Every week or so I get message with something like…
“Hey Chad…I’m really trying to fix my sitting problem so I’m going to purchase a standing desk. Do you have one that you can recommend?”
I’m always a little hesitant to give them a suggestion, because standing all day, every day will come with it’s own repercussions…let me explain.
First off…I think it’s great that so much attention is being created around the problems associated with chronic sitting and today’s sedentary lifestyle. The research is very clear that our addiction to the modern chair is contributing to the most devastating diseases that we face today such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes and more.
As a physical therapist, I can also testify that chronic sitting in poor positions is perhaps the biggest cause of the musculoskeletal pains that many people deal with such as back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain and hip pain.
With so much evidence pointing to the negative impact chronic sitting has been having on our bodies it’s only natural that we would search for solutions…
And we’ve been searching!
First it was “ergonomics”…we started making the finest chairs technology could produce and optimizing the office space. Perhaps if we made the chair with the right curve here and angle there we’d be good?
We’re not! And those things can get pricey!
Then came “the ball”…you know the ball I’m talking about right? The one where you sit on it and it magically activates your “core.” Surely this will fix all our problems and we can carry on right?
Nope…and now it’s deflated in the corner taking up space.
Now we have the standing desk…or should I say the return of the standing desk. It’s been around quite a while, but with SITTING being the new smoking, STANDING is making a major comeback.
Is this the answer we’ve been waiting for? Will standing solve all our problems? Is all right in the world?
Well…it’s another step in the right direction, but in terms of getting us from where we are to optimal…it’s about 5% of the journey.
I’d like to discuss some reasons why the standing desk is NOT the ultimate solution to your sitting problem and give you some tips to help you out!
You’re probably not very good at standing all day
It’s not your fault, really. You forgot how to stand once they placed you in chairs behind your school desk as a child. You’ve been there ever since and you’re not quite ready for a marathon of standing.
Just like when you sit you tend to slouch, lean to one side and hang loosely on your body’s soft tissue….you do the same thing when you’re standing. If you’re like most people, you’re off balance when you stand, you favor one side, and you shift forward or backward.
You also unconsciously stand with your toes out (a habit you mimicked as a child) which negatively impacts your walking, squatting and jumping. This habit alone will cause your arches to collapse and your knees to cave in.
And since your glutes and core are so weak from sitting all those years you don’t stabilize your pelvis very well. When you stand your pelvis is being tilted forward by the pull of your tight hip flexors that are shortened from years of sitting. When you stand all day, you’ll likely get fatigued, which causes an exaggerated arch in your low back, which results in compression of the spine and pain.
To put it simply…you’re not ready for standing. You’ve got some work to do first!
You’re still looking forward at a computer screen
When you work at a standing desk not much is really changing with your posture from the mid back and up. Since the focus of your attention is forward your head and neck naturally gravitate towards the screen.
You’re still likely to succumb to the forward head, rounded shoulders, hunched over the keyboard posture. Over time this will result in pain!
At first it might feel like a strain in the muscles of your neck and occasional headaches, but eventually it will lead to more serious structural damage that often leads people to numbing themselves with pain pills and costly surgeries.
The pharmaceutical companies like to convince you it’s a normal part of living to have pain and make buckoos of money selling you pills to “fix” it. Masking the pain fixes nothing!
This forward head, rounded shoulder position is one that most people default to constantly…whether it’s sitting, standing, texting on the phone, watching TV or driving in the car.
In other words this is not just a sitting problem or a standing problem…it’s a cultural problem and it’s a consequence of living in what we like to call a “flexion based society.”
If you don’t change the position you are chronically putting your body in, then the same pain will continue to persist, BIG PHARMA will get rich and you’ll be depending on a walker when your sixty…maybe even earlier. I’ve seen it!
Standing still at a workstation won’t fix this issue. The only solution is to MOVE in order to break up that static positioning and to address structural imbalances by MOVING in specific and intentional directions…aka corrective exercises.
You’re still not moving
The classic office chair and the stand up desk have more in common than you might think. But the thing that makes them both harmful to your health is constant stagnation. Until we encourage frequent movement in the workplace we will continue to suffer.
Yes…this is a paradigm shift I’m talking about! You know you hate going to work and being still ALL day…by the time you leave your back aches, your head’s throbbing and your neck is in knots. It doesn’t feel good!
Here’s the deal. You were not meant to be still for most of your day; staring at a screen…it’s simply not what you are designed for. You are built to move throughout the day, performing various movements at various loads. In other words your body doesn’t do well with being stagnant all day. A little bit is fine… yes…but you’re a born mover!
“The constant and continuous use of ANY position will lead to problems.”
All the diseases that are correlated with chronic sitting are a consequence of stagnation. When you don’t move you stop asking your muscles to contract, blood stops circulating in certain areas, your cells are not as alive as they could be, your joints stiffen and so on. Things slowly start to die off when you don’t move.
What’s been missing?
MOVEMENT is what has been missing!
Prolonged standing has it’s own health problems
Standing injuries started to occur in the early 1900’s. It’s actually one of the main reasons we fell in love with the chair to begin with. At that time people started to notice that if they stood still for too long they would start to experience low back pain, varicose veins as well as an increased risk for stroke.
Ever hear of someone passing out during the marriage ceremony? Yeah…it’s because standing still is not good for your venous return system, which allows blood to return back to the heart.
You need to contract the muscles in your legs and move in order to prevent this from happening.
I think it’s possible that in 20 years everyone that transitioned to a standing desk will still have the same problems…pain, stiffness, weakness, loss of functional mobility, a general decline in health and increased risk for chronic disease.
So right now you might be thinking…well what am I supposed to do, Chad?
In an ideal world you would be able stand and sit…preferably with a desk that can rise up or down with a simple button. There are many out there and they are becoming more affordable.
But like I mentioned…that’s not enough…what we really need is specific and intentional MOVEMENT!
First we have to clearly identify the obstacles that are in the way with our modern workstation.
Those obstacles are:
- Stagnation – meaning we aren’t MOVING enough
- Adaptation – meaning the flexion-based society (sitting, texting, driving, etc.) is molding our bodies into poor positions like this guy on the right.
In order to prevent stagnation from happening get up and move every 30-45 minutes for a period of 2-4 minutes.
The research indicates that this consistent movement is your get-out-of-jail free pass with regards to the chronic diseases that stagnation contributes to.
The other thing you’ll need to do is move in specific and intentional directions so you can get back to the guy on the left up there…the way you were designed to be.
Here is a quick example of what I’m talking about.
If you are the boss of your company and are looking for a way to improve the employee satisfaction, improve wellness and lower health care costs…check this out!
I suggest you designate a MOVEMENT area of the office building for people to rotate in and out throughout the day.
In this MOVEMENT area you could have a few pieces of equipment like a foam roll, resistance bands, an iPad and our program “The Sitting Solution.”
The Sitting Solution is a fraction of the cost of ergonomic workstations, stand-up desks and missed workdays and it’s much, MUCH more effective in terms of getting to the actual issue.
Just to be clear…I’m not anti-ergonomics, or anti-stand up desk. Those things are great…get them. However, incorporating these strategies without moving consistently in specific and intentional directions will get you limited results and possibly more pain pills.
We stand. We move. We fix things.
Chad Walding, DPT, OPEX L1, RKC