Foot Health for People on the Job
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 150 million people employed in the U.S. Of those 150 million, many spend extended time on their feet. Typically, jobs are divided into several types – office jobs, in which work is done primarily in a seated position; and manufacturing, service, and outdoor jobs, in which work is done primarily in a standing position and/or moving around on the feet. Some jobs require roughly equal amounts of both. For jobs in which extended periods of sitting are involved (office work, some manufacturing jobs, some service jobs), today’s medical experts recommend getting up and moving around as much as possible during worktime. Some research has pointed to ill effects of being seated for extended periods of time, although other studies have questioned the severity of these effects and have indicated that sitting is no worse than standing in its effect on our health. One thing does appear to be consistently true, however: any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low can have a negative effect on an individual’s health, whether it be sitting or standing.
The IPFH / NPD National Foot Health Assessment found that 52% of office workers and 60% of production workers frequently or occasionally experience tired, sore/achy feet or suffer problems such as blisters during or after work. It also found that foot conditions negatively impacted the work of nearly one-fourth of office workers, and nearly one-third of manufacturing and production workers.
The type of job in which you work will dictate when and how you take breaks to get relief from stationary postures. Also, the environment in which you work dictates to a large degree the measures you should take to help prevent foot and lower extremity conditions (office environments tend to be less hazardous than manufacturing and industrial environments, for example). For our purposes, we focus on three distinct work environments: manufacturing and service, outdoor, and office.
Manufacturing and service industry environments
Manufacturing / heavy industry environments typically present the greatest challenge for foot health and safety. Automated equipment, moving parts and assemblies, hard floors and surfaces that can become slippery due to lubricants and other production materials, stationary objects, and the potential for dropping heavy objects on the feet are some of the hazards that can lead to foot and lower extremity injuries. In addition, many production workers must stand for extended periods of time without significant movement, which creates the potential for various foot and lower extremity conditions. Three recent studies have shown associations between specific foot and lower extremity conditions and jobs performed in manufacturing environments:
One study showed that lower extremity fatigue in assembly line workers is associated with the use of shoes with firmer outsoles, increased time on the job spent standing or walking, and three other factors (higher prevalence of smoking, rheumatoid arthritis, job dissatisfaction).
Another study showed an association between increased risk of plantar fasciitis and (among other factors) high metatarsal pressure, increased time spent standing on hard surfaces, increased time spent walking, and increased number of times getting in and out of a vehicle (for truck and forklift drivers).
A third study showed an association between increased risk of foot and ankle pain and high metatarsal pressure, increased time spent walking, and a history of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis or vascular disorders. For truck and forklift drivers, an increased number of times getting in and out of the vehicle was also associated with a higher prevalence of foot and ankle pain.
This research is important in helping understand preventive foot health recommendations for specific as well as general foot conditions in manufacturing and service environments.