Top tips for staying comfortable on your feet

As any community pharmacist knows, long hours on one’s feet can be an inescapable part of the job. But they also pose a significant health risk.

In fact, almost two thirds of serious workers compensation claims relate to ergonomic injuries.

Key risks for pharmacists involve developing shoulder and neck pain, as well as sore and swollen feet. These types of injuries can also impact productivity and income due to time off work.

Here are the three most important strategies for staying healthy and comfortable on your feet.

Adjust your workstation

The most important thing for neck strain is to avoid neck extension, particularly by ensuring computer screens aren’t too high, said Associate Professor Margaret Cook (she/her), a Certified Professional Ergonomist and a Chartered Generalist OHS Professional and Program Leader for Occupational Health and Safety Education at the University of Queensland.

Associate Professor Margaret Cook

To avoid shoulder and neck pain, the right height for your workbench is essential.

‘Getting a height-adjustable workbench is a really good way to start, and they are much more accessible than they used to be,’ she said. 

‘But if your workbench is not height-adjustable and it’s too high, you could look at getting a “drafting” chair, which is an adjustable high chair suitable for counter work.

‘If it’s too low, you can use a platform on the desktop to create a higher surface. Make sure the platform is bigger enough to support your arms as well as the work you are doing.’

The aim with your screen is to keep it below your horizontal eyeline. It’s best for your eyes to gaze down at your screen, so aim to place your screen directly on the workbench. If you wear bifocal/multiple focal glasses it is extra important to keep your screen low to avoid neck extension. 

‘One critical thing to note is that  the work surface should be about 5 centimetres higher than your elbow, so that you can stabilise your elbows and forearms, but still be able to stand upright,’ she said. ‘[Poor elbow stability] is the biggest source of pain when you’re doing fine motor activities. You want to have elbows on the desk to give that support … and that takes the stress off the muscles in the shoulders.’ 

Another important consideration is posture. 

‘Posture is a direct response to your working environment. If your working bench is too low and you’re having to bend over, that’s going to impact your posture. If you’ve got the workbench at the right height … that’s going to facilitate having good posture.’

Get moving

Another key strategy is to address the sedentary nature of standing and looking at how pharmacists design their work.

‘Build in some incidental walking, so rather than having people bring scripts to you, go and collect them from somewhere and walk back to the client, she said. ‘All those little bits of incidental walking during the day design work in such a way that you have to get up and move away and do things.’

According to Kay Dunkley (she/her) MPS, Executive Officer of Pharmacists’ Support Service, there are lots of ways you can add in extra movement to your day, including:

  • parking your car a block further away or getting off public transport a stop earlier to incorporate an outdoor walk into the start and end of your work day
  • take the stairs rather than the lift or an escalator
  • remember to stop and stretch your shoulders, arms, neck and hands a couple of times each hour if you are spending a long time at a computer workstation or packing dose administration aids
  • do some calf stretches in the dispensary when you have been standing for a while
  • walk on the spot if you are standing at a dispensary workstation 
  • if you are putting away stock on shelves, do some squats to reach the lower shelves and stretch out for the higher shelves
  • try to vary your activities during the day in order to vary your posture
  • cleaning activities such as sweeping or vacuuming the floor 
  • do a ‘happy dance’ at the end of the day when it is time to go home.

Another key to moving more is ensuring pharmacists can take their regular breaks away from their work.

Kay Dunkley MPS
Kay Dunkley MPS

‘There’s a tendency in pharmacy for people not to take any sort of breaks and yet … they’re certainly eligible for a 10-minute break after 4 hours, and a lunch break,’ said Ms Dunkley. 

According to conditions under the Fair Work Act, pharmacists are entitled to a 10-minute paid rest break after 4 hours, plus an unpaid 30–60 minute meal break if they are working more than 5 hours but less than 7.6 hours, and a second paid 10-minute rest break for shifts of 7.6 or more hours. 

The only exception is people can be paid to remain in the pharmacy over their lunch break. ‘If they’re the only pharmacist on duty, they can’t leave the premises while the business is open,’ added Ms Dunkley.

Look after you feet

For pharmacists who experience leg discomfort, anti-fatigue mats and the right footwear can make all the difference.

‘[Anti–fatigue mats] are a softer surface to be standing on … and you get a little bit of movement in them, so your muscles stay more active,’ said A/Prof Cook.

A good quality shoe that has arch support, is not flat on the bottom and has a bit of cushioning is the most appropriate for periods of long standing.

‘Some people like a small heel of a few centimetres, which can be more comfortable than a totally flat shoe,’ she said.