My take on stand-up desks

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (513 Words)

I think most people are now aware of how much damage sitting down for long periods does to the human body - aware doesn’t necessarily mean that they change their behaviour of course, until something starts going badly wrong (as it did for me a few years back).

Quite a few people recommend stand-up desks as a solution to this problem. I tried it myself in fact, firstly with a jury-rigged version, then after it seemed to help some I spent a bunch of money on both a desk and chair with a very high range of movement to accommodate both standing and sitting. It’s been just over a couple of years since my back problems started in earnest and I’ve actually concluded that (for me at least) stand-up desks don’t really help directly - the benefits are actually circumstantial, and unfortunately relatively short-lived.

Here’s why - when I first started using a stand-up desk, it was really uncomfortable. That required that I regularly took breaks to sit down (my feet hurt), or walk around and change position - this helped my back. But over time, here’s what happened - I got used to standing up for long periods, and as such I got ‘better’ at staying at the standing desk anyway. And all that happened is that I got yet more back problems, this time resulting from my back muscles locking up in a standing position rather than a sitting position. Not really progress.

The real key to avoiding back pain in my experience is not to stay in one position for too long. A standing desk may force that behaviour on you for a while, but the chances are that you’ll overcome it with time and just get locked in a different position (or maybe 2 positions if you alternate between standing and sitting). Sure, you could go for one of those treadmill desks, but IMO they’re a bit stupid. The thing is, the principle behind all these things is that our our bodies did not evolve to spend long periods sitting down - but they also didn’t evolve to spend long periods standing in one place, or walking on the spot, or alternating between 2 limited positions, either. In practice there was some walking, some crouching, some standing - all sorts. Variety of movement is what we were designed for, and while standing up may alleviate the problem for a while because the discomfort makes you move, it’s not a long-term solution IMO.

So really, keeping your back healthier is simple - keep moving around, take regular breaks, and try to avoid stress (this bunches up muscles, encourages unusual posture and suppresses the immune and natural recovery systems). Switching sitting for standing isn’t enough IMO, and can be quite misleading, implying you can still stay at your desk for the same number of hours and avoid back problems (win-win right?). I think most people would be better off saving their money and just learning to change their behaviour, building regular breaks / stretching / walking around into their day instead.