Can Sit Stand Desks Really Improve Workers' Well-Being?

In recent years the ‘sit-stand’ desk has become increasingly popular and every office that is worth its salt seems to be installing them. Is this a great idea? Do they help improve workers' well being? Will this banish long-term back problems or will it create new ones?

 Sit-Stand Desk

Sitting at your desk for hours at a time is starting to become a thing of the past. In many of the offices where we provide treatment, the employees have the choice to either sit or stand. After talking to some of them, I am finding that many of them are indeed now standing for longer periods, although some are still sitting. The ‘Sit-Stand’ desks aren't a new thing, the Scandinavians have been using them for years, but certainly we are seeing more of them now in the UK. Scary stories about Diabetes Type 2 and high fat content, increased BMI and high blood pressure are all affiliated with a sedentary life style, (otherwise known as ‘The Sitting Disease’) and have led to more and more companies providing the option to either sit or stand while working.

 Type Two Diabetes

So do these new desks help? According to research at the BMC ‘ …sit-stand workstations may have important ramifications for the prevention and reduction of cardio-metabolic risk in a large proportion of the working population.’ (Graves et al, 2015). And what about in terms of our musculoskeletal health? We know that sitting for hours at a time weakens your lower back, tightens muscles, limits hip rotation and causes back pain. However, if you stand for long periods this can also put pressure on the lumbar spine and we find ourselves leaning to one side, redistributing our weight, therefore shortening muscles and compromising our posture.  I see a lot of lumbar related problems in the people that come to me for help. It massively inhibits our normal daily activities causing frustration and pain, leading to other pathogens such as stress related illness. Therefore opting to only stand while working could be just as detrimental to our health as sitting. The sit-stand desks are definitely better for our wellbeing and long-term health but only if we use them properly - combining periods of sitting with stints on our feet rather than opting for either one or the other.

In much the same way as smoking in the workplace was eradicated due to the understanding of consequential health issues, perhaps now the days of sitting at desks are also numbered. Gradually we are evolving a healthier working environment and hopefully these new sit-stand desks will help to combat a 21st Century problem, but only if they are used correctly. As Guy Osmond (2014) points out ‘It is naïve to assume that the simple act of providing users with sit-stand desks will be the panacea for all posture issues, instantly eradicating the “Sitting Disease” and increasing productivity! The best advice would be to mix it up, ‘sit-stand’ exactly as the name suggests'.  


References:

Sitting for long periods is ‘bad for your health’. 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19910888 (2012). Accessed 4/10/2016

Fields, L. Do You Have Sitting Disease? (2005-2016).

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/do-you-have-sitting-disease#1. Accessed 4/10/2016

Pronk, NP, Katz, AS, Lowry, M and Rodmyre Payfer, J. Reducing Occupational Sitting Time and Improving Worker Health: The Take-a-Stand Project, 2011. (2012). Prev Chronic Dis 9:110323. Doi:   http://dx.doi.org/10.5888.pcd9.110323 . 

http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2012/11_0323.htm. Accessed 19/09/2016

Graves, LEF, Murphy, RC, Shepherd, SO, Cabot, J and Hopkins, ND. (2015). Evaluation of sit-stand workstations in an office setting: a randomised controlled trial. BMC 15: 1145. doi: 10.1186/s12889-015-2469-8/. Accessed 4/10/2016.

Osmond, G. Sit-Stand Desks: What’s all the fuss about? And why now? (Part 1 of 2). https://guyosmond.com/2014/07/07/sit-stand-desks-1/. Accessed 18/09/2016.