Over the summer, I attended a three-day music festival near my home. Each day, I spent about eight or nine hours on my feet, mostly standing in one place in the crowd, facing the stage. Long before the shows ended, I started feeling intense pain in my feet, hips, and lower back. For my whole life, I’ve been athletic. I run half marathons, go for long bike rides and swims, and even practice yoga in between. “How could just standing in place cause me more pain than all those intense exercises?” I wondered.
I’m not alone. More than 77% of Americans say they experience foot pain. Among teachers, who typically stand for long periods of time at work, researchers found that heel pain was very common, and those that had heel pain often experienced other types of pain along with it, such as low back pain (62.6% of teachers with heel pain) and knee pain (40.1% of teachers with heel pain). Before you reach into your medicine cabinet, here’s why you can get foot pain and lower back pain from standing all day, and how you can prevent and treat it.
Why You Get Foot Pain When Standing All Day
There are several ways that standing for an extended period of time can cause foot, hip, and back pain. The first is muscle fatigue.
“When you stand for a long time, the muscles in your legs, back, and feet are constantly working to keep you upright,” explains Sean Ormond, an anesthesiologist and interventional pain management doctor at Atlas Pain Specialists. When you walk, you actually give your muscles tiny breaks because different muscles engage and disengage as you move your legs, but when you aren’t moving, those muscles end up working non-stop.
It’s not just your muscles that are impacted. Standing for hours on end places extra pressure on your joints and spine.
“Standing for long periods exerts more pressure on your joints, particularly your knees, hips, and the small joints of your feet, which can lead to joint pain,” says Ormond.
Poor posture can put even more pressure on these joints.
Over time, standing can cause blood to pool in the veins of your legs. Ormond explains that this can cause “feelings of heaviness, fatigue, and even swelling.”
How to Prevent Foot Pain and Back Pain While Standing at the Taylor Swift Concert
Nearly 95% of the teachers who had heel pain said they did not exercise regularly. So, if you know you’re planning to attend an event where you’ll be standing for a long time, consider training in advance! Work on taking longer walks and strengthening muscles throughout your body with weight training.
Schuyler Archambault, DPT, a physical therapist and owner of Arch Physical Therapy and Fitness, explains that shifting your weight frequently while you stand can help give your muscles and joints a break.
“If you are standing in line, weight shifting every 15 to30 minutes will help manage pain and discomfort. If you are at a festival, dancing will provide the body with the weight shifts,” she says, adding that if possible, taking a short break to sit down can help a lot.
In addition to shifting your weight and sitting when possible, Ormond recommends that you pay attention to your hydration, posture, and footwear. One study found that using a shock-absorbing insole inside the shoe reduced the amount of knee pain that participants reported after standing. However, not all in-soles are the same. Consider trying out a set for a few days in advance to see if they’re comfortable and support your feet well. Having your feet measured may help you select an appropriate shoe or insole.
What You Can Do If Your Feet, Legs, and Back Still Hurt When You Get Home
Your feet were killing you at the show, but you weren’t about to miss the last few songs. Now you’re home, and your feet, legs, hips and back are throbbing. What can you do to manage the pain?
The first thing you’ll want to do is rest.
“Rest is always a treatment for muscle fatigue and pain,” says Marcel Fraix, DO, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, CA.
If your feet hurt after standing all day, try elevating them on a few pillows to help reduce swelling. Icing them can also reduce pain and swelling.
For lower back pain, Fraix says both hot and cold therapy can help. Experts recommend applying heat or ice for no more than 20 minutes at a time. When you feel up to it, try some gentle stretching or yoga to start to loosen muscles, but be sure to listen to your body and stop if you feel discomfort.
Side Effects of Over-the-Counter Painkillers
If rest, ice, elevation, and stretching don’t do the trick, you might consider checking your medicine cabinet for over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID) or Aleve (naproxen, also an NSAID).
Side Effects of Tylenol
The main risk of taking Tylenol for aches and pains after standing all day is liver damage, especially if you drink alcohol—which many do at festivals—while taking it. While it isn’t common, one study in JAMA found that taking acetaminophen at the recommended dose for four days in a row could elevate your risk of liver damage.
Signs of liver damage include:
- Nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite
- Fatigue or weakness
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
Read more about the risks and benefits of Tylenol in Medshadow’s Need to Know: Acetaminophen.
Side Effects of Aspirin, Advil (ibuprofen), or Aleve (naproxen)
All NSAIDs can cause serious side effects, including stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, kidney failure, heart attacks, and strokes. Aspirin is the exception. It can cause GI bleeding and stomach ulcers, but not heart attacks and strokes. The risk of these side effects of NSAIDs increases at higher doses, and if you take the drug for longer periods of time. That means if your pain from standing for a long time lasts more than two or three days, you might consider contacting your healthcare provider rather than continuing to take an NSAID at home.
More common side effects of taking NSAIDs are stomach issues like irritation, pain, heartburn, gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Taking your NSAIDs with food or milk can help. Dizziness, mild headaches, problems concentrating, balance issues and lightheadedness are also common.