Take a Stand: What to Know About Standing Desks

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Modern Home Office Products by Other Metro Wayfair

With many friends in the tech industry, I hear more and more about them shifting from sitting to standing desks in the workplace.

The evidence is appealing, so far. One friend who made the switch looks trimmer and more energetic after switching to a standing-desk work-style. A long-time back-injury friend of mine has successfully switched as well, prompting me to consider the matter for myself.

With 4 out of 5 people destined to suffer a back injury in their lifetime and 50% of American workers complaining about low-back pain annually, it’s clear we’re paying a heavy price for this transition made over the last century, from a manual-labor lifestyle to one focused on a life filled with sitting at computers. In fact, MedicalBillingandCoding.org  went viral 2 years ago with this great infographic entitled “Sitting is Killing You.”

Workspaces and back problems

While I think standing desks are a great concept, it’s important to note that I’ve spoken to my back-care professionals who all tell me that there is no one solution to healing our troubled backs. Standing too much can provide pain and grief as well, because what we really need to do is ensure we’re moving around every 20-30 minutes in our workday. In a perfect world, they tell me we would be enjoying a mix of standing and seated work every day.

Still, for those who’ve suffered herniated discs, spinal pressure, and other symptoms that are worsened by prolonged sitting, a standing desk can be a life-changing switch in their workspace, which my back-injury friend professes is true for him.

How to sit and stand – the healthy way!

So where do you buy a standing desk? Well, most people I know who’ve switched to standing desks have customized a set-up for themselves.

Of course, we should be customizing every desk we ever use, whether we sit or stand. There are principles that are true for both configurations.

For instance, when seated, both our knees and elbows should bend at a perfect 90 degrees. Our head shouldn’t tilt up or down when looking at our monitor. Our shoulders should be perfectly relaxed and at their lowest, most neutral position, which takes pressure off our neck. We should be 20-28 inches away from our monitor, to reduce eyestrain and headaches.

The only thing that changes from our bodily stance when standing at a desk is that our legs should be reasonably straight when and our feet under our hips/shoulders for the best neutral body position. Of course, the point is to move around some while working, but configure the space for your “neutral stance” and everything else should be fine. The neck, head, shoulders, and elbows all want to have the same naturally-neutral position. So that means that it’s imperative you get your standing desk to be at a height that allows you do these things.

How to plan your own desk in a home office

Whether it’s building a custom stand, installing a shelf at the right height on the wall, or however else you manage to DIY a standing desk, have someone help you by measuring what your natural stance height is, and what your relaxed-arm, bent-elbow height hits, so you know where your keyboard needs to be. Even an inch or two too high can cause headaches and shoulder grief, as I’ve learned the hard way.

This is where the wonders of articulating keyboard trays and monitor swing-arms can really make designing the space easier, because you can pick a higher work surface and mount your adjustable keyboard tray underneath. With the right tray/swing arm, it’s possible your standing desk could be a standing-and-sitting desk, for variety in your day, but this set-up can get extremely pricey.

Regardless of whether you use a simple custom-built wood box/shelf, or adjustable-height table through use of saw-horses or wall-brackets, or desks that come with telescoping legs for raising/lowering at will, the premise is always the same. You need to know your height, where your elbows bend at, what angle your neck/head/shoulders are, and then you need to elevate the work-surface accordingly.

If working from a laptop, you need a separate keyboard to make this configuration work, since eye-height monitors are as important as elbow-height typing surfaces.

A standing desk may not be the perfect solution for everyone, but millions of workers swear it’s the difference between backache and a pain-free workday, making it something all office workers should at least consider, since back pain is the leading cause of disability work claims around the world.

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