Standing desks - should you make the transition?

What you need to know to make the successful transition to a standing desk

by Sarah Meade, August 2021

Over the past two years we have had to adapt our kitchen table/bench/bed/couch to a home office and it has definitely had its pros and cons. Some of the pros to working from home are being able to get through a few loads of washing between work breaks, being more comfortable in our athleisure and even enjoying the extra few minutes of sleep instead of getting ready and commuting to the office. The cons have included missing that real life social interaction, losing a tonne of motivation and feeling really tight through our back, neck and shoulders from having a less than ideal workstation.

With the urgent criteria currently placed on health care, many of us are missing our regular tune ups from our osteopath and feeling much more tense for it. If only the tight shoulder blades and niggling lower back pain were considered essential!

While I have been checking in with patients throughout this lockdown, a few questions have commonly popped up.

‘’What do you think about a standing desk?’’
‘’How do I make my body feel better working from home?’’
‘’Do you think lockdown will get extended!?’’

I wish I had all the answers… but let me attempt to answer some of them.

Let’s unpack the standing desk

Starting with the pros

Research shows that a standing desk can reduce sedentary levels by up to 2 hours – which is fantastic. By being more active we are preventing the risk of developing conditions that are linked to a sedentary lifestyle; heart diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and the list goes on. A standing posture activates postural muscles which are not used when we sit down at a computer screen. Therefore, we can improve our posture and overall muscle health by reducing slouching and repetitive strain caused from being in the same position for too long. A short research study even found that workers using a standing desk experienced less stress at work than their sitting counterparts.

Although the benefits far outweigh the risks, there are a few points I encourage you to consider.

1. Posture is key

In busy work periods we forget about our posture whilst we pump through as much work as possible. This can still be troublesome while standing as many of us will have a tendency to lean through one side of our body which places our hips and lower back out of a neutral position. Putting more of our body weight through one side of the body can lead to repetitive strain and body aches – just as sitting can.

2. Transition between sitting and standing

Too much of a good thing can still be problematic. Just as prolonged sitting can be problematic, prolonged standing doesn’t come without its challenges – aching and swollen feet, postural strain, slumping through the spine. Our bodies are not designed to stay in one position for too long, so in the early days transitioning between sitting and standing can be the ideal balance. From then on, taking regular breaks is essential.

3. Consider retiring your ugg boots (while working)

Another factor I like to consider is footwear. If we are planning to be on our feet for half of the day, it’s time to wear more supportive shoes than our usual work flats or fashion heeled boots (or more recently – ugg boots). Although there is a valid viewpoint from barefoot minimalists when it comes to shoes, everyone working at a standing desk should take note of how the soles of your feet feel while standing still. Often the increase in pressure can be minimised by wearing a supportive shoe with sufficient cushioning, such as with a sneaker. Those with painful flat feet may benefit from wearing a shoe with a supportive arch. An obvious but notable point to make when considering footwear is wearing shoes that are the right size. Get professionally fitted (post lockdown) if need be – it could save you from painful blisters, arch pain, developing achilles and calf issues and more.

4. Take regular breaks

I love the idea of a standing desk. I recommend it and if you can make it work at home in lockdown, even better. My advice is the same whether it be a sitting desk, standing desk or all of the above.

  1. Break up posture every 45 minutes (at a minimum) with a quick stretch or exercise to reduce repetitive strain

  2. Consider appropriate desk ergonomics for your body height

  3. Take regular breaks to get up and walk around if working from a seated desk

  4. Take regular breaks to sit down if working from a standing desk

  5. Maintain good hydration levels for a healthy body and spine

Laura and I have spoken previously about desk ergonomics which you can find on the Agility Osteopathy Facebook page or Instagram.

And as for whether lockdown will be extended? Your guess is as good as mine. But what I do know is that we are here to answer your questions and help in any way we can in the meantime and we cannot wait to see you all on our return.

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