Is a standing desk better for your back?

Is a Standing Desk Better for Your Back?

This is the first in a three-part series by Dr. Rob Dickerman on back and neck pain.

Research shows that many workers who sit at a desk for long periods of time develop nagging back or neck pain. There are adjustable seated desks which help a lot ergonomically because you have the ability to adjust the height.

Rob Dickerman, D.O., Ph.D.

Rob Dickerman, D.O., Ph.D.

An increasing number of workers have begun using a stand-up, or standing desk, at least for part of their workday, to break up the potential problems from prolonged sitting. In fact, I highly recommend a standing desk to my patients for a variety of reasons.

As a neurosurgeon, I treat multitudes of patients with various types of pain. More than 50 percent of my practice consists of patients with neck or back pain. Back or neck pain is the most common cause of sick leave in the working population, yet the majority is preventable.

As I gather information during an exam, I frequently find that people with desk jobs are greatly affected by neck or lower back pain. I often recommend conservative approaches such as a little workplace ergonomics to help relieve the pain and help them get through the day. Whether a patient needs surgical intervention or not, these are practical tools to incorporate for the long-term.

There are many benefits to a standing desk. For one, standing helps improve your core and leg muscles, which are key to staying strong and preventing injuries to the spine. It also helps you maintain better posture if you are standing up looking at your computer screen versus sitting with shoulders hunched over.

Sitting at a desk for long periods and doing repetitive tasks increases the chance for lower back and upper neck injuries due to the stress it creates on muscles and joints. This type of stress can help contribute to degenerative discs, pinched nerves, muscle strain, and misalignment of the spine. Sitting significantly loads the lumbar spine discs and facet joints as compared to standing.

Other benefits of using a standing desk are increased focus, activity level and improved posture. All of this can lead to better productivity too.

Standing desk benefits

Here are some tips I recommend for using a standing desk:

  • Take your time and slowly ease into it. I often tell patients to design a temporary test station before spending a lot of money on a new desk.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Ladies, keep a pair handy in your office to change out of your heels.
  • Research ergonomics and proper body mechanics. It will help you gain understanding of how the work station should be designed.
  • Take periodic breaks from your activity, and adjust your posture, regardless if you are standing or sitting.

The most important thing is to think ergonomically. Whether sitting or standing, make sure your work station properly supports your extremities and the spine. An efficient work environment includes proper phone equipment, an adjustable chair, an efficient keyboard and adjustable monitor. The work surface should have adjustable height.

Practicing workplace ergonomics is a good idea in managing back or neck pain. Incorporating these tips into your workday can help maintain a happy, healthy back, especially as we age. If pain continues, it may be time to see a spine specialist to identify the source of the pain. There is hope for all sufferers of back pain!

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