The fastest growing trend in the office furniture world over the past 10 years has been the standing desk category. There has been a lot of research to suggest that sitting for long hours at a time can be detrimental to your health. “Sitting is the new smoking,” is a phrase that has been used and repeated so many times that it has become cliché at this point. But, the positive results are evident.
An in-depth study, conducted with over 750,000 participants, showed that people with long sedentary times had an increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular mortality compared to those with lower sedentary times.  The problem is that standing for long periods of time can also be detrimental to your health. While most articles and information available praise the benefits of the standing desk, it is important to understand that there are major drawbacks as well.
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Top 4 Health Problems with Standing Only Desks
- More strain on back, legs and feet
- Increased risk of varicose veins
- More strain on circulatory system
- Potential pregnancy complications
- Final Thoughts
1. Standing puts more strain on the back, legs and feet
It seems like common sense that standing will put more stress on your lower back, legs and feet compared to sitting but this is often overlooked when people decide to switch to a standing desk. Most customers greatly underestimate just how much their back, legs and feet will be affected by switching to a standing desk. Switching from sitting all day to standing all day will almost certainly be a painful experience.
One great study, by Boston University, shows that there is an increase in musculoskeletal pain of the lower back and feet with users that stand for 8+ hours per day. Standing for long periods of time with very little movement has the potential to cause blood to pool in the lower legs, ankles and feet which can cause inflammation and discomfort.
We do not recommend making a full transition to a standing only desk unless you are only working for a few hours a day. We recommend pairing your standing desk with a standard height desk. Pairing a standing desk with a standard height desk allows you to alternate between the two desks, so that you can change your working positions throughout the day.
A standing desk converter is great option that will allow you to use your current desk at multiple different heights. Another great option is an electric adjustable desk because you have numerous height options which allow you to use the desk while sitting or standing throughout the day.
When making the transition to standing, we recommend easing into the change. Stand for a short time at first and gradually increase your standing time. Make sure to incorporate movement while you are standing. Periodically marching in place, toe raises or squats can really help to minimize soreness and blood pooling.
Another great tool to increase comfort and reduce soreness is an anti-fatigue mat.
Our final recommendation is to wear comfortable shoes when possible. Inserts like Dr. Scholl’s can be a great addition to help you stay comfortable.
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2. Increased risk of varicose veins
Varicose veins are twisted, inflamed veins that appear just under the skin and are most commonly found in the legs. The most known form of varicose veins is hemorrhoids. Alan Hedge, a leader in the field of ergonomics from Cornell, is in strong opposition to users standing all day or for prolonged periods of time to perform work. His research has shown that long hours of standing can increase the risk for varicose veins. This finding is backed by a 12 year study of over 9,000 people in Denmark which showed that prolonged standing accounted for more than 1/5 of all cases of hospitalization, due to varicose veins, in working age people.
It is crucial to take breaks to avoid standing for prolonged periods of time. It is also important to introduce movement into your routine. It doesn’t have to be strenuous movement like jogging. It can be something as simple as doing a few lunges every hour or walking to the water cooler.
It is recommended that when you do have time to sit that you avoid crossing your legs to help prevent already present varicose veins from getting worse.
We also recommend that women avoid wearing high heels while standing at their desk. This may not be a possibility for all office environments, but normal height shoes are better for reducing varicose veins.
3. Standing is more straining to the circulatory system
A prolonged period of standing comes with an increased risk of circulatory problems, including high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. In a paper by Niklas Krause, he reported evidence that standing for prolonged periods of time increased the risk for atherosclerosis at a factor comparable to smoking. Does that mean standing is the new smoking? No, but it makes you realize that anything done in excess is not a good thing.
Incorporating movement throughout your day and alternating between sitting and standing is almost always a positive factor when using a standing desk but we would recommend consulting your physician with any questions or concerns related to using a standing desk with any circulatory conditions.
4. Potential pregnancy complications
Standing for long hours on end can have negative effects for women that are pregnant. In a review of 17 studies on the health risks of prolonged standing, it was concluded that preterm birth and spontaneous abortions were more common with women who were standing for 8 or more hours per day.
We recommend consulting your doctor with any pregnancy related questions.
When a standing desk is used correctly, it can be a great thing and an amazing tool to help you stay healthy, motivated and focused. Problems begin to occur when standing desks are used incorrectly, which is when health related issues can start to pop-up. The bottom line is that we do not recommend a standing only desk unless it is for very limited use. In our opinion, the best option is a sit to stand desk, as discussed in the first section above. This will give you the most space and adjustability possible while allowing you to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. Regardless of the desk you choose, it is still important to avoid being stationary for prolonged periods. Whether you are sitting or standing, take breaks, move around and perform little exercises to help reduce health related problems with your standing desk.