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Can a Standing Desk Cause Back Pain?

Can a Standing Desk Cause Back Pain?

We are big fans of standing desks. While there are plenty of ergonomic office chairs on the market to make sitting pleasant, sitting all day–regardless of the kind of chair you’re sitting in– isn’t good for you.

We know that sitting can cause back pain, but how about using a standing desk? Like with any technology or product, it can cause pain or injury if not used properly.

Here’s all you need to know about the correlation between back pain and standing desks, and what you can do to enjoy your standing desk in a healthy and productive manner.

Is a Standing Desk Bad for Your Back?

Woman with back pain

The short answer is…maybe. Standing desks can help or hurt back pain, depending on how often they’re used and how you’ve adjusted them.

The University of Waterloo conducted a study to determine the impact standing desks had on people’s back health. They took 40 adults (half women, half men) and had them use a standing desk for 2 hours. At the end of that time, 40 percent of the participants had lower back pain after standing for so long.

This may sound like conclusive evidence to some, but one of the first rules of standing desks is to ease into them gently. You can’t go from sitting eight hours a day to using a standing desk for two or three hours at a time. Your body needs to adjust to the sensation of standing.

However, the study did acknowledge that different people can manage to stand for different amounts of time. The biggest issue in the study wasn’t that they were all standing; it was that they were stagnant.

Standing desks move up and down easily for a reason. They are not supposed to exclusively be used all the way up.

One large issue with standing desks is that they don’t offer the lumbar support sitting in an ergonomic office chair does. For some individuals, particularly healthy and young ones, this may not be a problem.

How Sitting is Bad for Your Back

Woman has back pain during working time sitting on chair

Let’s talk about the real culprit–sitting. It is possible to sit comfortably and healthily, but only to a certain point. Many argue that sitting is an inherently damaging act for your back.

To start, it’s incredibly easy to slouch when seated. Whether you’re sliding into your chair to the point where you’re six inches lower than you should be or you’re hunched over your laptop, sitting wrong can cause chronic back pain.

Ergonomic chairs take care of some of this. The curve in well-built chairs supports your back and encourages you to sit correctly without too much thought.

Sitting also puts pressure on your sit bones and hips. Over time, this can cause serious damage. Your leg and glute muscles can also bear the brunt of your seating options and weaken or become sore over time.

Patient with sore hip joint

When you take a seat, your hip flexors shorten. This isn’t that big of a deal for an hour over two, but when you’re talking about eight hours of sitting daily, five times a week, it starts to add up.

Moving on from the back issues associated with sitting, staying in a chair all day long encourages weight gain, which comes with a wide range of its own problems. Standing isn’t as good as going for a walk or doing a few minutes of yoga, but it’s much better than being completely still in a chair.

We aren’t trying to demonize chairs; we just want to clarify that by saying standing desks can lead to some back issues if used improperly does not in any way mean that sitting is the better alternative.

Does a Standing Desk Reduce Back Pain?

Yes! A standing desk can absolutely reduce back pain!

Woman do light exercise while working at standing desk

Many people decide to invest in a standing desk because it’s so beneficial for reducing back pain. In fact, you can even get a doctor’s note for a standing desk if you talk to them about the issues you’re facing regarding your back and posture.

You might even get it covered by your insurance if you build a solid case as to why a standing desk is a medical necessity for you. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but it is possible.

Standing up takes the weight and pressure off your neck and lower back. You feel a lot lighter when on your feet since your hips are bearing the weight of your entire body in a chair.

One small study conducted in 2018 compared the back pain levels of participants when sitting versus when using a standing desk. They observed 27 adults and found a 50 percent decrease in back pain in those who used a standing desk. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean they were standing the entire time; they just had the option to.

How to Use a Standing Desk Properly? (to avoid back pain)

Now that we’ve gone over why standing desks can be beneficial and why sitting can be harmful, let’s delve into how to use a standing desk properly to avoid back pain.

There are a few factors to keep in mind while enjoying a standing desk.

Desk Height

Large Electric Height Adjustable Standing Desk

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The height of your desk can determine the quality of your posture and how well your back feels after working standing up.

Ideally, the desk should be the same height as your elbows. Bend your arms 90 degrees as if you were writing a (very important) email. That is the same height your desk should be.

If the desk is too low, you’ll end up bending over it the entire day. If it’s too high, you’ll strain your neck and back by looking up. Your eyes should be able to fall comfortably without turning up or down too much.

Having trouble adjusting the height of your desk? First, check that nothing is in its way and that it’s free to move. You can also reset the desk if you think a system error prevents the functions from working properly. Usually, this involves unplugging the desk for 30 seconds to a minute then lowering it as much as possible once you plug it back in.

If all that fails, you may need to consider if it’s time to switch out the motor. This might be a little complicated though, so only do it if you need to.

Computer Height

Suitable monitor height for eyes
You’ve got the height of the desk correct, but what about the height of your computer? Desktop computers are a little taller, but laptops are quite small and short. If your device is a little low, you can put a box or a few thick books under it to elevate it.

Think about where your eyes naturally fall when looking forward. That is where your screen should be. This is also important to avoid straining your eyes or putting unnecessary pressure on your neck.

Distance

Electric Standing Desks provide suitable distance between eyes and monitor

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The distance between you and the desk is important. If you’re too far away, you’ll end up bending over to reach everything. You don’t want to be too close, otherwise, the temptation to kneel over the desk might be irresistible.

Bend your elbows and bring your arms forward the same way you did to determine the height of your desk. No more than half of your arms should be resting on the desk. You only need enough to comfortably type, write, or carry out any of your tasks.

Time Spent Standing

Computer keyboard with clock on table

As previously mentioned, it’s important to ease into standing. It’s recommended that you only start with 30 to 60 minutes of standing the first week of using a standing desk.

Don’t be afraid to lower the desk and work seated. Be mindful of your body and how your legs and feet are feeling. This will help you avoid back pain or any other standing-related injuries.

Try not to stand for more than an hour at a time, especially when you’re new to the desk. Take your time, you’re in it for the long haul.

Standing Posture

a man using standing desk for office work

In other articles, we’ve spoken a lot about how to sit properly. But how are you supposed to stand properly?

To start, your feet need to be hip-length apart. This will help you ground your body and feel stable.

Your back should be straight, and you should be holding your head, neck, and shoulders up. Thinking about how you stand during proud moments, that’s how you should look at your standing desk!

Finally, your hips and knees should be supportive but generally relaxed. Go through your body and see if you’re holding any tension anywhere.

Support Your Feet

Standing Desk Anti-Fatigue Mat

Click the image for more info

Last, but certainly not least, you need to make sure your feet are well-supported. What kind of footwear are you wearing? What kind of floor are you standing on?

If there isn’t enough cushioning for your feet, you may end up with sore soles or legs. Shoes with thick soles or a thick, fluffy carpet can both help avoid unnecessary strain on your feet.

Conclusion

A standing desk can cause back pain, but that’s only going to happen if you don’t listen to your body and stand in an unhealthy position. There are a million ways to sit or stand incorrectly, but only a handful of ways to work in an ergonomically-correct posture.

Make sure your standing desk can move up and down smoothly, as that will make it easier to go from sitting to standing throughout the day.

Have you suffered back problems from using a standing desk? What did you end up doing to fix your problem? We’d love to know in the comments below!

Good luck!