Why Nurses have Sore Legs after 12 Hour Shifts, According to Doctor

5 Min Read

Any job that involves being on your feet all day will lead to sore legs. But as a nurse, your days are long, busy and finding time to sit or rest is a problem.

You can spend hours standing still at a patient’s bedside, assisting doctors or rushing between emergencies.

This leads to a whole raft of problems. But those problems have solutions.

Keep reading to see the common causes of sore legs, as well as methods of treatment and prevention.

Disclaimer: This guide was created for educational purposes. It neither offers nor replaces medical advice. Learn more here.

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Table of Contents

Common Causes Of Sore Legs In Nurses


No Rest

Rushing around, caring for patients and not getting a chance to rest are a big cause of leg problems for nurses. It means when soreness or injuries arise, there’s no time to recover.

When you spend a lot of time on your feet, fatigue sets in quickly. There’s also a ton of stress going through bones, joints, tendons, muscles and ligaments. Every step taken and every minute spent standing increases these stresses.

It’s common for anyone working on their feet all day to experience a deterioration of blood supply to their lower extremities. This can lead to numbness, pain and swelling.


Standing Still for Long Periods

It’s not just long shifts without a rest that can negatively affect you. Standing still for extended periods leads to painful problems too.

Prolonged stretches of standing still causes blood and other fluids to accumulate in the feet and around the ankles. This accumulation can lead to varicose veins which can lead to bleeding, ulcers and blood clots.

Extended periods of standing can also lead to problems with the spine, hips and knees. It’s not uncommon for nurses to have back problems in later life.


Not Sleeping Well

It should go without saying, sleep is important. Without it, our bodies don’t have a chance to recover. Nurses often work long back to back shifts. A lot of you probably work on your scheduled days off and during annual leave too.

The lack of sleep and rest time has a very real effect on your general wellbeing. Foot problems caused by impacts, stress and fatigue don’t get the time they need to heal. This means issues like plantar fasciitis, flat feet and calluses steadily get worse over time.


Wearing The Wrong Shoes

Over the years, shoes for nurses have got better and better. They’re generally comfortable, durable and thankfully, easy to clean!

But as with all shoes, the ones that work for one person, might not work for another. For nurses struggling with sore legs after a long shift, we suggest trying a different brand of shoes. Danskos work well for some while NurseMates are better for others.

While they won’t completely eliminate leg problems, a pair of comfortable, well fitted shoes will go someway to reducing pain and preventing long term damage.

Common Problems Related To Standing For Too Long


Flat Feet

Flat feet, or collapsed arches are common in nurses.

They’re caused by too much time standing on hard, flat surfaces. They’re even more common if you’re wearing shoes without adequate arch support.


Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is the inflammation of a thick band of tissue (plantar fascia) that runs along the bottom of your foot. When inflamed, it causes severe stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot. Most often near the heel.

It’s caused by repeated impacts and stresses to the foot – especially if your shoes don’t offer much support. Although it can still happen even in people wearing supportive shoes with proper insoles.



Calluses are caused by continuous pressure or rubbing of the skin.

They form a rough patch of hard skin. Calluses aren’t always a problem, most of us have at least a small amount of them on our feet and hands.

However, calluses that are not given a chance to heal can crack and form large fissures. This can be very deep and very painful to walk on.

They also create a prime breeding ground for infection. Infections below a callus can be very painful and hard to treat.


Varicose Veins and Venous Insufficiency

Venous insufficiency is a common symptom of standing for too long.

Blood pools around the feet and lower legs, unable to make its way back to the heart.

Over time, the pooling leads to varicose veins which can have more serious long term consequences.

How To Treat and Prevent Sore Legs For Nurses


Choose The Right Shoes

A significant number of people wear the wrong size shoes. Your feet change size not only through the day but through your life too. It’s worth getting them measured every few years so you know exactly what size they are.

Shoes that are the wrong size will rub and cause blisters. They make you walk with an unnatural gait, causing pain in your legs, hips and back.

When choosing work shoes for nurses, it’s best to try them on at the end of the day, when your feet are at their largest. You should wear the same socks you use for work so you know how they’ll feel when you’re in uniform.

Shoes with flat, uncushioned soles aren’t the best option for nurses. You’ll want shoes that offer plenty of support and cushioning. Otherwise you risk foot problems like collapsed arches.

If possible, find shoes with a wide toe box. This allows your toes to splay naturally as you walk, which helps mitigate the risk of injury. It also means your toes won’t rub against the shoe or each other. Doing so can cause painful calluses, bumps and growths.


Wear Compression Stockings

Compression stockings support the muscles and blood vessels in your lower leg.

This improves circulation, reducing swelling and inflammation in the process. They’re a good way to prevent (or treat) Venous Insufficiency and Varicose Veins.


Wear Thick Socks

Soft, thick socks can help relieve heel pain when standing for long periods.

They provide an extra layer of cushioning between your feet and the ground. If you wear very thick socks for work, they will affect your shoe size.

Remember to try shoes on when you’re wearing the socks.


Soak Your Feet

Warming your feet in an Epsom salt bath reduces pain and swelling.

The warm water and minerals within the salt help your muscles relax.

If your feet are very swollen, alternate between cold and warm water foot baths until the discomfort levels drop.



These exercises can all be used to treat and prevent sore legs.

Roll Your Feet

Rolling your feet over a foam roller or small ball – golf and tennis balls work very well.

This massages your plantar fascia. When inflamed, this band of thick tissue leads to plantar fasciitis.

Massaging it reduces swelling and helps prevent inflammation.

Stretch Your Calves

The most effective way to stretch your calves is to face a wall, standing around 12 inches back.

Bend one knee until it touches the wall and stretch your other leg behind you.

Hold this pose for 30 seconds then swap legs. Repeat the process several times.

Massage Your Feet and Shins

If you can reach to do this yourself, great!

If not, ask a close friend, partner or even a professional masseuse to help. While leaning back, or sitting with your legs raised, massage from your toes to your knees.

As well as feeling amazing, this will help promote blood flow back up the leg.

Applying peppermint lotion to your feet will help relax the muscle and deliver a nice tingling feeling.

Tiger Balm and other menthol lotions work well too.


Electromyostimulation is the process of stimulating muscles with the help of electrical impulses.

A device is connected to electrodes on your legs and a gentle electric current is passed to your muscles.

This causes them to contract and relax, pumping blood back up your legs. This reduces the build up of fluids which cause pain and swelling.

In Conclusion

Having sore legs makes the hard job of nursing even harder. Using these prevention and treatment techniques will help you perform at your best.

Choosing the right shoes, stretching regularly and allowing your feet to relax when possible will all help you prevent sore legs, even after hours on your feet.


Dr. Karim Maghreby

Last Updated:

June 28, 2022


Dr. Maghraby is a medical doctor and published physician scientist. He’s an avid runner and a user of sports compression gear.