Why does my body hurt series: Why are my legs aching after shifts?
Having a job that keeps you on your feet all day can be great for getting your 10k steps in (or 20k… or 40k…) but not so great for aching legs. It’s no fun to get home or wake up on your off-day feeling sore and achy, unable to get out of bed. So what is really going on? Why do you come off your shifts feeling like your legs are tight and your feet are swollen? While these things may seem unavoidable for long shifts, there’s actually a number of contributing factors. If you can figure out what is specifically contributing to your aching, small changes can lead to big results. Here we go over a few of the common culprits, and what can be done to help. If you identify one of these situations as your own, try out a few of our suggestions and let us know what works for you!
You’re Wearing The Wrong Shoes
When you’re on your feet all day, it’s extra important to wear the right shoes. Having the wrong shoes can lead to pain in the feet, ankles, legs, and even lower back. Without the right support, ill-fitting shoes allow for repetitive stress to be put on the joints and specific parts of the foot, which can lead to nerve damage and blisters. It can also lead to changes in your gait, causing tightness and imbalances in your muscles. There is a wide range of shoes available on the market, but it is important to find the pair that will fit your feet the right way. Having support around your arches and ankles, grip on your heels, cushion, and wiggle room for your toes are all important. Because feet swell at the end of the day, we recommend fitting and buying your shoes in the evening to avoid buying shoes that will later feel too tight and uncomfortable. Laces are recommended for this because you can adjust the size, or shoes with stretchy material that will expand with the foot.
Another hack we recommend is to buy a few different types of shoes and wear each for multiple shifts. See how your legs feel at the end of the day and whether there is an improvement over time. This can help show you if there are specific things you do and don’t like in your shoes. If you are very mobile during your shift, it can also help to replace your shoes about every 6 months as your shoes will wear out quickly and provide less support.
You’re Walking Too Much Without a Break
In many cases this is unavoidable, but small measures can help. Even if you are not running around the facility, just continually walking and moving can put strain on your legs and lead to varicose veins and chronic tightness or pain. To try and combat this, make sure on your rest breaks you take time to actually sit down and take the pressure off of your feet rather than running around to grab food or catch up on tasks. It’s also a good idea to elevate your legs after your shift at home to help with circulation and decrease any swelling. If you have trouble finding time during work to sit down, talk to your manager. You are entitled to rest and skipping out on it will only lead to increased pain in your legs over the long run.
When you have a chance to rest, try doing a few simple stretches that include the legs and ankle. You can choose stretches where you are seated or laying on the ground. This will help prevent the muscles from tightening up and becoming stiff after long days of walking around. Taking baths with epsom salts and essential oils, as well as wearing compression socks, can also help alleviate pain and swelling from the feet and legs.
You Stand Still A Lot
On the flip side, standing still for a long period of time can lead to achy legs as well. This is because your blood pools in the lower extremities and causes pain and swelling. This is especially common for nurses who work in surgical wards and spend a lot of time in the operating room. Make sure you have extra padding in your shoes to prevent continual pressure from being placed on your feet’ pressure points, and potentially consult a podiatrist for custom orthotics that will give extra arch support and comfort.
When you are stuck standing still for hours, little movements such as rolling your ankles or shifting your weight around your feet can help improve circulation and prevent tightness. In addition to this, Epsom salt baths and foot soaks at home, as well as wearing compression socks, have been recommended by our fellow nurses.
Whether you walk a marathon every day or spend most of the shift stationary, aching legs seem to be part of the deal. Making small changes such as changing your footwear, elevating your feet at night, wearing compression socks, and treating yourself to an epsom salt bath can massively help relieve pain and make long shifts more bearable. We know that it can be difficult to balance worklife with incorporating extra self-care practices, but it is important to take care of yourself for long-term mental and physical health. And remember, we are all in this together.