The Orthopedic Problems of a Standing Desk

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Thomas DiStefano
McLeod Orthopaedics Cheraw

“Sitting is the new smoking” goes one slogan, urging office workers to stand, rather than sit at your desk. It must be working. Height adjustable desks accounted for more than 95% of the market in 2019.

The average office worker spends nearly 6 hours a day at their desk, a work habit that research claims is linked to obesity, diabetes and even cancer. Proponents of standing at your desk say it burns more calories (allegedly 50 calories per hour) and strengthens your muscles.

The real question is: Does the standing desk movement represent a healthy trend or a just a fad like the hula-hoop of the 1970s.

“Other research shows that standing for long periods of time can lead to musculoskeletal problems,” cans McLeod Orthopedic Specialist Dr. Thomas DiStefano. “These issues include back pain, fatigue, leg cramps and stiffness in the neck and shoulders. For obese workers, the problems can be even more severe. These issues follow you home from work.”

One study found that people who stood at their desks all day – even if they were given short breaks and a 30-minute lunch – still suffered from the orthopedic problems.

A skeptic might suggest that believers in standing at work should talk with assembly line workers, retail clerks or others who are on their feet all day. “Standing all day isn’t the answer,” says Cornell University ergonomics professor Alan Hedge. “That’s where we were 100 years ago, and we needed to develop chairs to prevent curvature of the spine.”

As with many health issues, common sense and moderation are good rules to follow.

If you sit at your desk, get up. Walk around regularly. Go to a colleague’s office rather than send an email, text or phone call. Stroll outside during lunch.

If you have a standing desk, don’t stand still. Walk to talk to another employee. Have an office setup that allows you to sit for some part of the workday.

The ideal office gives you the ability to both stand and sit. Change frequently from standing to sitting. Don’t wait until your legs or back begin to hurt. If you are paying more attention to leg or back pain than to your work, change your work position.

No matter whether you stand or sit at work, if you have back, hip, knee, neck, leg or arm pain, see an Orthopedic Specialist. They can perform tests to determine the actual cause of the pain, provide advice and perform treatment, if needed.

Find an Orthopedic Specialist near you.

Sources include:  McLeod Health, Human Factors & Ergonomic Society, Smithsonian Magazine, Canadian Center for Occupational Health & Safety, Boston Globe, International Journal of Environment Research & Public Health, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention