It’s universally understood that sitting for too long is bad.
In fact, medical professionals consider sitting for too long so bad for your health that the American Medical Association adopted a policy recognizing the potential risks of prolonged sitting.
That same policy also offered recommendations for alternatives to sitting in offices and work spaces, such as standing desks or adjustable desks.
Like everything else, how you use a standing desk matters. Just because you’re standing, doesn’t mean you’re doing yourself any favors – especially if you’ve got pre-existing back, knee or hip conditions.
So is standing more really the answer for all the office workers of the world? The short answer: it depends.
Get on your feet
Study after study has outlined the perils of sitting. Excessive sedentary behavior can lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer, metabolic syndrome and obesity. Sitting can make you uncomfortable, fatigued and lower your mood.
A standing desk is one solution to alleviate the stress and strain of hunching for too long in a chair. A CDC study found that the use of an adjustable desk helped one group of office workers reduce time spent sitting by 224 percent, or 66 minutes per day. The adjustable desk also reduced complaints of upper back and neck pain by 54 percent and improved employees’ moods.
It’s clear that getting on your feet can help stretch out your upper back and improve posture while you’re looking at a computer screen. But just standing up isn’t going to make you healthier. You have to do it correctly.
According to an article in Applied Ergonomics, proper training in how to use a sit-stand desk is critical. Workers who received interactive instructions on how to use a standing desk, were provided a sit/stand practice period and received ergonomic reminders experienced less musculoskeletal and visual discomfort. Workers who received minimal training had a higher number of symptoms of discomfort.
The takeaway was that training makes a difference when it comes to maximizing the potential benefits of a sit-stand workstation. And if you’ve had knee, back or hip problems, you might want to ask a physical therapist if a standing desk is right for you.
Just like when you hold the same position while sitting, stagnant standing can also create aches and pains from putting pressure on certain joints and additional compression on the spine. It can also bring on new discomfort from lagging posture as your body fatigues in the standing position.
Here are some basic tips for using a standing desk comfortably:
• Keep your legs, torso, neck and head approximately in line and vertical.
• Choose a desk that allows you to keep your wrists straight and your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows.
• Your monitor should be directly in front of you, about arm’s length away. The top of the screen should be at or just below eye level.
• Keep your keyboard and mouse on the same surface.
• Keep your upper arms close to your body.
But remember that overall health, weight and physical fitness will always play a factor in whether a standing desk will help or hurt.
Keep it flexible
Like with anything in life, remember everything in moderation – and that holds true for jumping on the standing desk bandwagon. Standing all day isn’t very practical or comfortable, especially if you’re typing a lengthy report or taking a long phone call.
According to a Cornell University study, prolonged use of a standing desk led to fatigue, which meant a decline in posture, particularly neck flexion and wrist extension. And fatigue caused users to stand at their desks for only short-periods during the day, which made it less effective in the end.
The solution? Mix it up with an adjustable sit-stand desk. Stand for an hour here or an hour there, and then go back to sitting. Another alternative is to sit using a height-adjustable, downward tilting keyboard tray for improved posture.
If you really like standing, remember to shift positions regularly. For example, use a foot rest to take the weight off of one foot and then the other, change the position of your legs periodically, and even though your mother may have told you not to fidget, in this case it’s okay because even micro-movements can help redistribute weight and avoid isolated muscle and joint fatigue.
If you’ve already got existing joint or nerve pain, standing at a desk, especially if you’re doing it incorrectly, can do more harm than good. Technique matters.
Just move more
Of course regardless of whether you choose to sit or stand, adjusting your position every 20 minutes or so is key. If you’re sitting, stand for eight minutes and move for two minutes. If you’re standing, take a stretch break and a two-minute walk around the office.
Think of it this way: Every 30 minutes change your position and move around. That’s sure to help reduce your office back pain woes.
If you’re just tired of being tired and uncomfortable at your desk, but you’re unsure of what the best solution is for you, a physical therapist can help you come up with exercises, stretches and strategies to take away those creeks and cramps at your desk.