5 Reasons NOT to use a Standing Desk (to Excess)

Here at 9 to 5 Ergonomics, we try to explore topics of ergonomic health with an open mind.  Personally, I feel that ergonomic devices tend to follow fads which are, at times, justified with dubious claims and a lack of scientific evidence.  I am an engineer by training and a skeptic at heart.  So, naturally, when the standing desk craze of 2010 came around, I was inclined to give it a try with an eye towards the scientific evidence.  “Show me the money,” as Jerry McGuire would say.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the reasons you should use a standing desk.  I do continue to believe that standing desks, when used properly, can provide a number of health benefits, and are an important tool in the ergonomic arsenal.  However, I am also wary of those who claim standing desks are “the” answer.

Fundamentally, healthy ergonomics is about avoiding repetitive patterns.  It’s about varying your posture and work setting so as to minimize strain.  Therefore, spending all your time at a standing desk is not a solution in itself.  It is, in fact, only marginally better that sitting all day, if at all.  So what happens if you use an standing desk improperly?  Catchy title aside, here are 5 reasons NOT to use a standing desk (to excess.)

Cardiovascular Problems

While it has been shown that standing at work can improve circulation, it can also pose a problem for those who might be prone to certain types of cardiovascular problems.  According to one study at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, standing for long periods of time increases the progression of carotid atherosclerosis for men with ischemic heart disease.  Essentially, standing for long periods of time appears to puts additional load on the circulatory system, which in turn can harden the arteries that lead to the heart.

According to another study at Cornell University, standing for long periods of time is linked to an increased likelihood of developing varicose veins.  Roughly 1 in 5 cases of varicose veins are attributable to standing at work.

Fatigue

Standing just makes you more tired.  Empirically, I happen to be writing this after a long day at work where I spent several hours at my standing desk.  I am tired.  Likely more tired than I would have been if I had just bummed around all day on the couch.

There is significant evidence to back this up as well.  Standing requires roughly 20% more energy than standing.  That’s great if you’re looking to burn calories, but not so good if you are already feeling a bit lethargic.

Foot Pain

Standing for long periods of time can also take its toll on more specific areas of the body, namely the feet and joints.  The plantar fascia is the ligament that connects the toes to the heel.  After standing for long periods of time, it can become inflamed, resulting in a condition known as plantar fasciitis.

PF-PlantarDesignCrop

In short, that pain in your feet at the end of the day can just be normal strain, or it can become a more serious condition.  That is why when I am using my standing desk, I try to take breaks that take the weight off my feet.  In addition, you might consider the use of an anti-fatigue mat to help alleviate strain.

Joint Pain

While I couldn’t find any definitive evidence tying standing to arthritis, it stands to reason that there may be a causal link.  The Arthritis Foundation recommends avoiding standing or sitting for long periods of time.  In addition, it goes without saying that if you already suffer from a joint injury or arthritis, standing for long periods of time is not a good idea and will aggravate the condition.

In my own experience, standing too long tends to make my knees sore.  I’ve also found that by moving around slightly, perhaps avoiding locking the knees for a few minutes, can help alleviate some of this pain.

Poor Posture

This might seem counter-intuitive, but standing can actually hinder your posture.  How?

Well, if you use a standing desk for long periods of time without building up sufficient muscular strength to maintain proper posture, it is likely that you may begin to slouch.  At that point, standing at work is likely causing more problems than it solves.

That is why it is important to observe proper standing posture while working at a standing desk.  In general, it takes time to acclimate to standing for longer periods of time.  Don’t jump right into it if you are just beginning.  Instead, begin with just a few minutes standing and work your way up to longer periods of time once your core strength and musculature adapt

Conclusion

Like many things in life, standing in moderation is a good thing.  However, we must be careful not to overdo it.  Certainly if you begin to feel muscular strain, pain in your feet or begin to slouch, it’s time to take a break.  Standing desks are a powerful tool in the ergonomic arsenal.  But take it easy, especially at first!

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