A new approach to the standard desk is the sit/stand work station. It not only allows for people to have a tremendous variety in their day by sitting or standing, it also allows people with chronic back pain to have an alternative seating position which places far less strain on their back. These types of desks are also beneficial in that they adjust to any body type. It doesn’t matter how short or tall you are because these desks will adjust to you, instead of you needing to adjust to them. They even allow wheelchair users to be able fit their chair underneath their desk. The caveat is the price. These desks don’t come cheap, but just as you invest $1000.00 and upwards in a bed where you spend eight hours a day, it also makes sense to approach a desk with the same philosophy.
Even if you don’t have a chronic back problem, changing your working position regularly helps in the prevention of both neck and back problems. If you have an existing back problem, then standing at a high desk for parts of your day rather than sitting can offer great relief and help the recovery process when back problems occurs. These types of desks work very well with saddle seating which allows you to sit, but takes most of the strain off of your lower back. For more on this read my article Workstation Seating and Your Spine- A New Paradigm.
Most sit/stand desks have electric height adjustment which means that you can raise and lower your height easily allowing for variety in your day. Another area where this type of desk shines is when one is returning to work after an injury or surgery. In these situations where one cannot sit still for long periods of time the desk allows for adjustment at any time during the day. Sit/stand desks also allow for shared use, where more than one person uses the desk (i.e. “Hotdesking” or shift-work environments). In these situations, unless you are within 3” of the height of your co-worker, it is unlikely that the setup of a workstation will be ergonomically ideal for both of you.
Alan Hedge, professor of design and environmental analysis in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell and director of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory conducted a study of 33 computer workers at two companies, a high-technology facility on the West Coast and an insurance company in the Midwest. All participants were intensive computer users and filled out questionnaires before the test period about their work patterns and musculoskeletal discomfort at work. At both companies, half the participants randomly received an Electric Height-Adjustable Work surface (EHAW) for a month and then both the control and EHAW groups were resurveyed.
“More than 80 percent of the participants preferred the EHAW,” Hedge said, “and the average musculoskeletal discomfort index score was 20 percent lower for the EHAW than the fixed-height stations.” Hedge noted that the EHAWs were particularly popular with those with neck and shoulder problems.
Other studies indicate the following benefits with sit/stand workstations:
- Results show significant decreases in the severity of musculoskeletal discomfort for most upper body regions.
- Alternating between sitting and standing at work benefits health and productivity.
- There is significantly less spinal shrinkage for office workers who stand for portions of the day.
- Body part discomfort decreases an average of 62 percent and the occurrence of injuries and illnesses decrease by more than half.
- Workers take shorter and fewer breaks when using sit to stand desks.
- A team of scientists at the University of Missouri found that the enzymes that are responsible for burning fat just shut down when we sit. Standing up while working helps to reduce weight.
As mentioned, another benefit of standing workstations is in battling obesity and a host of other illnesses. We have long known of the benefits of movement and an active lifestyle, yet we still continue to have workstations where we are seated. Scientists at the University of Missouri have found that the act of sitting seems to shut off the circulation of a fat-absorbing enzyme called lipase. There are other concerns about sitting for long periods. These are discussed in the following articles.