How to Pick the Best Shoes for Standing All Day

October 29, 2018

shoe for standing
David Kirshbaum

Sitting at a desk all day can wreak havoc on your body, but so can standing all day. If you decide to use a height-adjustable desk or converterat the office, it will be much better for you overall, but you’ll need to make sure you have proper support for standing. So you’re going to want some good shoes. But what constitutes good? It depends. Ask five different experts what shoe you should wear for standing all day, and you’ll likely get five different answers. You can easily find ‘best shoe’ lists online for standing at work or any other activity, but there is no way to know if any particular shoe will be good for you until you try it. The way our bodies adjust to shoes and inserts is unique for each individual. A complex array of muscles, connective tissue, and nerve impulses work together to keep us upright, and the particular way that is accomplished varies from person to person more than you might expect.  

What to Look for in a Standing Desk Work Shoe

Most people do agree that high heels are not beneficial for long periods of standing, as they throw the body into an unnatural and strained position that can cause pain anywhere from your feet to your neck. So look for flats or something with a lower rise in the heel (yes, they can still be fun and fashionable). Toe room is another important factor, both in front and on the sides. Many shoes are too narrow in front to begin with, and when we stand for long periods, our feet can actually grow wider under the pressure. This leads to painful squeezing on the sides of your feet. Beyond these factors, you’ll have to try out different options to find what works best for you. When picking out your work shoes to go with your standing desk, comfort is key, and only you can be the judge of that.  

How to Find Great Shoes for Standing Desk Work

Here are some tips for finding the best shoes for your feet at a brick-and-mortar store:

  1. Go in the afternoon because your foot naturally expands throughout the day, and get your feet measured before you start looking around the store.
  2. Make a tracing of your foot before you go and take it with you. When you find something that looks good, put it on top of the tracing before you try it on. This will help you quickly rule out shoes or sizes that are too short or narrow.
  3. Wear the same kind of socks you usually wear at the office—a small difference in thickness can make a big difference in fit and comfort.
  4. Make sure you have about a ½ inch of space in front of your longest toe (and know which of your toes is the longest—it’s not always the big toe).
  5. Take a lap or two around the store in any pair of shoes you’re considering. If they don’t feel good, don’t get them. If you like the style, you might be tempted to think they just need to be “broken in,” but if that happens at all, it may mean a long time waiting in discomfort.

If you’re shopping online, it’s still a good idea to go to a store to get your feet measured and try a few options. Foot size can change as we age (usually getting bigger), so it’s always good to stay up to date with your measurements. Whether online or off, shop at places with an easy return policy, and make use of it if you find that your new shoes aren’t working out. On the other hand, when you do find something that works great, consider buying several pairs so you’ll be able to replace them when they wear out without having to find a new model (unless you love shoe shopping, in which case, ignore that advice).  

How Important is Arch Support for Stand-up Desk Shoes?

Again, it depends on what works for you. It helps to know what kind of arches you have—flat, ‘normal’, or high. You can get a rough idea by dipping a foot in wet tub and then stepping with your full weight on a piece of sturdy paper or cardboard. Look at the shape of the footprint to determine your arch height—the wider the middle section of the print, the lower your arches. If you have flat feet or high arches, you may benefit from shoes or inserts that provide good arch support. Then again, you may not. Research on the matter is inconclusive, and a new review of past studies shows that even custom orthotics do not always provide additional comfort or pain relief. Biomechanics professor and orthotics researcher Benno M. Nigg said in the New York Times that, “a flat foot is not something that is bad per se…” and that there is no need to “correct” a flat foot, but to strengthen the foot and ankle muscles. Despite the mixed results in orthotics research, the reality is that some people benefit from them and some don’t, and there is currently no way to predict what type of footwear or inserts will be best for any given person. Dr. Nigg himself uses a standing desk, wearing socksand standing on a soft mat, but he doesn’t necessarily recommend that for everyone. It all comes back to personal comfort.  

How to Work Comfortably at Your Adjustable Desk

Whatever footwear you go with, remember a few key principles for remaining comfortable at work:

  • Alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day.
  • Take short movement breaks, and be sure to include stretches and exercises for your feet and ankles.
  • Give your feet a quick massage in the afternoon to help you through the rest of the day.
  • Use good posture when standing, and make sure your desk and monitor height suit your body.
  • An anti-fatigue mat can be another great way to support your feet, ankles, and knees and help maintain your energy.

Of course, one of the best things you can do for your feet as well as the rest of your body is to enjoy your work and not sweat the small stuff. With less stress weighing you down, you’ll stay lighter on your toes no matter what shoes you wear. Have you found great standing work shoes? How did you find that perfect fit? Tell us in the comments!    

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