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Can a Standing Desk Help Back Pain?

In the UK, 60-80% of people are affected by back pain at some point in their lives, with common back triggers including poor posture, sitting in a chair without back support, standing or bending down for long periods of time, and lifting, carrying or pulling heavy loads. Sometimes, medical conditions like a slipped disc or sciatica can cause back pain, but otherwise back pain often improves within a few weeks.

However, if your back pain keeps coming back - in particular if your back hurts when you sit down to work at your desk - then you might need to change your habits. One approach is to ensure you sit at your desk with proper posture, and to take regular breaks to stand, stretch and walk every half hour.

Standing desks, otherwise known as height-adjustable or sit-stand desks, are another option. These ergonomic alternatives to traditional desks have become well known for their health benefits, including helping users to reduce their back pain through encouraging a less sedentary lifestyle. In this article, we look in more detail about how a standing desk could help back pain, and what to consider when using one if you have a bad back.

Can a Standing Desk Reduce Back Pain?

Scientific research has shown that standing desks can help to alleviate back pain through encouraging less sedentary behaviour, improving posture, and reducing pressure on the spine.

In a 2011 trial, participants who used standing workstations reduced time spent sitting down by 225%, and experienced a 54% reduction in upper back and neck pain as a result.

2014 research found that transitioning from a seated to a standing work posture every 30 minutes, relative to seated work, led to a significant reduction in fatigue levels and lower back discomfort in overweight/obese office workers. 

In a 2018 trial, patients who used a sit-stand desk to improve sedentary behaviour experienced a 50 percent decrease in low back pain compared to a control group that didn’t. A 2017 review also concluded that, based on twelve articles which addressed the relationship between sit-stand workstations and musculoskeletal discomfort, sit-stand workstations may reduce low back pain among workers.

A 2021 trial in Japan also found that participants who used a sit–stand desk had reduced neck and shoulder pain, and a significant increase in subjective, vitality in work-related engagement and self-rated work performance over a four-week period.

A more recent 2022 trial from The University of Leicester, with 756 desk-based council workers in Leicester, Manchester and Liverpool, found that participants using a SMART Work and Life programme and a height adjustable desk spent over an hour more time on their feet across the working day than the control group. 

Sitting for too long with poor posture increases pressure on the neck, back and hips which can exacerbate back pain (and slouching is even worse!), but we know that standing up can improve posture and take this pressure off. Indeed, good posture is crucial to prevent neck and back pain as it decreases the stress on the spine, helps reduce wear and tear on the joints, and prevents muscle fatigue and imbalances. There's good reason chiropractors recommend standing desks!  

Considerations and Challenges of Standing Desks

While the evidence suggests that standing desks can help back pain, just as sedentary office workers suffer from back pain, workers who are always standing can also be impacted. It is therefore important to consider the following factors —

  1. Standing desks must be adjusted to each individual's height to ensure optimal ergonomics. A desk that isn't configured to your needs might lead to improper posture and more back pain. 
  2. Alternate between sitting down and standing up, and take regular breaks to stand up, stretch, and walk to promote blood circulation and prevent stiffness. Experts recommend a mix of sitting, standing, and moving throughout the day for better overall musculoskeletal health.
  3. Suddenly switching from a seated desk to a standing one can be a shock on your joints. Ease into your new lifestyle by switching between sitting and standing on a more regular basis until you adapt. 
  4. Check your posture often, and make adjustments as needed to maintain proper alignment. You should also check that your head is not protruding forward, even when you are otherwise in the "right" posture.
  5. When standing up, try to keep your feet shoulder-width apart and avoid leaning on one side. 
  6. Use an anti-fatigue standing mat to cushion, support and relieve pressure on the feet, legs, and lower back when standing up. This can increase time spent standing up, without the risk of strain. 
  7. A footrest can also stimulate foot and leg circulation, which can help improve posture and prevent physical discomfort. 
  8. When sitting down, your office chair can also make a significant difference to your back and spine. Choose one which prevents discomfort and long-term back problems, such as an ergonomic office chair that is designed to offer lumbar support. 
  9. Individuals with certain health conditions, such as varicose veins or arthritis, may find standing at a desk exacerbates their back pain.

If you have severe or long-term back pain, you should talk to a doctor first to get to the root of the cause, and make sure a standing desk is the right solution for you. 

Conclusion

Standing desks allow users to alternate between sitting and standing positions, promoting movement and reducing the overall duration of sedentary behaviour. This can help to improve posture, engage the muscles, increase circulation, and overall alleviate back pain. However, keep in mind that a standing desk will not fix more serious problems, such as scoliosis, and you should always speak to your GP about a treatment plan if you have severe or long-term back pain. 

Indeed, . It’s important to consider the use of a standing desk as part of a larger approach to managing back pain, rather than a complete solution.

Looking for a standing desk for your home, office or workspace? Check out our collection of standing desks, available for next working day delivery if ordered by 3pm. Our desks come with a 7 year warranty, 30 day risk free return, as well as access to a UK-based customer service team to answer any questions that you might have.

Otherwise, our blog provides more useful tips on using a standing desk for a more balanced lifestyle. Feel free to contact us with any questions, with the handy live chat feature on our site, or via email at info@ergodesks.co.uk.