Being on your feet for long stretches, either by choice or job obligations, may invite discomfort or health concerns. While the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting—such as heightened risk of obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and metabolic syndrome—are widely acknowledged, the consequences of standing all day garner less attention.
Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine specialist from New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, compares the act of standing all day without adequate preparation to tackling a marathon sans training. Such extended standing can trigger discomfort in the back, hips, and legs.
Correct posture while standing can indeed be beneficial. However, Sean Light, a sports performance expert and former strength and conditioning coach for the Los Angeles Lakers, points out that many tend to adopt improper standing patterns. Such patterns exacerbate the very issues individuals aim to avoid by standing.
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Challenges of Prolonged Standing
Tom Walters, a physical therapist and the founder of Rehab Science, explains that staying in the same posture for an extended time can cause overuse in certain muscles while others remain underutilized. Prolonged standing often triggers soreness in the feet’s arches and lower back due to the direct load these areas bear.
Although standing poses lesser postural challenges than sitting, over time it can cause stiffness and muscle tightness in the lower back and lower extremity joints. Light sheds light on another concern: the body’s inherent asymmetry. Our internal organs are unevenly distributed, which often leads to a natural bias towards standing on the right leg, much like the depiction in the famed Statue of David. Overcoming this bias necessitates extra attention to the left side of the body through targeted exercises and stretches.
Preparing for a Day on Your Feet
If a day of continuous standing lies ahead—be it for work, leisure activities like golf, or exploring tourist attractions—incorporating a stretching routine is advisable.
Light emphasizes that stretching not only enhances flexibility but also increases oxygen intake by loosening the tissues around the ribcage. More oxygen translates to more energy being circulated through the bloodstream to the muscles, ensuring a more vibrant and enjoyable day.
Embarking on a standing-intensive day? Equip your body with the following stretches to minimize discomfort and reap the benefits of an active stance.
Lower Body Relief:
Begin standing with feet aligned to your shoulders. Bend down, reach for the ground and gradually walk your hands forward until you achieve a plank position. Reverse the movement by walking your hands back to your feet and stand upright.
Light highlights this exercise for its efficacy in easing calf, Achilles, and plantar fasciitis tension, while also promoting overall body relaxation. It stimulates the ‘superficial back line’ of connective tissue, alleviating stress and muscle tightness from head to toe.
2. Dynamic Lunge Stretch:
Initiate from a plank position, stepping your right foot beside your right hand into a lunge. Lift your right hand, dip your elbow (or hand) towards the ground, then elevate your right arm towards the sky. Hold for 5 seconds before reverting to the plank position and alternating to the left side. Continue this for 10 alternate stretches.
Dr. Metzl praises this stretch for its thorough body engagement, especially benefiting the thoracic spine, hips, and ankles, and enhancing motion range.
3. Relaxing Figure Four Stretch:
While lying on your back, extend one leg towards the ceiling. Bend the other leg, positioning your ankle against the straight leg’s thigh, then gently pull the straight leg towards your chest. Hold for 10 seconds before switching legs.
According to Dr. Walters, this stretch is a boon for individuals facing gluteal discomfort due to prolonged standing, helping relieve persistent muscle tension.
4. Standing Quadriceps Stretch:
Stand feet shoulder-width apart. Transfer weight to one leg while bending the other to lift your foot towards the glutes, holding the lifted foot. Maintain for 10 seconds and switch legs. (For balance, hold onto a sturdy object with your free hand.)
Dr. Walters advocates this stretch for its knee flexing movement, contrasting the extended position maintained during standing, offering the quadriceps a relieving stretch.
Upper Body Ease:
1. Gentle Neck Flexion:
Whether seated or standing, maintain an upright position with shoulders relaxed. Interlock your fingers and place them behind your head, gently guiding your chin towards your chest. Maintain for 5 seconds, repeating thrice.
2. Seated Torso Twist:
Sit upright on a chair or floor with legs extended. Keeping shoulders relaxed, twist your torso to the left, placing your right hand outside your left thigh while extending your left arm backward. Hold for 10 seconds and alternate sides.
Dr. Metzl mentions that this stretch assists in relieving lower back pain and tension by stretching the paraspinous muscles through lumbar spine rotation.
3. Pectoral Stretch:
Position yourself within a doorway, raising one arm and bending the elbow at 90 degrees to rest your forearm against the door frame. Step forward with the opposite leg, leaning into it till a stretch is felt on the chest side of the arm resting on the door frame. Hold for 10 seconds, then alternate sides.
Dr. Walters notes, “With many jobs entailing forward-facing tasks, individuals tend to round their shoulders. This stretch serves as a corrective measure.”
Core and Lower Body Stretches:
1. Kneeling Hip Flexor:
Dr. Metzl states, “This stretch targets the paracervical muscles, often leading to neck tightness. It aids in alleviating tension and enhancing mobility.”
2. Seated Spinal Twist:
Begin in a high kneeling stance. Step the right foot forward, placing it firmly on the ground. Shift your hips forward, leaning into the front foot while tilting your upper body backward with arms extended, feeling a stretch in the left hip flexor. Hold for 10 seconds, then switch sides.
Dr. Metzl highlights, “This targets the front hip muscles and hip flexors, which can stiffen during long static periods.”
3. Child’s Pose:
From a kneeling position, widen your knees and extend your arms forward as you lower your torso towards the ground. Let your arms and forehead rest on the floor, holding for 15 seconds.
Dr. Walters explains, “Standing extensively causes lumbar spine extension. Child’s pose, by promoting spine flexion, mitigates this, reducing pain.”
4. Rib Stretch:
Inhale deeply, then exhale completely to engage your abs. With abs engaged, inhale again to create pressure within your ribs, aiding in internal repositioning. Repeat for 10 breaths.
Light suggests, “This internal pressure stretches the intercostal muscles between the ribs, promoting stress relief and increased mobility.”
Additional Guidelines for Prolonged Standing:
1. Frequent Movement:
Alternate standing with sitting, light marching, or brief walks every hour. Dr. Walters advises, “Shifting positions alleviates stress on sensitive tissues, reducing pain.”
2. Proper Footwear:
Ensure your footwear provides adequate cushioning to mitigate ground reactive forces, as highlighted by Dr. Metzl.
3. Incorporate Cross-Training:
Engage in a mix of walking, strength training, stretching, yoga, or Pilates to improve muscle tone and reduce discomfort. Dr. Metzl affirms, “A well-rounded fitness regime enhances body strength, flexibility, and overall comfort.”
4. Embrace Walking:
Light recommends short walks or a 30-minute prolonged walk two to three times weekly, emphasizing the natural gait mechanics that facilitate cognitive function and alleviate tension.
Following these stretches and tips will foster a more comfortable and healthier experience during prolonged standing, enhancing your daily work routine.