Pain, aches, and sometimes injury is the language with which the body communicates. And for working professionals, athletes, and students around the world, the body has had much to say through the strange conditions brought on by the pandemic. When postural flaws become habits, they set off a snowball effect, culminating in larger problems of a much greater magnitude, and often in a different area entirely. A shoulder might ring with pain, or a wrist might feel fatigued after just a few hours of typing. These are signs to take notice not only of the area in pain, but of your seated and standing postural habits that might be contributing.
When it comes to the basics, feet are an area often overlooked. But our foot positioning and seated foot placement form the important foundation for the way our muscles, tendons, and ligaments stack and rest as we move through the day. Oversights in foot placement—and there are many—can have a dramatic effect on your distribution of weight and seated load. It can lead to pain and injury all the way up your postural chain, producing noticeable discomfort in your knees, back, shoulders, and neck. And even if that pain is treated, the root cause of foot placement might still be overlooked.
Foot-related postural mistakes can be caused or made worse by an imbalance in strength or tightness through the calves and into the feet. If, for example, an athlete favors their right side, their right calf might be tighter, and the plantar fascia in their left foot might be less developed. This can produce an uneven gait, an improper seated alignment, and other unconscious positioning cues like the habit of sitting on one foot or always crossing your legs in one direction.
For most of us, the goal is to continue to do what we are doing best, and to be able to do it in good health. Athletes want to train with good habits, and to know that their body is healing properly when they’re giving it rest. Professionals want more at-desk hours that don’t result in the kinds of pains that keep them awake and uncomfortable through the night. Service workers want to know that long hours on their feet aren’t producing problems for them down the road. Students want focus—time to study without being nagged by those aches and pains or the beginnings of lifelong chronic injuries. With proper postural habits, all of the above is achievable, but it requires attention and adjustments, and it begins with the feet.
Starting Off On The Right Foot—The Basics
Feet can be both the cause and the symptom of improper posture through the rest of the body. A habit of hunching-over at the desk might result in weak stabilizing shoulder muscles, which can place undue stress on different parts of the body that might show up as swelling in the feet and ankles due to poor circulation. Conversely, under or overdeveloped foot muscles and calf tightness could cause problems upstream in your spine, chest, hips, and neck.
It’s important to take note of the at-desk aches and pains, even if they don’t yet seem severe. The body sends signs in many forms—beyond physical pain, poor posture can affect the nervous system, digestive system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system. Everything is connected, and understanding those connections can help us intervene before the problems progress.
Action Items—One Step at a Time
A confluence of lifestyle, environmental, and physical factors contribute to our postural conditions and tendencies. Some structural factors are important to consider first when it comes to the feet. Flat feet, or lower arches, can create a tendency for the foot to roll inward toward the arch and to stress the ankle, which results in problems up the chain through the hips and lower back. On the other hand, high arches can cause the hips to habitually tip upward, placing more stress on the lower back and leading to chronic pain. Some people will be familiar with heel spurs, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis, all of which can contribute to real pain and poor posture. If the root of the problem is structural, the best way to correct it is to invest in orthotics. Orthotics can be both a solution for pain and a correction for gait.
When it comes to seated posture, habits always prevail. Logging many at-desk hours, people fall into a number of habits that aren’t conducive to proper weight distribution, including resting on the balls of outer edges of your feet, sitting on your foot, sitting with your legs stretched out and your ankles crossed. All of these natural positions put undue stress on different parts of the body, and often cause a strain in the neck or a hunch in the shoulders. For proper seated posture, it’s best not to trust that you’ll ‘remember’ to correct your foot positioning through different parts of the day. Setting up an adjustable foot rest, foot stand, leg rest or foot stool is the best way to ensure proper placement throughout the day. This is where ergonomic tools like can go a long way in providing those mental cues. Similarly, a make-shift leg rest, foot pillow, or foot stool of adjustable height will do the trick in guiding the feet to their proper position naturally.
Finally, for standing, walking, and running posture, the benefits of investing some time into stretching and strengthening can’t be overstated. Prolonged standing, especially on a hard surface, and bad footwear can exacerbate the problem, but it’s important that everyone integrates basic stretching, balancing, and strengthening exercises into their day. This can be as simple as sitting back on your heels to stretch your feet, working on balancing with your eyes closed, or just noticing the alignment of your feet when you walk. Physical therapy professionals can help at this stage, or yoga practitioners can offer you cues and at-home exercises so you have a few mental cues to work toward on your own.
Our posture sets the stage for our overall wellbeing. Not only are aches and pains physically uncomfortable, they come with a mental load that can take us away from the things we love. Taking a proactive approach and integrating seated support, strengthening routines, and stretching habits throughout the day is an investment that will pay dividends in the long run; every preventative action we take now is one important step toward healthier, happier, pain-free days.