What are some tips for adjusting to a new retail job physically?
September 8, 2011 9:34 AM   Subscribe

My new retail job is killing me physically. I've been working here for about four weeks, and I thought my body would have begun to adjust to the routine by now, but instead it seems to get worse every shift I work. What are some tips for adjusting?

While I'm not in amazing shape, I'm not a couch potato either. I walk a great deal (not having a car or reliable public transit in my area makes walking a lot necessary.) I do yoga, though not as much as I probably ought to. I'm young and don't have arthritis or joint issues that I know of, and I'm not particularly overweight so no extra strain there. I've never had any problems with stamina or walking long distances or anything like that. But apparently just standing behind a counter for eight hours is beyond me. I make it through my shift, but afterwards I can barely walk. I have problems for days afterward when I'm not working, and sometimes have trouble sleeping because of pains throughout my legs.

Obviously I'm doing something wrong. I wear arch-supports, but I'm looking into buying better shoes--I've read up on old ask-mes on that, but recommendations are welcome there (currently wearing tennis shoes as the best of some bad options). Are there particular exercises I ought to be doing? Something different I ought to be doing while I'm working to reduce strain? I try to walk around a bit when possible, and do stretches on my legs every now and again--recommendations on particular things I can do while working (preferably without looking ridiculous) also welcome. I apparently put all of my weight on my heels; does that affect things, and how can I work on adjusting my balance if so?

Any other recommendations welcome, including "suck it up and deal with it" if you give me some sort of time frame for adjusting.
posted by kittenmarlowe to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Had the same problem when I worked at a manufacturing plant. I ended up developing heel spurs and low back pain.

Took the doctor's advice and bought some New Balance sneakers - spurs and pain went away withing a few days. Never had a problem after that.
posted by KogeLiz at 9:41 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

When forced to stand in one spot subtly shift weight from heels to balls of feet to outside of feet to inside of feet; individually tense and relax all your major leg muscles (quads, hams calves) to promote blood flow.

If you can move a bit, try slowly raising knees individually to waist height or higher and bringing heels individually to butt.

If you need to reach something near floor level, do a squat instead of bending at the waist. If you're behind a counter and can get away with being out of sight for a couple of seconds, do some slow squats just for exercise.

Our bodies were not designed to stand still for long periods of time.
posted by de void at 9:42 AM on September 8, 2011

Three things:

First, four weeks isn't probably enough time to really get used to standing for long periods if you aren't used to it. I did a stint as a front desk clerk at a hotel a few years back, and it took me a few months to adjust to just standing in one spot for eight-odd hours. Give it some time.

Second, look into getting better shoes. Tennis shoes are okay, but you might consider inserts or shoes that really cushion your feet. Maybe both. The New Balance suggestion isn't a bad one. And remember, you're going to wear these things for most of your waking hours, so dropping a few extra bucks is likely to be worth it.

Third, if you stand in once place for any period of time, ask the manager about getting a mat or something to stand on. My hotel manager did, and it helped quite a bit.
posted by valkyryn at 9:42 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you're not taking advil, go on and get started. It will help. You can take a couple before your shift if you're still sore or if you are still getting very sore after shifts. You are already on the shoe issue.

I am assuming you are given the requisite number of breaks. You should stretch on breaks and if your feet are hurting, take two or three or five minutes to get your feet above the level of your heart. Whenever I'm on my feet a lot more than usual, that helps to drain the blood away from my feet and I feel better. Do it when you get home, too. You can stretch in that position, as well, so it's a double-benefit!

Do your best to walk it off a bit, don't stay stationary. Also, everything de void said. If you can roll your ankles, pick up your feet, flex your legs while standing still, do it. If there is an opportunity to run to the back of the store or whatever, take it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:44 AM on September 8, 2011

I agree with de void: standing is much more difficult than walking.

I had a similar problem (only less severe) when I started working retail. I think the best option is to keep moving as much as you can. That was actually encouraged at the store I worked - to stroll around and talk to customers rather than staying behind the counter.

