Pros & Cons Of Standing At Work
Research on standing at work has been relatively short-term (usually over one to two weeks) and the health benefits are seen when standing is kept to a maximum of two hours daily. Some studies show sit/stand workstations improve low back symptoms. There are also short-term gains for health and productivity.
Benefits of Standing at Work
- better blood sugar levels
- improved cholesterol levels
- reduced stress hormones
Large-scale research on sit-stand workstations is not particularly compelling: there may be a perceived improvement in comfort and no apparent loss of productivity.
Health Risks To Standing at Work
Medical research has reported important health risks when people stand and walk at work
- Jobs that require standing and walking have twice the risk of a cardiac event compared to sitting occupations (Smith)
- Increasing the effort to stand at work can raise the risk of existing heart disease three to nine times (Krause)
- People who stand and walk most of the work day have twice the likelihood to be hospitalized for varicose veins (Tuchsen).
People Don’t Want To Stand
Long-term studies show that most people tend not to stand after the first year:
- 60% of people stand less than once a month, and less than one in ten adjusts their table daily (Wilks)
- Even for the short-term, people usually choose not to stand (Robertson)
- Only 10-20% of people choose to use a sit-stand workstation (Gilson)
- People with sit-stand workstations stand less than 5% of the day (Straker)
Standing workstations can be a pain
Some standing workstations may improve low back symptoms (Ognibene), but increase the risk of problems at the neck, arm and hand. Some sit-stand designs support the arm only with a keyboard tray, and many computer users frequently look to the keyboard. Pain symptoms and disorders in the neck arm and hand are common with adjustable keyboard trays. Forearm support that has a deeper and more stable surface to rest the weight of the arm been shown to resolve these symptoms (Marcus, Gerr, Rempel).
Lastly, standing keyboard trays may cause problems! Although there is a more natural low back posture, the body works harder to stand. People who look at the keyboard will have increased neck bending. There is contact pressure at the base of the wrist (carpal tunnel) to rest the weight of the arm. Additionally, there is additional reach distance needed to get to work products on the desk.
Those most at risk may not be able to stand
The people with orthopedic or musculoskeletal problems usually have weakness in the postural muscles (Burnett 2009, Freeman, Hides) which is aggravated by slumped sitting (Little, O’Sullivan, Twomey), and people with ongoing musculoskeletal symptoms may not be able to tolerate standing workstations. Increasing the movement, and subsequently the strength of the postural muscle while sitting at work has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms in these people with musculoskeletal disorders.
When we really understand when and why sitting is a problem, standing workstations might not be the best solution. The health risks attributed to sitting are directly related to leisure sitting, and there is no clear associated disease risk from sitting at work. Low back discomfort from sitting badly is the most direct cause of the problem. If we can avoid the pain from sitting badly, we do not add the additional cost, health risks and fatigue that arise from standing.