Are standing desks good for your back? Can using a standing desk cure you of your back pain?
Standing desks have become trendy among office workers, working from home or from a traditional office, who spend most of their day sitting down. But do these desks really help with back problems? And how does a standing desk work?
For this article I did a ton of research, investigated what the experts have to say on the subject, and also relied on my own personal experience as a long time user of a standing desk.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding standing desks, so what’s the truth? Can standing desks fix back pain? Is it better to stand while you work? What happens if you stand too much?
The good news is that a height-adjustable desk, when set to the appropriate height, helps offset some serious health risks and to improve your posture and puts less stress on your neck and lower back which can help alleviate back pain. The best solution is an adjustable sit-stand workstation to get the maximum benefit.
You’ve probably heard it said that “sitting is the new smoking.”
Have you ever thought about how about the amount of time you spend just sitting at a desk?
There are several advantages to using a standing desk, and helping out with back pain is a major one.
It doesn’t matter It doesn’t matter what type of standing desk it is either – whether you’re using a desk converter for a standard desk, our you have a standing desk made with a real wood top that’s super fancy.
Sitting too long is bad for you.
According to Carlos Bagley, M.D. Neurological Surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center, “initial data suggest there are advantages to standing during the workday rather than just sitting.”1 Dr. Bagley goes on to point out that “Using a standing desk and moving more throughout the day has been shown to improve back pain.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four American adults sits for longer than eight hours every day. And guess what, these stats are pre-COVID.
Sitting all day long seems to be a natural activity but the people at Barrington Orthopedic Specialists say that sitting for extended periods can cause strain and pressure on the muscles in your back, neck, hips and bottom.
But is there any better alternative to a traditional sitting desk? Instead of slouching behind your sitting desk and possibly hurting your back, why not go for a standing desk?
Everything remains the same except you do your work while standing instead of sitting.
But, are standing desks good for your back?
The majority of the studies suggest that sitting is no doubt extremely harmful to you in the long run as it can cause severe back issues, increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and obesity.
But standing desks alone cannot help you. Believe it or not, some serious health problems can actually arise from standing too much.
Let’s plunge into the “standing desks” rabbit hole and break down the enigma.
Why Should I Sit Less?
Sitting all day staring at a computer screen and doing this for the rest of your life doesn’t sound attractive or healthy in any way.
And it’s not just my opinion.
Spine Health Institute says that sitting for 6+ hours a day makes you 40% likelier to die within 15 years of someone who sits less than 3.
Let that sink in.
Suppose you are an accountant, legal assistant, software engineer, or anyone who has a desk job. You are 2x more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than someone who has a standing job.
It’s not just that.
Sitting puts 40% more pressure on your spine than standing. And if you are a lazy worker who slouches and generally have a poor posture, the pressure increase even more.
It can also lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, neck pain, stroke, colon cancer, anxiety, sleep apnea, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, bad posture, varicose veins, and other ailments.
Annals of Internal Medicine found that sitting for long periods of time each day contributes to an increased risk of death.
This is exactly why you should sit less.
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing points out that “potential health benefits of a standing desk are assumed based on the finding that long hours of sitting are linked with a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer (especially cancers of the colon or breast), [and/or] premature death.”2
Are Standing Desks Good For Your Back?
Standing is easy to get wrong.
Sounds kind of weird, right?
Journal of Physical Activity and Health found out that sitting burns 80 calories/hour and standing 88 calories/hour.
In other words, if you use an adjustable standing desk for 8 hours, you only burn an extra 64 calories.
But you really can’t stand for 8 hours straight – height adjustable desks come with problems of their own.
Jack Callaghan, a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology, conducted a controlled experiment on how standing for prolonged time affects the back.
50% of participants developed low back pain when asked to use a standing desk for two consecutive hours.
And everyone has different standing tolerance.
So, if standing and sitting both are bad for the back, what should you do?
What about a treadmill desk?
Exerpeutic 5000 ExerWork 20″ Wide Belt Desk Treadmill
- 325 lbs. user weight capacity. Extended treadmill belt size of 46″ L x 20″ W provides extra space for walking. This product ships in two boxes and might arrive seperately in a few days apart.
- Large desktop size of 46.5″ L x 24″ W. Air piston assisted single lever desktop height adjustment range 39”-52.5” measuring from the treadmill deck
You have probably heard, “excess of everything is bad.”
There’s a sweet spot between standing and sitting that really helps you deal with back problems.
And a bit of exercise, of course.
The bottom line is, standing alone cannot help you with your back problems.
What are the benefits of standing desks?
The next big question.
Are there any actual benefits of standing desks?
Yes and No.
Yes, in the sense that a standing desk gives you an option to “stand.”
If you hunch over or hyper-arch your lower back while sitting all day long, there is an increased load on the lower back and neck.
But, if you stand for a while, the stress on your lower back decreases significantly. It engages your back, core and leg muscles, resultantly contributing to a better posture.
