Home Workers – Are Standing Desks the Cure for Back pain?

As the global workforce continues on what now looks like a slow and irreversible shift  toward remote work, the prevalence of back pain has become an even common concern. Prolonged sitting, a byproduct of sedentary work hours, has been linked to various health issues, including back pain. One option being pushed by many at the moment is the standing desk – however, they’re usually far from cheap (especially if adjustable), so, are standing desks worth it?


Standing desks

In case you’re not familiar, Standing desks, also known as stand-up desks, are a newer style of desk designed to provide users with the flexibility to work while standing. These desks are typically equipped with adjustable height settings, allowing individuals to switch between sitting and standing positions throughout their workday. The primary goal is to combat the negative effects of prolonged sitting, such as back pain and reduced circulation, by encouraging more movement and better ergonomics.

Sounds great – however the cost of standing desks can be a deterrent for many potential users. Several factors contribute to their often substantial price tags. Firstly, the engineering required for adjustable height mechanisms, ensuring smooth transitions and stability, adds to the manufacturing complexity. Additionally, high-quality materials, such as durable steel or sturdy wood, are often used to ensure the desk’s longevity considering it needs to be able to move frequently. Moreover, advanced features like electronic height adjustment, programmable memory settings, and cable management systems contribute to the overall cost. The again, perhaps manufactures are just cashing on the hype… lets take a look.


The Impact of Remote Work on Back Pain

There’s no question that the transition to remote work has brought about unprecedented flexibility but has also introduced challenges, one of which is the increased risk of back pain. The convenience of working from home often leads individuals to spend extended hours in front of screens, sitting in less-than-ideal ergonomic setups – in addition, whereas employers were starting to be held responsible for their employee’s spinal health, work from home usually shifts this responsibility back onto users. The result is often a sedentary lifestyle which can contribute to the development or exacerbation of back pain, as prolonged sitting puts additional stress on the spine and surrounding muscles.


Pros of Standing Desks for Back Pain

There’s no question that in some ways standing desks can make a difference – from the point of view of a chiropractor, we can certainly see they could help with –

Improved Posture

Ultimately, too much time spent sitting is an issue. One of the primary benefits of standing desks is therefore the potential improvement in posture. While sitting for extended periods can lead to slouching and poor spinal alignment, standing encourages a more upright posture. This shift in body positioning can relieve stress on the spine and contribute to better overall musculoskeletal health.

Reduced Compression on Spine

Prolonged sitting compresses the intervertebral discs, leading to increased pressure on the spine. Standing desks provide an opportunity to unload the spine, reducing the compression forces and potentially mitigating back pain. By allowing the spine to maintain a more natural alignment, standing desks offer a reprieve from the stresses associated with sitting.

Increased Physical Activity

Standing while working inherently promotes greater physical activity throughout the day. Individuals using standing desks often find themselves more inclined to move, whether it’s shifting weight between feet, stretching, or taking short breaks to walk. This increased movement can contribute to better circulation, muscle engagement, and overall well-being. You’d be surprised how little movement can make a big difference here!

Customisable Ergonomics

Standing desks are designed to be adjustable, allowing users to find the optimal height for their individual needs. This customization ensures that the desk is aligned with the user’s body proportions, reducing the risk of discomfort or strain. Proper ergonomic alignment can play a crucial role in preventing and alleviating back pain, especially if this means keeping a screen at eye level. This has always been somewhat of a challenge with traditional desks.


Cons of Standing Desks for Back Pain

While there’s some benefits – there’s also a few issues to consider…

Transition Period

While standing desks offer potential benefits, it’s essential to recognize that transitioning from a predominantly sitting to a standing work routine may require an adjustment period. Gradual integration and listening to one’s body are crucial to avoid fatigue or discomfort – however it’s not unheard of for people to end up provoking back pain by making a sudden and drastic shift in their habits. Slow and steady wins the race here.

Foot and Leg Discomfort

While it might be better for your back, extended standing may lead to foot and leg discomfort for some individuals. Anti-fatigue mats or wearing comfortable, supportive footwear can help mitigate these issues. Additionally, incorporating periods of sitting or movement throughout the day can reduce this issue.

Not a Panacea

Standing desks are not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s essential to recognize that they are just one component of a holistic approach to back pain management. Regular breaks, stretching, and maintaining a balance between sitting and standing are key considerations. What’s more, using a standing desk in a position which stresses the neck and shoulders might unload that lower back – but it does nothing for the neck, shoulders and head! Like everything, a standing desk is a tool, use it well and it could be helpful – use it poorly, and you can hurt yourself.


Are standing desks a solution for back pain?

Used well, with regular movement and occasional changes from sitting to standing, standing desks do present a promising avenue for mitigating the impact of prolonged sitting, offering potential benefits such as improved posture, reduced spinal compression, and increased physical activity. From a simple bio-mechanical point of view, sitting is better than standing, so investing in a standing desk may well be able to reduce your back pain. Setting it up correctly and using it well is critical however, set the desk to low in either position and you may simply swap your back pain for neck pain! Weather standing or sitting, regular breaks, exercise and stretching are all necessary for good spinal health.


Blog by / September 30, 2023 / Blog

Dr. Paul Irvine is a doctor of chiropractic who graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of NSW and in 1996, attained his Master of Chiropractic degree from Macquarie University in Australia. He practised in North Sydney for 5 years before he left Australia to travel and practise in the UK. He joined Complete Chiropractic in 2003 (est 1999) and took over the clinic in 2007