Home Is a standing office workstation the cure to “sitting disease?” Ergonomics Done Right®

Written by: humantech on April 8th, 2014

by Bryan Picco, AEP

There has been a push in office ergonomics to introduce standing workstations as an attempt to address negative health implications associated with sedentary seated office work, also known as “sitting disease”. But is simply having your staff work while standing the answer? A recent publication in the journal, Ergonomics, titled, “The influence of a seated break on prolonged standing induced low back pain development” investigates how low back pain can develop while standing. The report is by Kaitlin Gallagher, a doctoral student at the University of Waterloo, who researches low back pain (LBP) development during prolonged occupational tasks. Key findings and implications of her study include:

  • Mandating standing workstations in your office will not eliminate LBP.  Fifty-five percent of Gallagher’s study participants developed LBP during 45 minutes of sedentary standing. Curing the “sitting disease” is not as simple as eliminating sitting.
  • Alternating between standing and sitting mitigates the onset of LBP. Gallagher highlights that pain developers moved their low back less than those who did not develop pain while standing, highlighting the importance of varying working postures. In fact, the study’s participants’ LBP decreased as they sat for 15 minutes. However, the optimal ratio between the two postures is not known and might be unique to the individual.
  • Encourage alternate ways to cut-back on sedentary work. There are countless work practices that will get your workers off of their seats to reduce sedentary work rather than standing statically.  Instead of traditional seated conference discussions, schedule walking meetings outside or down hallways. Challenge your staff to talk on the phone while pacing or walking around their cubicle. Finally, walk over to your co-workers’ office to meet face-to-face instead of texting or e-mailing.

Forcing a worker to adopt a certain posture (standing) and emphasizing the negative outcomes of another (sitting) could be detrimental to back health. As Gallagher states at the end of her article, “this may make a worker feel like he needs to work in a certain position even if it causes increased discomfort and pain.” Rather, office workers should be free to control their working postures in a way that is comfortable to them, preferably with a workstation that adjusts for both sitting and standing postures.

4 responses to “Is a standing office workstation the cure to “sitting disease?””

  1. Larry Edison says:

    According to the Practioner Summary section of the Abstract of the article “Recommending standing to replace sitting should be undertaken with caution. A ratio of 3:1 (stand to sit) did not mitigate standing induced LBP.” The second bullet above seems to say the opposite.

  2. Kaitlin Gallagher says:

    Hi Larry,

    Thanks for your comment. The practitioner summary refers to the fact that this 3:1 ratio didn’t prevent the low back pain from returning when the person stood up again. In fact, it was even stronger and continued to rise. Moving around from standing to sitting was helpful at decreasing pain, but this ratio, as Bryan points out, was not optimal for ridding of it over the entire two hours despite being a ratio necessary to fit in about 5 hours of standing work into a 7.5 hour office work day. I think that moving around before the pain onset, which will be at different points for different people, will be better at mitigating the pain over the entire two hours and it is something that our lab is currently looking at.

  3. Bryan Picco says:

    Hi Larry. Great question.

    The second bullet point refers to results shown in the full paper. What the study showed was that reported pain did decrease during the switch to sitting; however, pain did not return to the initial level felt before the standing started. Here is a direct quote from the paper’s discussion section:

    “The seated break was beneficial at the beginning to relieve LBP development caused by prolonged standing during computer work; however, it was not enough to completely rid the participants of their pain… As a result, a work–rest ratio of 3:1 (stand to sit) was not enough to completely rid the LBP caused by prolonged standing.”

    Other ratios of standing to sitting might bring the pain back to the initial state, but this is specific to the individual. The key take away is that LBP did reduce by changing from standing to sitting, but was not eliminated. This is why giving workers the freedom to choose their working postures (i.e. standing or sitting) throughout the day is beneficial.

    Hope this helps.

    Bryan

  4. Red says:

    Constant standing can pose a bit of a problem too. Here’s a solution, why not have a sit to stand workstation by Humanscale. At least you get to shift from one position to another depending on your preference and comfort.

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