Standing is a natural human posture and by itself poses no particular health hazard. However, working in a standing position on a regular basis can cause sore feet, swelling of the legs, varicose veins, general muscular fatigue, low back pain, stiffness in the neck and shoulders and other health problems

The layout of the workstation will aid/limit the body positions that the worker can assume while standing. This lack of flexibility in choosing body positions contributes to health problems.

What exactly happens?

Keeping the body in an upright position requires considerable muscular effort. Standing reduces the blood supply to the loaded muscles. Insufficient blood flow accelerates the onset of fatigue and causes pain in the muscles of the legs, back and neck.

Prolonged and frequent standing, without some relief by walking, causes blood to pool in the legs and feet and may cause painful varicose veins. It may also lead to the joints in the spine, hips, knees and feet to become temporarily immobilized or locked. This immobility can later lead to degenerative damage to the tendons and ligaments.

What are some recommendations for improving workplace design?

Working tables and benches should be adjustable. If the workstation cannot be adjusted, platforms to raise the shorter worker or pedestals on top of workstations for the tall worker should be considered.

Flexibility and a variety of body positions ensures the number of muscles involved in the work is increased which equalizes the distribution of loads on different parts of the body. Thus, there is less strain on the individual muscles and joints used to maintain the upright position. Changing body positions also improves blood supply to the working muscles. Both effects contribute to the reduction of overall fatigue.

Quality of footwear and type of flooring materials are also major factors contributing to standing comfort.

How can job design reduce the effects of working in a standing position?

The basic principles of good job design for standing work are:        

  • Change working positions frequently
  • Avoid extreme bending, stretching and twisting.
  • Pace work appropriately.
  • Allow workers suitable rest periods to relax; exercises may also help.
  • Provide instruction on proper work practices and the use of rest breaks.
  • Allow workers an adjustment period when they return to work after an absence for vacation or illness so they can gradually return to a regular work pace.

What can workers do to reduce the discomfort of working in a standing position?

  • Adjust the height of the work according to body dimensions, using elbow height as a guide.
  • Always face the object of work.
  • Keep body close to the work.
  • Adjust the workplace to get enough space to change working position.
  • Use a foot rail or portable footrest to shift body weight from both to one or the other leg.
  • Avoid reaching behind the shoulder line. Shifting feet to face the object is the recommended way.
  • Avoid overreaching beyond the point of comfort.

What are some do’s and don’ts regarding footwear?

  • DO wear shoes that do not change the shape of your foot.
  • DO choose shoes that provide a firm grip for the heel. If the back of the shoe is too wide or too soft, the shoe will slip, causing instability and soreness.
  • DO ensure that shoes have arch supports.
  • DO NOT wear flat shoes. A small heel can decrease strain on the Achilles tendon and allow for more comfortable walking and standing.
  • DO NOT wear shoes with high heels. Recommendations vary but, in general, heels should have a broad base and be 1 inches to 2 inches high

What is recommended regarding floors in a workplace?

  • Cover concrete or metal floors with mats. Slanted edges on mats help prevent tripping.
  • Do not use thick foam-rubber mats. Too much cushioning can cause fatigue and increase the hazard of tripping.

Written By:
Dion Njogu,
Physical Therapist,
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre

The Ills Of Standing For Too Long

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