I’ve been using a standing desk for quite a while now and have always done it barefoot. Recently, I was thinking whether wearing shoes will help keep me standing at the desk longer and help with fatigue, so I did a little bit of research. I was surprised at what I found.
No, you do not need to wear shoes when using a standing desk. Wearing highly padded, comfy shoes can overprotect your feet and deteriorate some of the smaller muscles of your feet.
Standing barefoot when using a standing desk helps build these muscles and strengthen your feet. Many people will experience sore feet when first using a standing desk. This is because they are not accustomed to standing stationary for long periods of times.
It’s best to slowly ramp up you standing desk usage, mix in sitting as well as standing, and do frequent stretches.
I was surprised that some studies were finding it better to be standing and walking barefooted. In this article I take an in depth look at the topic as well as things you can do to prevent sore feet and fatigue when using a standing desk.
Is It Better To Stand Barefoot Or With Shoes?
Not a lot of research has been done to answer whether it’s better to stand barefoot or while wearing shoes. However, there are quite a few studies done to evaluate the effects of walking barefoot vs. with shoes.
Najia Shakoor and Joel A. Block published this study evaluating the effects that modern shoes have on hip and knee joints in the presence of inflammation.
They found that the peak joint loads significantly decreased at the hips and knee while walking barefoot. In the study of 75 subjects, they saw an 11.9% decrease in just one of the many types of loads that can happen at the knee joints.
When it comes to walking barefoot, many orthopedic surgeons and foot specialists agree that it is closer to our natural gait (walking movement).
In this article on healthline, it is mentioned that experts in the field have said that highly padded shoes can prevent the usage of certain muscle groups. These underused muscle groups can strengthen your body if these shoes are not worn.
Alongside stronger leg muscles, other benefits of walking barefoot include better balance, foot mechanics, control, and body awareness.
With these insights, it is safe to say that standing barefoot at a standing desk is more natural for your body and will possibly develop additional muscles in your legs, making them stronger than if you wore shoes.
Especially in the relative safety of your home, your feet are not exposed to any potential risk of injury from the uncontrolled outdoors.
Can Wearing Shoes While Using a Standing Desk Be Bad For You?
Now that we understand that standing barefoot is ideal, can wearing shoes while using a standing desk actually be harmful to you and should be avoided?
Research done at the School of Recreation Management and Kinesiology of Acadia University may have the answer. This answer ties back, again, to muscle activity in some of the smaller foot muscles.
What they found is that standing in an unstable shoe will increase overall postural sway and muscle activities of these smaller muscles. They say that traditional stable shoes with extra support features can overprotect the feet possibly contribute to the breakdown of these muscles.
The unstable shoe that they used in their tests is akin to “barefoot” shoes such as this one.
Therefore, wearing super comfortable and well padded shoes while using a standing desk for long periods of time will not be better for you health wise than going barefoot.
That being said, there is not enough evidence to deter those of us who love wearing shoes with their standing desk. I know when I used to go in to work, I wasn’t taking my shoes off just to use the standing desk.
Standing on Carpet vs. Hard Floor
While a carpeted floor is softer than something like hardwood, many people experience pain or soreness from standing barefoot at a standing desk on both types of surfaces for long durations.
This is mostly because people are not used to being stationary and barefoot for long periods of time. As such, there is an adjustment period from when you first start using a standing desk without shoes to when the soreness goes away.
It is also important to mention that you should slowly work up to the point where you can spend a few hours standing barefoot. Trying to achieve this too fast can result in foot issues such as planar fasciitis.
Instead, ease into standing stationary for long durations and build up to it little by little.
What Are Some Ways To Remedy The Pain and Soreness?
When you first start using a standing desk and try to stand on your feet, stationary, for hours, you’ll notice your feet getting sore. Your body and feet simply are not used to this and it takes a while of slowly ramping up where you don’t feel sore anymore.
If you are in this predicament, here’s a list of five tools you can use to improve your experience. I personally use a standing desk balance board (barefoot) and immediately felt the difference in comfort and amount of time I could stay standing without being fatigued.