Can you talk to your manager about incorporating more into your duties so you aren't just on the till? Are there some tasks you can do around the store to keep you moving? (Dusting shelves? Rearranging displays? Restocking?) I found those activities to be much easier on my body than standing upright.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:45 AM on September 8, 2011

Clogs are not for everyone, but there is a reason why lots of people who work on their feet wear them. Danskos are nice but I prefer Ariats which have a more flexible sole.
posted by BibiRose at 9:55 AM on September 8, 2011

Anti fatigue mat. Get one.
posted by euphorb at 9:56 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Two ideas - try MBT shoes, as they will change the way you balance your weight, and take the stress off your heels (though take your orthotics with you to make sure they fit). Try doing pilates on a regular basis to build up your core strength.
posted by Dasein at 9:56 AM on September 8, 2011

Seconding asking for comfort mats for behind the counter. Nthing getting high-quality support shoes. I made it through three years of retail on Birkenstock clogs (Bostons) that did me quite well, but I'm sure other options would be even better. Move around during your downtime to exercise your feet (instead of just using them as cushions for your weight).

Good luck! Retail is a grind of the highest order, and more physically demanding than one can imagine. I do miss the daily work-related workouts though!
posted by litnerd at 9:58 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Crocs make a lot of shoes that contain the squishy Croc sole but pass for regular slip-ons from the outside. They're not going to win you any glamour prize, but they also don't get you "Ewww, you are wearing Crocs in public!"

They just about saved my lower back when I was waiting tables.
posted by hermitosis at 10:04 AM on September 8, 2011

Dansko clogs are great for this sort of thing or some sort of gel insole. Also have you tried compression socks, I've found a lot of the ache when I've had to stand in one spot for long periods of time was from blood pooling and compression socks or hose are a life saver.
posted by wwax at 10:05 AM on September 8, 2011

It's almost surely pretty much entirely your shoes. Seriously, shoes make a WORLD of difference while working retail. I understand brokeness, but work shoes can be had for pretty cheap. I'd recommend shoes for crews, but walmart also has a line. They're made for people working in food service (so they're slip resistant and leak resistant) but they should also give you more-than-adequate support. I wouldn't wear anything like danskos or MBTs, personally, as I find that both force me to carry my weight in a way that's initially very uncomfrtable.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:22 AM on September 8, 2011

Here to nth better shoes, a cushion mat and some kind of support hose (marketed these days as "compression tights" for the athletically savvy, I suppose). I waitressed, worked as a bank teller & did retail in my late teens & early 20s and despite being an active athlete (bike racer) I still went through hell with my feet and lower back until I discovered support hose, which my colleagues in retail turned me on to. Yes, those thick, opaque tights-looking spandex things. They probably make nicer looking varieties these days, as they seem to be enjoying a bit of a revival, but back in the mid 80s they pretty much came in "sand" or "white" and that was that. They really do work though.

Also look into getting some form of cushioning / support insoles for your shoes. I was forced by one of my jobs (sales clerk at high end menswear store) to wear formal pumps / heels all day, so I couldn't go the "nurse shoes or Danskos" route, but I was able to considerably cut down on the agony by using non-slip cushion insoles (Foot Petals makes some great ones that work in heels and sandals without showing).

as a datapoint of one, you may note for the record that I am 43 now and working on my feet all day in heels for long stretches in my 20s hasn't seemed to cause me any lasting damage, and that was all before I even knew things like yoga or proper core strengthening & posture exercises existed.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:25 AM on September 8, 2011

I used to get shooting pains in my legs after working an 8-hour shift at McDonalds, and that was when I was 18 or 19.

