The low down on sit-stand desks


Sit to stand desks have become extremely popular recently and we get asked a lot about them. The most common question being, is sitting or standing better?

So technology and design stepped in to save the day and the “sit to stand” desk evolved.

It’s the new trend in many workplaces and it offers a great alternative to constant sitting, but why are we still getting calls from workplaces with people still suffering with headaches, neck pain, back pain and lower limb problems?

Whilst sit to stand desks are a great concept – they aren’t perfect and like any piece of equipment, they must be used correctly. So here are our tips on how to get the most out of your sit to stand desks:
1. This is not a “one size fits all” approach. If you are going to use this type of desk, you need to be open and understand that this is not the complete answer. You also need to be educated on how to use your desk and have it fitted to your particular height by someone trained in ergonomics – it is very difficult to do this assessment yourself. Physiotherapists are great at this and we often find ourselves doing workplace training to help integrate new desks. Its not just the desk that needs to fit you, you need to know how you can fit the desk too.

2. Do NOT sit OR stand all day. The whole problem with desks is the static and sedentary postures that are adopted. From a musculoskeletal point of view, standing is no better than sitting, its just different. It’s the bit in between, the ‘different’ bit that’s the best. The movement from sitting to standing, the movement from standing to sitting; the transitional movement that’s THE BEST. Therefore, you must sit and you must stand, and then you must make sure you change position frequently. We advise standing for a max of 1-2 hours, after 2 hours the body shows signs and symptoms of tiredness which can bring about injury. Sitting is less and we advise sitting for 30 mins, before having a movement break or changing positions. These timings have been researched, and are clinically reasoned.

3. Use an anti-fatigue mat made for sit to stand desks. Floors are hard and harsh for standing, particularly cement or tile floors (even if they have a thin layer of carpet on top). These cushioned mats engage muscles, supports the lower limbs, help to distribute weight and some are even made to use as a stretching tool for calf stretches. These are a great accessory for standing desks.

4. Fidgeting and micro movements are a good thing: The best thing you can do is MOVE. Even with the perfect posture problems occur because of staying still, so move. Fidgeting is a sure sign that you need to take a movement break. Here are a few excellent ways to increase the movement in your day:
• Standing to take a phone call
• Walking to talk to your colleague instead of using the internal email
• Keep refiling your water bottle (fantastic to help maintain hydration levels too!)
• Print your documents out at the furthest printer so you have to walk there
• Eat your lunch away from your desk and walk during your lunch break
• Start walking meetings with your colleagues.

Your body has good signals to tell you its ready to move so listen to it.

5. Be posture aware: Great posture needs education, time, and practise. You must also be aware of how to change your posture when you change your position. If you are unsure of what constitutes “good posture” for you a Physiotherapist can help you, they can educate you and physically correct your postures so you get the best position for you. Even better, a Physiotherapist can do this at your desk (an Ergonomic Assessment), so you get the right posture in your workplace. We strongly recommend this for anyone suffering from headaches, neck pain, arm pain, back pain or any other discomfort that is exacerbated by desk work. We can do this, so ask for further information on how this can work for your workplace.

6. Be active, be strong and healthy. Movement can offset the effects of sitting ……so just get moving. There are a lot of different types of exercise that can be of benefit, but again everybody is different so choose something that works for you. Consider including strength based activity and cardiovascular activity that helps your mobility. Ensure that it is something that suits your current level of fitness (don’t attempt a 5km run if you can’t run across the road). Given the stressful nature of some of our work environments and life in general, exercise that involves breathing and the concept of mindfulness can help both the mind and body and have huge effects on productivity. Make sure you choose you find fun and you are interested in so you stay consistent. Also, be aware of being healthy with food choices. We want to eat to fuel and to make us feel good. That 3pm energy slump can affect our brains and postures so eat healthily to prevent this.

7. Get advice and help with an ergonomic assessment prior to spending big bucks (or asking your company to do so). These fancy desks cost. An assessment for a workplace before you think everyone needs one of these fancy desks is cost effective. This desk type is not for everybody and if inappropriately prescribed, can do more harm than good. If we, as Ergonomically trained Physiotherapists, don’t think they are for you, we can make great changes with ‘normal’ desks to make them work better.

If you need help with any of the points above, please feel free to contact Aushealth Physiotherapy for further information or to discuss an ergonomic assessment for your workplace or home office.