Standing Desks: Benefits, Precautions, and Tips from Physical Therapists

Standing desks have become a popular way to counteract the harms of sitting too much. These PT-approved tips will make sure you’re using them properly.

Published Date: Jan 16, 2024
man-stretching-in-front-of-computer

Standing Desks: Benefits, Precautions, and Tips from Physical Therapists

Standing desks have become a popular way to counteract the harms of sitting too much. These PT-approved tips will make sure you’re using them properly.

Published Date: Jan 16, 2024
man-stretching-in-front-of-computer

Standing Desks: Benefits, Precautions, and Tips from Physical Therapists

Standing desks have become a popular way to counteract the harms of sitting too much. These PT-approved tips will make sure you’re using them properly.

Published Date: Jan 16, 2024
man-stretching-in-front-of-computer

Standing Desks: Benefits, Precautions, and Tips from Physical Therapists

Standing desks have become a popular way to counteract the harms of sitting too much. These PT-approved tips will make sure you’re using them properly.

Published Date: Jan 16, 2024
man-stretching-in-front-of-computer
Table of Contents

Have you heard that “sitting is the new smoking”? Research showing how detrimental extended periods of sitting can be for one’s health has helped spur the popularity of standing desks. Standing all day has to be better than sitting all day, right? The reality however is a little more complicated. 

What’s really bad for you, explains Julianne Payton, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health, is being stuck in any one position for too long. That includes being hunched over a keyboard, but it can also include being on your feet in one spot all day. “Our bodies aren’t designed to be motionless, in one position all the time,” says Dr. Payton. “When you add in movement, it helps with blood flow and prevents the nervous system from becoming overactivated, which can lead to pain.”

If you’re someone who has a standing desk or is considering investing in one, read on for what you need to know, plus exercises from our Hinge Health physical therapists for office workers who sit (or stand!) for much of the day. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Julianne Payton, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Payton is a Hinge Health physical therapist with 8 years of experience and specializes in ergonomics and workplace injuries.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

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What Is a Standing Desk?

A standing desk, by definition, is a desk that allows you to stand up while working, usually at a computer. 

Some standing desks are pieces of office furniture that remain in a fixed position or can only be shifted a few inches in height, which means your only option when using them is to — you guessed it — stand up. Others are “sit-stand” desks, which contain a mechanism (sometimes electric) that allows the desk to be adjusted down to seated height and back up to standing height, says Dr. Payton. It's also possible to convert a traditional desk or table into a standing desk by adding a desk riser (aka desk converter). You simply put your monitor or laptop on top of the riser to raise it to eye level when you’re standing. 

Tips to Get the Most From a Standing Desk

Ideally, you shouldn’t use a standing desk for the entire day, says Dr. Payton, but there are a few good reasons to consider using a standing desk some of the time. She recommends alternating between sitting and standing at least every few hours throughout the day. “I have an electric sit-stand desk,” she says. “I can just push a button and it raises up or lowers down, so I try to alternate 30 minutes of standing with 30 minutes of sitting.” 

By mixing it up, you’ll get your body out of a static position, which could otherwise contribute to back, neck, or shoulder pain. Research has shown that sit-stand workstations may alleviate low back pain among office workers, and it might even leave you feeling more energized

If you must stand all day — perhaps your employer has invested in standing desks and eliminated seated-height ones — try this initial setup and adjust accordingly: 

  • Start with the desk at about elbow height when you're standing. 

  • Raise or lower the desk so that your arms and wrists remain mostly in a neutral position and you don’t have to reach up or down to touch the keyboard. Your arms should be at about a 90 degree angle while you’re typing.

  • Start with your back relatively straight, but not stiff. As the day progresses, adjust how you are standing to find other comfortable positions.

  • If you find yourself feeling some discomfort while on your feet, try bending your knees slightly (don't lock your knees) to see if it helps shift some of the stress away from your lower back.

  • Consider using an external monitor rather than one that’s attached to your laptop. This may help avoid eyestrain as well as neck strain. Adjust the monitor so that the top portion of your computer screen is straight in front of you at eye level, about an arm’s length away.  

  • Keep a footrest or box nearby  “Put one foot on it to allow you to shift your weight for a little, then switch sides,” says Dr. Payton. “It will provide a little movement and variety.” 

What If You Don’t Have a Standing Desk? 

Not everyone has a standing desk, the desire or budget to purchase one, or easy access to a makeshift solution. And if you use a desktop computer, for example, switching between your desk and a countertop throughout the day isn’t practical. And that’s totally fine. There are other ways to ensure you get plenty of “movement snacks” throughout the day.

“Whenever you get up to go to the bathroom, spend a few minutes walking around while you refill your water bottle or do a few stretches,” says Dr. Payton. And if you can spare the time for a longer break, sneak in a short walk outside or a quickie workout (like with the exercises and stretches below). These options are just as good — if not better — than using a standing desk all day. In fact, research has shown that using a standing desk only burns an extra eight calories per hour versus sitting at a desk, yet you could burn 100 calories during a 30-minute walk. 

Exercises to Do If You Stand Too Much

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  • Forward Bend
  • Standing Rotation
  • Hamstring Stretch

Being in one position for too long, even if you’re standing, isn’t ideal. If you work in an office where the desks are standing-only — or you have a non-desk job that keeps you on your feet most of the time — try these moves from Hinge Health physical therapists to keep you limber and more comfortable.

Exercises to Do If You’re Stuck at a (Seated) Desk

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  • Seated Back Extensions
  • Chin Tucks
  • Glute Stretch

No standing desk and no time for other activities? The above moves from Hinge Health physical therapists can all be done without getting out of your chair, so you can work in a little exercise when you’re on a call or can’t leave your seat.   

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: DIY Your Standing Desk

If you can’t buy a standing desk, get creative, says Dr. Payton. “Stack some old boxes or coffee table books on your kitchen counter to get your screen to a standing height.” But don’t force it if it’s not comfortable for you. “If your forearms or neck start to ache, it might be a sign that it’s not the right position,” she says. If tweaking the pile of books or boxes (higher or lower) doesn’t help, feel free to go back to your usual seated desk and instead focus on finding other ways to add in extra movement throughout the day, says Dr. Payton.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Laskowski, E. (2022, July 13). What are the risks of sitting too much? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005 

  2. Agarwal, S., Steinmaus, C., & Harris-Adamson, C. (2017). Sit-stand workstations and impact on low back discomfort: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ergonomics, 61(4), 538–552. doi:10.1080/00140139.2017.1402960

  3. Chambers, A. J., Robertson, M. M., & Baker, N. A. (2019). The effect of sit-stand desks on office worker behavioral and health outcomes: A scoping review. Applied Ergonomics, 78, 37–53. doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2019.01.015