Maybe you can get a rubber mat to stand on?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:38 AM on September 8, 2011

Just one thing to add about shoes: Get shoes that are at least a size bigger than you ordinarily wear to wear at work. Your legs and feet swell up when you stand for long periods. Not giving your feet room to swell makes it worse.
posted by nangar at 11:00 AM on September 8, 2011

Try to walk around more? I have worked 10 hour restaurant shifts without ever sitting and while it was hell on my feet the first week, it was no big deal after that. I think walking is way easier than standing, though.
posted by Nattie at 11:40 AM on September 8, 2011

It's been 20 years since my time in the retail salt mines but I remember it being horribly hard for a while. It did eventually get better. Good shoes (which don't have to be expensive) helped greatly, but some of it was just developing the control muscles you don't normally have.

It's the standing still that's the big killer. I was in my late teens for that retail work and it was punishing in a way that being a bartender wasn't in my late 20s. There I was doing more strenuous work but was often in motion.

So get good shoes, don't lock your knees, try to walk around, and just keep on gritting your teeth and taking advil. You'll eventually adjust.
posted by phearlez at 11:55 AM on September 8, 2011

Had the same issue with a warehouse job and 12 hour shifts. The options listed above that worked for me were: Thick soled shoes, such as Clarks. I didn't know about Born then, but would probably use those now. Gel soles added. Rubber mats when possible. Advil before and after. Staying off my feet as much as possible at home with feet propped up for significant periods of time, including at night while sleeping (I used a pillow under my feet and slept on my back as much as possible).

After that job ended, it took several years before my feet stopped hurting, but I was much older than you at the time. Good luck!
posted by raisingsand at 12:35 PM on September 8, 2011

I used to work at a library circulation desk standing in pretty much one place for 8 hours a day. I never really got used to it, but here's what helped:

1. Get a mat to stand on. Seriously. The days I was on the side with no mat, it was way worse.

2. Stretch your legs frequently, at least your calves. This helps some.

3. Try different shoes until you find some that work better. Old Navy flipflops (the kind that cost 2 bucks) and knockoff Crocs were the only thing I was comfortable in. I had Borns (which I otherwise love), New Balance sneakers, Adidas sneakers, Puma sneakers, cheapo Payless shoes, and they all sucked. Try some Crocs, seriously. They are magical, and it was worth being made fun of to not have to deal with the pain all the time.
posted by jabes at 2:15 PM on September 8, 2011

I'm surprised there haven't been more votes for compression stockings like lonefrontranger mentioned; they are a LIFESAVER. I spent 10 years in the service industry and they saved my feet. A lot of what is so painful about standing is the reduction in circulation, which the stockings really help with.

And, the nice thing about black ones is that they easily pass for black tights under skirts :)
posted by stellaluna at 2:38 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

What size shoe are you? I have a shameful number of size 6 almost new shoes that are awesome for standing work. They're all yours if they would work for you, I'll even pay to ship them. Weirdly, my feet shrank when I was pregnant, and I've not gotten around to putting them on freecycle. Drop me a memail if you want em!

If that doesn't happen to be your shoe size, here is what works for me. Dansko clogs and any 'nursing' shoes, they're not beautiful but make such a difference. Get fitted for shoes at a real shoe store.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 4:30 PM on September 8, 2011

nthing compression socks. They really help.
posted by saradarlin at 5:38 PM on September 8, 2011

In addition to the other suggestions here: try massage. Read up online about how to do self-massage of your feet and legs. Find a friend to exchange back massages with. Get a professional massage if you can ever afford it (maybe ask friends and family for massage as a birthday/holiday gift?)

Also seconding the basic question of why you have to stand all the time. Is there any reason a sit/stand stool won't work for some of the time?
posted by parrot_person at 8:29 PM on September 8, 2011

and sometimes have trouble sleeping because of pains throughout my legs.

been there, done that. i have bad feet and my birkenstocks are fine for walking miles and miles, but for standing eight hours a day five days a week, the only things that have worked for me are a pair of $40 mercy work crocs. two days after i got them i stopped having those leg pains and now i'm pretty much fine. they really are incredibly comfortable, and for less money than danskos and other brands of work clogs.
posted by lia at 8:37 PM on September 8, 2011

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