When you're on your feet all day, every step can be painful. Just ask anyone whose job requires long stretches of standing (retail workers, restaurant staff and first responders to name a few).
From shin splints and swollen feet to low back pain and stiff shoulders, prolonged standing — without walking — can take a terrible toll on your body. That's because maintaining an upright position reduces blood flow to the muscles in your legs, back and neck, leading to fatigue and discomfort, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
What's more, extended periods of standing without movement cause blood to pool in your legs and feet, which can result in inflammation of your veins, per the CCOHS. Too much time on your feet can also be hard on your joints and possibly damage your tendons and ligaments.
While you may not be able to change your work duties, you can take steps to protect your posture and prevent the pain associated with extended periods of standing.
One way to do that is by incorporating these stretches and mobility exercises — courtesy of Winnie Yu, PT, DPT, CPT, a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments — into your daily routine. When practiced regularly, the following moves can help improve flexibility and mobility and alleviate aches in all the muscles you need for standing.
Move 1: Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch With Side Reach
- Lower one knee down to the ground and place your other foot in front of you with your heel firmly planted.
- Slowly lunge forward, with your hands on your hips or holding a wall for balance.
- Gently tuck your pelvis by drawing your tailbone down toward the floor. Then, extend your arm on the same side as your knee on the ground overhead and reach toward the side of the front foot.
- If your flexibility allows, lower your other hand to the floor for a deeper stretch across your side core and trunk muscles. Hold for 5 seconds.
- After 10 reps, repeat on the opposite side.
“Improving the flexibility of your hip flexors and lateral trunk muscles allows for more efficient functioning of the postural muscles,” Yu says. This is important because prolonged standing can lead to (or exacerbate) strength imbalances in these muscle groups (including your low back, hip and legs) and result in pain or discomfort.
Move 2: 3-Way Child's Pose
- Kneel on the floor with the soles of your feet facing up.
- Inhale, pause, and with the exhale, lower your torso toward the floor while extending and reaching your arms forward.
- Relax your shoulders down.
- If possible, lower your forehead to the floor.
- Rest in Child’s pose position for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Slowly breathe with an emphasis on filling your belly with every inhale and, with every exhale, relax your muscles and gently sink further into the pose.
- Return to the starting position and repeat toward the left side. Reach with your arms extended toward the left side while simultaneously sitting your hips toward the right for a deeper side stretch. Rest in this position for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Return to the starting position and repeat toward the right side.
“Letting your body relax into Child’s pose can address flexibility and mobility issues [especially in your back, shoulders, ankles and hips] as well as provide a calming breathing opportunity,” Yu says.
Move 3: Alternating Dynamic Hamstring Stretch
- Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart and your heels firmly planted.
- Extend both arms out to the sides and reach one extended arm down toward the opposite foot while keeping your knees straight. Aim to hinge through your hips.
- Pause for a moment and perform on the opposite side.
This exercise, which combines lower body dynamic stretching with upper body and trunk mobility, is helpful for hamstring flexibility, Yu says. You want to think about using your core to help bring your body from the lowered position back up toward the center, she explains.
“Your hamstrings play an integral role in supporting your back and pelvis during both static (prolonged standing) and dynamic (walking, running, sports) activities,” she says. And improving your hamstring flexibility can help reduce the risk of a muscle strain.
Move 4: Standing Quadratus Lumborum Stretch
- Stand with your feet together about 2 to 3 feet from a wall.
- Cross your outside leg over your inside leg and reach both arms toward the wall.
- While keeping your arms relatively straight toward the wall, gently reach with your hips in the opposite direction to feel lengthening through your outside trunk muscles.
- Allow your head to softly rest on your bottom arm to keep your neck relaxed.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds while performing slow calming breaths.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
“The quadratus lumborum [a pair of lower back muscles located on either side of your spine] takes part in your daily routine during sitting, standing, walking and other higher-intensity movements by working to stabilize your lower back,” Yu says. After a prolonged bout of standing, this area may benefit from stretching to reduce tension, discomfort or even pain.
Move 5: Windshield Wiper With Thoracic Opener
- Start in a sitting position with both knees bent.
- Lower your torso to the floor and rotate both knees to one side.
- Turn your head and reach with the opposite arm to the opposite side.
- Pause for a moment and return your arm and legs back to the center.
- Repeat to the opposite side.
"This mobility exercise essentially unwinds your spine and supporting muscles by promoting thoracic (upper back) opening and regaining lumbar (low back) and hip range of motion. Time the rotations with each exhale for better relaxation,” Yu says.