is never normal. It may be common - but that doesn’t make it normal. As podiatrists, we’ve noticed that many people are quick to shrug off foot pain after a long day and simply equate it to being “part of the job”, linked to their chosen occupation. The reality is that pain in any form is never ‘normal’ – instead it’s our body’s way of warning us that something is going wrong – or is about to, and that change needs to happen as your body is not coping well with the current circumstances that it’s being exposed to.
What Causes Foot Pain After A Day At Work?
While the only definitive way to answer this for you specifically is to assess your unique circumstances and lower limb biomechanics, common reasons we see contributing to this pain can be broken down into times that we’re walking, and times that we’re standing for prolonged periods. Let us explain.
While we all innately know how to take steps without a second thought, this movement requires the activation of many muscles, alongside the strength and support of a large number of ligaments and tissues. When we pair this with various factors like our natural foot posture and gait, the shoes we’re wearing, and the type of movements we’re completing (like regularly walking up and down the stairs or carrying heavy objects), this can push us over the ‘comfortable’ zone of what our feet can safely handle,
leading to foot aches. It’s the cumulative effects of what happens throughout the day: the effects of taking a few ‘loaded’ steps may be negligible, but when you're clocking 10,000 steps per day at work, it all accumulates and contributes to tired, achy feet and legs.
Another factor is the ground you walk on. When your foot slams into the ground during a step, reaction forces from the ground are transmitted back up through the bones, muscles and tissues in your feet and legs. If you’re spending your day walking across hard surfaces, like concrete or tiles, then the ground reaction forces can put more strain through your feet and legs. Again, it’s cumulative, so compounds at the end of the day. While you can’t ask your boss to change the flooring, you can minimise the effects and better protect your feet by wearing good, supportive footwear.
Standing for prolonged periods, like at a retail counter, also brings with it its own set of challenges. Ideally, when you stand, the pressure your body places on the ground should be distributed evenly between both feet. In our clinic, however, we often observe that alignment or biomechanical issues leave one foot bearing significantly more weight than the other, with certain joints taking on much more stress and pressure than they were designed to. This is a quick road to foot aches and pain – and even long-standing injury.
Another interesting factor is gravity. Your body has to work hard to move blood up your legs and back to your heart when you’re standing all day, as your veins must work against gravity. This can create problems with circulation, resulting in swelling in the feet and legs, as well as varicose veins and other vein problems. This can also leave your feet and legs feeling heavy and tired.
Another factor is having tight or weak muscles that can cause muscle imbalances. Having a muscle imbalance means that other muscles and parts of our body have to work harder to compensate, and this compensation all day, every day, can definitely be a cause of tired and achy legs and feet. Common examples we see include tight Achilles and weak glutes.
Managing Foot Aches After Work
Treating and preventing foot pain starts with a thorough biomechanical assessment and gait analysis to understand exactly what is happening with your lower limbs and why. This will help us identify any imbalances, deficiencies, alignment or postural issues, and any other problems. Then we’ll discuss our range of treatment options which may include:
Often, it can be very simple and easy changes that can set you on a new path for better foot health. Many find using orthotics to be very beneficial as they are able to insert them into their existing footwear and reap the benefits any time that they are on their feet. We are also able to create very specific orthotics for a range of shoes from steel-capped boots to narrow business shoes, giving you all the benefits regardless of your occupation.
Remember, your shoes can be your greatest ally - or your worst enemy. When you’re wearing shoes, they become the new ground you walk on. They can provide you with a comfortable, cushioning and importantly shock-absorbing surface, or they can give you a firm and unforgiving surface that amplifies the effects of your foot hitting the ground with each step. Choose your shoes wisely - remember, you’re going to be spending many hours a day, many days a week in them, year after year, so investing in them means investing in your health and well-being.
Ready to feel better on your feet during or after work? Book your appointment with our experienced podiatry team by calling us on 03 355 9481 or book your appointment online.