1. Standing Desk Anti Fatigue Foot Mats
As the name implies, this is a mat that you stand on while using a standing desk. It provides a lot of cushioning to your feet and help you to stay standing longer.
You can often see these being used by store clerks and employees that have to stand for long periods of time.
An alternative to this is to use a foam yoga mat. You may have one available at home already and has the nifty upside of being a stretching mat at the same time. Not to mention, you’ll constantly be reminded that it’s time to do those stretches.
2. Standing Desk Balance Boards
These are boards with cushioning that you balance yourself on while working (pretty easy to do). The cushioning on the board is super comfortable to stand on for long durations and the act of balancing yourself motivates you to keep your feet moving.
Overall, it’s pretty fun to use while working.
3. Bosu Ball For A Standing Desk
A Bosu ball looks like an exercise ball cut in half resting on a flat board. Similar to a balance board, it keeps you moving as you try to balance on it while working.
You can also use it to help massage your feet or stretch while working, by keeping one foot on the ground and one foot on the ball.
4. Frequent Moving and Stretching
Frequent movement and stretching is perhaps the best thing you can do to remedy the soreness that comes along with getting used to a standing desk. To be honest, you should continue to do this even after you can stand for long durations as it is a great, healthy habit.
A standing desk provides a rigid surface to hold on to while doing stretches. Learn to incorporate stretches in your work routine with your standing desk and you eventually won’t miss sitting down.
It’s also great to go for an actual walk away from the desk. This will do more for you body in the long run, when done regularly, than simply using a standing desk for work.
5. Alternate Between Standing and Sitting
Lastly, listen to when your body tells you it’s fatigued and take a break from standing. We know that sitting all day is bad, but there’s also many an article on the internet saying that standing all day is also bad.
Ideally, you want to be switching it up during the day.
How Long Should You Be Standing At Your Standing Desk?
It’s really personal preference the amount of time you should be standing at your standing desk before sitting down. Some people stand for the majority of the hour and sit for a short time making frequent changes. Others continuously stand for a few hours, then sit for a few hours and then stand back up again.
There is no magic number I can say that you should stand for this long before sitting. Rather, you need to experiment what suits you the best.
In general, it’s more important that you are changing it up and moving around while using the standing desk, like stretching from time to time or taking a break to go on a walk.
Basic Ergonomics Is Key
It’s also important to keep in mind the basic ergonomics of using a desk whether sitting or standing, barefoot or shoed. If your are working with bad, unergonomic, posture your body will pay the price in the long run.
When using a standing desk your arms should make a 90 degree angle with your shoulders as they rest on the desk. You don’t want your desk to be too high where your arms are angled upwards or two low where they are angled downwards.
The proper posture for using a standing desk is to keep your feet shoulder width apart and flat on the ground. Keep you upper body aligned with your core and you shouldn’t be leaning into or away from your monitor.
Make sure to stand at the proper distance to the monitor with your monitors place far enough back on desk so that you can access your keyboard and mouse without stretching. I wrote an article here about how to measure the proper distance to the monitor and how to best make use of your desk space to get an ergonomic position.
What Are Some Stretches You Can Do?
Stretching your body on the daily can help you out so much in the long term. When it comes to feet, you really notice the difference in your movement fluidity and muscle strength once you start to stretch regularly.
Since high school, I’ve had pain in my Achilles tendon when walking or running. For the longest time, I didn’t do anything about it, but just last year, I decided to get it checked out and went to a podiatrist.
The doctor taught me a few stretches to do daily that helped stretch the muscles in that area and after doing those for about a week, the stiffness in my joints improved as well as the pain.
Doing the stretches daily and using custom foot orthotics helped to completely get rid of the pain that I had for years. Needless to say that I won’t be giving up those stretches any time soon.
There’s quite a few stretches you can do at your standing desk that will help with your mobility, fatigue and wellness in general. Here’s a short video of some of my favorite ones.
Hamid Tahir is a Mechatronics Engineer and founder of WFH Overload. He is currently working from home and is dedicated to the continuous improvement of his home office setup. Hamid has extensive experience setting up workspaces and dealing with the related tech. He hopes to share his knowledge to help you create the most productive and comfortable work from home setup. Read More