“If your feet don’t normally hurt when you are walking or moving about, the most likely cause is that the blood in your feet and legs has not been circulating vigorously while you were sitting,” says Bob Thompson, certified pedorthist, executive director of the Institute for Preventive Foot Health (IPFH.org).
A pedorthist is a medical professional who specializes in designing footwear and devices to alleviate foot pain.
“The human body is designed for movement; and periods of prolonged standing or sitting have a negative effect on circulation in the legs.” Prolonged sitting also has a negative effect on the heart, according to research that was reported in Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports, 2008
“The veins in the feet and legs that carry deoxygenated blood back to the heart have to work against gravitational pull,” says Thompson. “These veins have valves that help the blood flow upward, and there is a ‘pump’ mechanism in the calf muscles of the legs that assists in that upward flow.”
So if you sit for prolonged periods, such as at work, driving long distances, in an airplane or even watching TV or working at the computer, “the lack of muscle activity in your legs may cause insufficient return flow of the blood, causing it to ‘pool’ in your feet and legs,” continues Thompson.
“When you stand up, the extra blood in the feet and legs has to be circulated back up the legs, which may create higher than normal blood pressure in the area, which in turn may cause you to feel pain.”
How can one avoid this?
“The best way is to stand up frequently if you can, and to flex the feet, move the legs and in general avoid sitting still for prolonged periods. This is especially difficult on long plane flights, and is especially important to avoid if possible due to the potential danger of blood clots related to prolonged sitting and varying air pressure in airliner cabins.”