A Standing Desk Can Help Back Pain

Last week I wrote about my own writhing back pain issues and I gave some suggestions (which I use myself) for alleviating back pain from sitting all day.

After sharing my article with a few friends that I know who are struggling, I noticed a common pattern of questions that came up while enjoying a few beers -  

'are you saying we should be working standing up instead?'  'Mitesh, you will need to persuade me on the benefits of a standing desk. I can't spend all day working standing up!'

So in true light bulb fashion sparked the idea of a follow up post to help my friends and readers and here it is.

I hope it helps you, but first let me remind you of the issues related to sitting too much and set the scene before I talk about how you could start working standing up...

Us humans are moving our bodies less and less each day and we spend so much more time staring at screens. What’s the result? Agonizing back pain, bad moods and fat bellies.

My research found that experts agree that ‘sitting is the new smoking’ due to the long list of hazardous side effects caused from sitting for a really long time. Sitting in one position for longer than 30 minutes each day is really harmful to your body and these same studies have shown it can even shorten your life!

The average human (that's you and me) sits for 12 – 15 hours per day. This is not what our body is designed for.

Our body needs movement in order to be healthy, we should be climbing gigantic trees, dodging hungry lions or hunting for our food (according to the primal folk).

Staying in one idle position (usually staring at a computer screen) for hours at a time has devastating side effects for your body and your immune system.

But check this out -  what's even more interesting is that, human movement scientists no longer believe that sitting upright for extended periods is the cure to back pain either. So good posture isn't going to cut it either!

Instead, dynamic changes in your body position are what is needed. Changes in the geometry of your spine every 30 – 45 minutes is extremely beneficial for preventing back problems.

5 Benefits Of Using A Standing Desk

Standing work desks are now becoming more popular that most office furniture companies now manufacture a range of standing work desks. Increasing numbers of corporate offices and people who work from home (like me) are turning to standing while they work and the results are worth the try:

Improved concentration and productivity

Standing promotes awareness and improves your ability to concentrate for longer periods especially if you have a desk-bound job. Large companies such as Google and Facebook include standing work-desks in all their new office designs. A recent study concluded that school children using standing work-desks showed positive results on their overall learning and concentration. I can relate to this on a personal level while I stand writing this!

Reduces overall stress on your body

Strain of your neck joints, compression of your lumbar spine and tension in your shoulders all stem from long periods of sitting. Adopting a standing set up when you work reduces the chronic stress and strain on these areas of your body.

Lowers your risk of obesity and weight gain

Standing burns ten times the number of calories as compared to sitting. That doesn’t mean you can have 2 extra donuts at lunchtime. BUT when compared to an afternoon of seated work, the equivalent amount of time spent standing can burn an extra 180 calories per day. When you become a seasoned “stander” at the office you can burn up to 1000 calories per week from your new audacious habit (this might allow you one extra donut per week).

Happy healthy heart

Not only will you burn calories while standing but you will also be looking after your heart health. Prolonged periods of sitting increases your risk of heart disease by up to 147%. I started by spending just 30 minutes per day standing and slowly  increased the duration of my standing each day. After just a month I spend at least half my day standing and working instead of sitting and working. My heart loves me for my new lifestyle choice. Granted it's easier for me to do this when I work from home, but hey, it's worth considering and asking your boss (if you don't ask you don't get).

Reduces back pain while also improving your mood and energy levels

Lower back pain and neck stiffness are the result of sitting for too long. Four out of five adults will experience significant lower back pain during their lives, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Standing while working relieves pressure off your lumbar spine and allows your neck to function in a relaxed position. When pain disappears and tension is released, your mood and energy levels will immediately lift. You wont be a grumpy frumpy any longer. Your days pain free days are about to begin.

What type of standing work-station is best?

So the message is loud and clear, sitting all day is detrimental to your health, I hope I have drove that message home to you my fellow friends and readers! If you are desk-bound at your day-job, the best solution to maintaining a healthy spine is to keep moving and varying your work position.

If you are slowly being sold on this new way of working, let me help you further by saying that an adjustable standing desk is the ideal office companion that allows versatility and flexibility depending on how you are feeling. With this type of desk, you can control the height simply by pressing a button and the desk will increase or decrease in height to suit your needs. Though a little expensive, if you work from home this is a great INVESTMENT in your spine for replacing your existing desk.

What to look out for on Standing Desks

Standing work desks can sometimes become unstable and wobble when raised to their full height. Choose a standing workstation that is designed with an ample floor support framework that provides stability for the desk.

If you are unable to replace your fixed-height desk with an adjustable one, you may at least be able to persuade your boss to let you add a conversion device to your existing desk, which is the next best option.

What to do if you have a laptop

Laptops are not well designed for human bodies. They are sexy and look great (especially retina macbooks, o I do love a good retina macbook! can you tell???), but they don’t do much for the functioning of your necks and backs.

The screen is too close to the keyboard and not at eye level. When working on a laptop (I hope you are using a retina macbook!) either your hands are in an uncomfortable position or your neck becomes strained.

If you only have the option to work on a laptop, raise the screen to eye level and use a separate keyboard and mouse. Correcting your laptop setup is really important for preventing neck and wrist problems later on.

For the retina macbook (did I mention I love them by the way?) I highly recommend the mStand by Rain Design, it really is a work of art, as you can see below, isn't she great!

Still unsure? 

Feeling skeptical about this leap into the unknown world of standing? It’s then best to experiment with a home DIY standing desk. Stacking books on the kitchen counter with your laptop perched on top is a perfect starting point if you’re looking to experiment with standing while you work.

Me Personally? I opted for an innovative solution which converts my dining table into an office desk, which kills 2 birds with 1 stone (No Birds were Harmed In The Last Sentence).

This handy child desk (from ikea) which my son has outgrown also converts your existing fixed height desk into a standing desk solution, clever hey :)

Standing while you work will take some getting used to (trust me). Initially you will feel tired after a short period of time, but your body will adapt and get stronger.

Eventually you will be able to stand for longer stretches of time (it took me approximately 30 days to start starting for at least half of my work day).

I recommend you use a soft pad to stand on and wear comfortable trainers when you first start standing for longer than 30 minutes.

The single most important point to remember when choosing your standing desk is getting the ergonomics of your positioning correct from day 1. Standing incorrectly while working can be equally damaging to your back.

Get the right setup, transition to standing slowly, keep your body moving and you too will soon feel the benefits of a standing desk

I hope these tips have been useful to you. I now spend at least 50% less time sitting when working and my back feels totally awesome.

Good luck and look out for the third part in this blog series where I will talk about stretches and strengthening exercises that will turn you into a super hero!

Back to blog