Do I Need A Sit-Stand Workstation?
Our staff at MoveSafe are frequently asked our opinion on “standing desks”. In this article we provide education and clarification around some common misconceptions about these types of desks and highlight the pros and cons of different styles of height adjustable workstations.
Is sitting the new smoking?
No. Ask any hairdresser, pharmacist, or grocery store cashier, standing to work all day is hard on your body! Static standing has been known to have some of the same detrimental health effects as static sitting. It may cause lower back pain and can be fatiguing on the joints and muscles of the ankles, knees and hips. Static standing may reduce circulation, which may cause swelling in the legs and possibly varicose veins or deep vein thrombosis. There have also been negative cardiovascular effects found with prolonged standing.
What your body wants, and needs, is to move! We always coach individuals on the need to get up throughout the workday and take Movement Breaks. Our MoveSafe programs focus on exercises that refresh your body and “unwind” some of the common seated postures we see in office workers, such as rounded shoulders and head forward posture.
You also need a good ergonomic set-up for your workstation. Use our free workstation set-up guides for both seated and standing work to help you. Our Virtual Assessment can also help! The evaluation takes about 45 minutes and is conducted via video conferencing, following a review of still photographs by one of our MoveSafe Consultants.
Lastly, you have to sit with good ‘Big 3’ posture. Sitting with ‘Big 3’ posture means your hips are positioned all the way to the back of your chair, your shoulders are anchored against the backrest and you hinge forward at the hips, when reaching or getting in and out of your chair.
I have discomfort, so a standing workstation will help?
This is not necessarily the case. Sit-stand workstations are not the panacea for all discomfort, they are typically helpful for discogenic back pain and chronic SI joint issues; however, we have also seen cases where there is an increase in neck and upper extremity discomfort while using sit-stand workstations.
Often the sit-stand workstation works great when the individual is working from standing, however falls short of a good ergonomic set-up for sitting. Because most individuals will spend approximately 75% of their workday sitting, it is imperative that the seated workstation is ergonomically sound. We have even on occasion recommended the removal of an aftermarket sit-stand workstation as it has caused more discomfort than the intended benefit.
Will standing help keep me awake in the afternoon?
When we ask individuals how they use their sit-stand workstations they often say they will sit for the morning and stand in the afternoon because they believe it helps stave off the after lunch fatigue. There may be some truth to this, as it is more difficult to doze off on your feet, but remember as noted earlier, static standing may be fatiguing on the body and can have negative health effects as well. Instead, what we recommend to those using sit-stand workstations, is to change positions frequently. Alternate between sitting and standing, ideally every hour and incorporate a short Movement Break as you transition between the two postures. This change in posture and increase in movement each hour encourages blood flow which can elevate energy levels.
Should I have a mat to stand on?
Anti-fatigue mats are intended for individuals standing statically for 8 hours a day and are designed to provide a slightly unstable platform, encouraging small movements in the lower body to increase blood flow. For individuals working in an office, anti fatigue mats can impact the ease with which you can move around your workstation, as office chairs will not roll over a typical anti-fatigue mat. Alternately, you have to bend over each time you sit down to move your mat out of the way, which can be a risk for lower back discomfort if you do not use proper bending mechanics. A better solution is to wear comfortable rubber soled shoes which offer some foot support when standing. We recommend standing for short stints, frequently throughout the workday and listening to your body when it tells you it is time to sit down!
What type of sit-stand workstation would work best for me?
There are an abundance of sit-stand workstations on the market, but you can basically break them down into 4 styles:
Aftermarket, sit on top: This type of unit comes out of the box, is placed on the desk and is ready to use, no assembly required. Typically these units do not have a keyboard tray that drops down below the existing work surface, but some newer models do.
Pro: No assembly required.
Con: Placement of this type of unit onto the existing desk further raises the keyboard and mouse, which may result in excessive shoulder elevation and awkward wrist posture for the user, especially those more petite individuals. The monitor platform may limit the ability for the user to position their screen at an optimal height which can lead to awkward neck postures. These units can be heavy and awkward to lift which may aggravate existing shoulder and back discomfort in some individuals.
Aftermarket, clamps on the desk: This type of unit either attaches to the front or the back of the desk, and adjusts on either an arm mechanism (as shown) or a post.
Pro: Can come with a dropdown keyboard tray, or not. Easily moves between sitting and standing owing to a counter-balance mechanism.
Con: Requires assembly and often professional installation. Monitor position is fixed and lacks adjustability and may result in awkward neck postures for some individuals. May feel less stable due to the suspended nature of the unit. These units are typically quite large and difficult to move out of the way for alternate tasks such as paperwork or face-to-face meetings.
When purchasing aftermarket sit-stand workstations, as a basic rule of thumb, shorter individuals (<5’ 9”) will require a dropdown keyboard tray to allow for proper ergonomic positioning, especially when sitting. Taller individuals (>5’ 10”) should opt for the version without a drop down tray, to allow for a higher standing position.
Adjustable Height Desk, with a manual hand crank mechanism: This type of desk is fully height adjustable however it requires the user to manually crank the desk to the appropriate height.
Pro: The entire desk moves up and down, therefore all office accessories such as paperwork and phones can easily be used at both sitting and standing heights. These are a more budget conscious product than a fully electric model.
Con: The manual crank option can pose risk to an individual with a pre-existing issue and can be a barrier to alternating frequently between sitting and standing throughout the workday. Requires removal of existing office furniture including overhead cabinets, which can further add to the cost.
Electronic Height Adjustable Desk: With this type of unit you only need to push a button and the desk raises from sitting to standing. Many models allow you to program the settings for your specific sitting and standing heights.
Pro: This would be considered the gold standard of sit-stand workstations. No manual effort is needed to adjust between sitting and standing. Having pre-set heights makes it easy to alternate between positions frequently.
Con: This option has the most expensive purchase price. It also requires removal of existing office furniture including overhead cabinets, which can further add to the cost.
Differing makes and models of adjustable height desks will come in a variety of height ranges. It is imperative to ensure the appropriate height range is obtained for the end user. Sitting height can vary between 22-29” and standing height ranges between 42-50”. Shorter users will need to ensure they have a desk which lowers to provide a sound ergonomic position when seated and taller users need to ensure the desk raises high enough to accommodate their standing height. To determine your appropriate height range, you need to measure your seated elbow height as well as your standing elbow height.
MoveSafe believes that although standing desks can be beneficial they are not required for most people. What is more important is remembering to take frequent Movement Breaks throughout the workday and sit with good ergonomic posture.
If you are considering a purchase of a new sit-stand workstation, you need to do some homework into which model(s) will work well for your situation. MoveSafe is happy to consult on purchase options for larger offices, as well as provide information on use following implementation.
We are also happy to provide information regarding sit-stand workstations during our Virtual Assessments.