The prime reason is that your computer’s screen is always at the level of your eyes. You don’t have to look down or slouch.
In addition, there is limited evidence to suggest that standing is a healthier alternative to sitting. Here are some benefits of standing desks based on retrospective studies:
- Lowers blood sugar levels and risk of heart disease
- Lowers risk of weight gain and obesity
- Reduce back pain (more of a preventive measure)
- May improve mood and productivity
- Helps You Live Longer
Due to the lack of quality research, the real health impact of a standing desk is not certain.
On the other hand, standing desks alone are not enough.
Standing for prolonged periods of time can, in fact, contribute to lower back pain. Viggiani, who co-authored with Jack Callaghan, says, “some people stand with their back a bit more curved, that drastically decreases their standing tolerance.”
The solution? An adjustable sit-stand desk.
A desk that has height adjustment and allows you to sit and stand whenever you want.
That’s the one that I use, and it’s the type of desk that I’m using as I create this post, while standing!
But here’s the kicker:
What is the ideal sit-stand ratio? How long should you stand at a standing desk?
Jack Callaghan suggests that you should be standing for at least 30 minutes per hour to get health benefits. The ideal sit-stand ratio lies somewhere between 1:1 and 1:3.
And remember, you cannot suddenly go from sitting all day to standing all day. Harvard Health Publishing suggests starting with 30 to 60 minutes a day and gradually increasing it.
In summary, you have to keep changing positions after regular intervals or move regularly. This will help you prevent back pain and help develop good posture but cannot cure serious back problems.
Standing vs. Sitting – What’s Best for Your Health?
|Feature||Sitting Desk||Standing Desk|
|Adjustable Height||☑ Fixed||☑ Adjustable|
|Reduce Back Pain||ⓧ||☑ (Source)|
|Sore Feet||ⓧ||☑ (Standing In One Spot)|
|Cure For Back Pain||ⓧ||ⓧ|
|Lower Blood Sugar Levels||ⓧ||☑ (Source)|
|Improve Mood and Energy||ⓧ||☑ (Source)|
Most of the studies on standing desks are retrospective studies, meaning they demonstrate correlation, not causation.
One study suggests that standing desks help with back pain and increase productivity, while another study suggests the opposite.
Many of the benefits of standing desks are just assumed based on the negative detriments of prolonged sitting.
The core health benefit of a standing desk is that it helps you break the sedentary lifestyle. But this is an incredibly simple solution to just stand instead of sitting. Is it an alternative to an exercise session? A big NO!
In 2018, Cardell and colleagues demonstrated that prolonged standing increases lower limb arterial stiffness. Any sort of inactivity, whether standing or sitting, is just bad for health.
There’s another type of desk called the treadmill desk. You can walk while working, simple as that. Treadmill desks have become increasingly popular over the past few years.
A systematic review of standing and treadmill desks in the workplace by Brittany T MacEwen and colleagues concluded that there was not enough evidence to evaluate the utility of these two desks, but treadmill desks demonstrated the greatest improvement in physiological outcomes, including postprandial glucose, HDL cholesterol, and anthropometrics.
How do I adjust my standing desk?
An adjustable sit-stand workstation alone will not be enough to improve the overall ergonomics.
Your posture while standing, the height of the desk, positioning of your computer screen—everything matters.
The desk height should be such that your head, neck, and spine are aligned. The table height should be at or slightly below elbow height. This means that your elbows should be in a 90-degree position from the floor.
Healthline recommends that your face should be 20–28 inches (51–71 cm) far from the screen. A small 10°-20° screen tilt ensures everything is at eye level.
You can also use arm supports to reduce the risk of developing neck and shoulder problems.
Should you wear shoes with a standing desk?
Standing too long will make your feet hurt. Just think about that last family trip to Disney and how bad your feet hurt after being on them all day.
If you’re going to use an adjustable-height desk it’s vital that you get good comfortable shoes to wear while using it.
You can wear supportive shoes or use an anti-fatigue cushioned mat. These anti-fatigue mats improve blood flow and reduce foot pain.
I personally wear a comfy pair of Crocs and a cushioned mat at the same time.
If going barefoot using an anti-fatigue mat won’t work for you in your situation then it’s time to get the right shoes to use while standing at your desk.
If you’re in the office you may need something more formal, just make sure they’re high-quality and supportive.
If you’re working from home, you can use running shoes, or Crocs to stand while working. I use both. Along with Birkenstocks.
All three of those choices are great options for working from home at a standing desk.
Is a standing desk right for you?
There are advantages and side effects of every new invention.
As discussed in detail, standing alone is just part of the problem. If you don’t vary standing with walking and sitting, there is no real energy expenditure.
Standing desks are just a preventive measure when it comes to back pain. You can go with a sit-stand desk to improve the overall ergonomics, but if you don’t allow your body to stretch and move frequently, you are bound to have back pain.
Need more info? Check out my article on Do you need an anti-fatigue mat for a standing desk?
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