There is a new phenomena hitting physio practices across the country, and you might be part of it. It’s called the ‘Since I’ve been using a standing desk at work my <insert lower body part here> hurts’ phenomenon! OK maybe that’s an exaggeration, but just like Nintendo thumb from years ago, and iPad neck from not long ago, we are seeing a burst of standing related musculoskeletal and circulatory disorders related to prolonged standing in previously sitting workers.
The research on using standing desks, rather than sitting all day, is mostly very positive. There are obvious benefits to improved metabolic rate, leading to reduced weight gain compared with sitting, less pressure on the lower back and a whole range of loosely associated wellbeing improvements from mood to cholesterol.
However, anecdotally we have seen a rise in overuse type conditions of the hip, knee and ankle and exacerbations of circulatory issues such as varicose veins from this current office trend. When we walk for instance, our feet and lower limb movements have evolved to transfer weight economically across a range of joints, and the increased muscle use helps pump fluid throughout the body and back to the heart, thereby improving metabolic flow. When we stand for prolonged periods, there is an increase in metabolic rate compared to sitting, but the musculoskeletal and circulatory benefits are vastly reduced if a worker stands with uneven weightbearing (yes you, leaning on one leg!), stands with poor footwear or for long periods on hard surfaces, or stands for prolonged periods without movement.
So if you are experiencing discomfort with your standing desk, don’t give up. Instead, try alternating postures every thirty minutes between sitting and standing, or even better, walking. Do focus on improving your core and postural strength – tell yourself to stand as tall as possible, activate your deep core muscles and position both feet firmly on the ground. Do wear supportive shoes and do stand on an anti-fatigue surface rather than a hard floor. And do seek treatment on stiff or sore hips and knees before they cause you to go back to sitting for good. Oh, and stop leaning on one leg when you stand!