Teaching, nursing, construction – many jobs require standing up for long periods of time. But being on your feet all day may come with a host of health problems, including sore ankles, aching, painful knees and hips, varicose veins, corns and calluses. On the other hand, being overly sedentary won’t do you any favours either, therefore the key is to change positions regularly. Inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle is where discomfort and problems often begin.
I advise my patients to introduce simple stretches and strengthening exercises into their daily routine. Here are a few of the most effective as an antidote to standing:
The very best exercise you can do if you have to stand for long periods is the squat. It mobilises the ankles, knees and hips. It also takes the pressure off the lumbar spine by tilting the pelvis into a more anterior (forwards) position. When you stand for long periods, often the pelvis is pushed into a more posterior (backward) position, increasing the lumbar curve and putting more pressure on the surrounding soft tissues, nerves and joints causing discomfort and pain.
How to do a squat:
- When you first start doing squats hold onto something waist height – like a door handle or side of a desk or table. Once you are stable, drop down into a very shallow squat.
- Just go down a little bit the first time and then come straight back up.
- The second time you squat again, take your squat a little bit lower.
- You want to get to the point that when you squat you are resting your backside onto your calf muscles.
- When you have mastered the above, wrap your arms around your knees and pull them into your stomach. Hold this position for about a minute.
Next, try letting go and do the same again. It is a little harder doing a squat when not holding on because all your balancing muscles have to work too.
- Remember to breathe!
2. Transferring your weight
Another thing you can do to help standing without developing back pain is to transfer the weight of your body from one side to the other. This can be done by simply bending one knee then the other. The knee that is bent will take your weight and take the load off the other side. Have you ever noticed in the older Victorian pubs there is often a foot rail around the bar? This is because, when standing at the bar for prolonged periods, you could take the weight off your back and legs by lifting one leg and putting it on the rail and just balancing there on one leg.
3. Tiptoes to heels
Another quick exercise you can do is to transfer your weight from your tiptoes to your heels, back to you tiptoes and back to your heels. Repeat this a few times.
4. Hanging upside down
While it’s not always that practical, hanging upside down is a very good antidote to standing on your feet for long periods of time. There are inversion tables available in clinics and to buy where you strap your ankles and then flip yourself upside down.This takes the downward compressive gravity force and reverses it, taking the pressure off the lower back. Now, I understand this is a bit left field and not easy for everyone to do, but here’s something that is and I think just as effective. In fact, it’s something I do as part of treatment in my clinic…
You’ll need a friend or family member to help with this. Lie on your back with your legs straight out in front of you. Ask the other person to clasp their hands around your ankles, then they lift your legs to 45 degrees and they lean backwards slowly, which gradually creates a traction through the lower back. You can also introduce a rocking movement by gently pulling one leg and then the other several times, which puts gentle movement through the affected area and counteracts the negative effects of prolonged standing. You can do this either both legs off the ground or one leg at a time at the same 45 degree angle depending on whether or not you have lower back pain at the time. If you do, one leg at a time is best for you and just follow the instructions – same per leg.
6. The Pelvic Tilt
Another popular exercise for those who have to stand for long periods is called the Pelvic Tilt. By tilting the pelvis into a more anterior direction (like the squat), you will reduce the arch in your lower back, taking the pressure off that area.
Whilst standing with legs slightly apart, bend your knees a little then push your pelvis forward. As you do this you will feel the arch in your lower back reduce as the load is taken off the surrounding muscles. If you’re doing this whilst lying on your back you will feel the small of your back relax and sink into the floor.