Have you been thinking about getting a standing desk? Perhaps this is the first you’re hearing about them, despite their growing popularity over the last few years. Many people, especially those who work from home, are looking to standing desks as the solution for prevention of several serious health issues caused by sitting all day, such as increased chances of heart disease, obesity, among others. With this trend, many people aren’t fully researching how to do this, resulting in using a standing desk incorrectly and experiencing different problems in the process.
Only Having A Standing Desk
Though a standing desk is an excellent solution, standing all the time does pose problems in itself – this is nothing new. In the hype, excitement and motivation people often feel when switching to this new way of working, it can be easy to jump into it too quickly – getting rid of the old desk they previously sat at and standing all of the time at their new desk. There are multiple accounts online where people have written about regretting their decision to switch to a standing desk. But they recognize that it wasn’t the desk, nor the standing, that was the issue, but rather how they transitioned to the standing desk. In one account posted on the Seattle Times, Sydney Trent states:
Then about six weeks ago, I began to feel a fleeting numbness in the toes of my right foot. My lower calf felt alternatingly pricked and uncomfortably warm.
The doctor’s conclusion conclusion: I was standing too much at work. Those uncomfortable sensations were probably a result of hyperextending my knee, which could put too much pressure on the fibular nerve, a branch of the sciatic nerve that starts behind the knee and runs alongside the fibula, or calf bone. This can also occur when you cross your legs a lot while sitting.
Sydney made two mistakes. First, she jumped right into standing without a transition. There should be a transition: gradually increasing the amount you stand and decreasing the amount you sit. Her second mistake was that she was standing all the time. Whether you sit or stand, your body must have variance to be healthy.
As for me, my doctor’s diagnosis of my leg pains did not prompt me to dismantle my stand-up desk. Now I follow my body’s cues. When I begin to feel lethargic or my neck or shoulders bother me, I shift to standing, and almost immediately my muscles relax and I feel more energized. If my legs or feet later begin to ache, I’ll take the experts’ advice and elevate one foot or plop into my chair.
It would be irrational to think everyone has the money, resources or space to have two separate desks: one to stand and one to sit. There are many ways of addressing this problem. For myself, I created a DIY sit-stand desk (above) where I worked with someone to help construct a “shelf” to allow me to physically change my desk from sitting to standing.
The downside of my own setup is that it takes a little time to switch around – not a lot, perhaps only a couple minutes at most – to change from sitting to standing, or vice versa. I suppose one could even look at this “downside” positively, as it can break up my work and remind me to take breaks from the Internet.
As with any DIY option, it depends greatly on you and your own circumstances, which is why it’s a great solution. In Dave Parrack’s case, he created a standing desk strictly from Ikea. He also concludes in that article something which proves my point about needing either a sit-stand desk or another option for sitting down incrementally throughout the day.
I’ve found out that using a standing desk at all times isn’t for me. Instead, I’m someone who needs to have options, and the ability to move from standing to sitting to lounging and back again as I feel like it and as my body dictates.
Another option is a height-adjustable desk, so instead of moving your monitor(s), laptop, keyboard and mouse (and anything else) around, you can quickly adjust your desk up and down. There are three companies well-known for this: Varidesk, GeekDesk and UpDesk, and there are powered and manual (crank) options available. These are quite pricy though, and in my opinion don’t address another issue of posture, which we’ll cover later.
Lastly, you can use a device such as the Ergotron WorkFit-S Dual that Erez covered in an in depth review. Of course, you’re not limited to only this one option – this is a growing market, which means you have access to products of all types, sizes and prices. Erez mentioned a few of these other options in his post, some of which are also from Ergotron, such as the WorkFit-P Sit-Stand Workstation, some adjustable desks and the Furinno Adjustable laptop table – a much more affordable solution.
Not Having A Desk That Promotes Correct Standing Posture
Simply standing is not enough to have good health. If your desk doesn’t promote the correct posture while standing (or sitting for that matter), or if you don’t use it correctly, you will begin to experience pains where pressure is incorrectly being placed. One of the most common things I see being done in pictures of people standing at desks, for both commercial purposes and other pictures of average people online, is a hunched back and turned down head looking at the screen.
The posture seen above is caused by placing the laptop or monitor (where your head is looking) at the same level as your keyboard and mouse (where your hands are placed). Solely using a laptop on its own isn’t ergonomic enough and can cause pain if used for long periods of time, even when standing.
Earlier, I mentioned my conflict with adjustable desks as they aren’t specifically designed for posture, without additional add-ons.
The above photo is of a laptop on an UpDesk. Unfortunately, having just the UpDesk isn’t enough – there should be a separate keyboard and mouse, and the laptop should ideally be mounted at eye level. This is nothing against UpDesk or any other adjustable desk maker. In fact, UpDesk (and others) provides many accessories for their customers to improve their standing desk experience.
To solve this problem, elevate the screen to eye-level, as seen above in the diagram from Tinker Monkey. This can be done with a box or a stand that you purchase. If you’re broke (like me), get creative. If you’re using a laptop, you should have a separate keyboard and set your laptop screen at eye-level – laptop keyboards aren’t ergonomically designed to be used for long periods of time anyway. Below is a great example of how a laptop can be positioned – this happens to be Dave Parrack’s standing desk constructed from Ikea parts.
It is affordable and more ergonomic than the makeshift plastic shelf setup.
I recommend you read the rest of his article to get his take on standing desks and how it’s working for him.
If you don’t have proper footwear, you may also experience pains, not only in your feet, but further up your legs and in your back. The right supportive shoe can prevent this, but if you can’t do that, simply not wearing shoes may be better than the wrong shoes. Also, a standing mat is essential. My article on standing desk accessories takes you through the many necessary items to make standing at a desk more pleasant.
Standing for too long also promotes in correct posture. An account by Ryan Waggoner included this exact problem:
But after about two weeks, something began to shift. My heels began to hurt like crazy, especially in the morning. A Google search revealed that I might have the beginnings of plantar fasciitis, a nasty-sounding condition.
So for the last couple weeks, I’ve been continuing to stand, but there’s just something not quite right. I’m no longer in pain per-se, but it’s just not comfortable anymore. It’s hard to focus and concentrate, because I just want to sit down. I find myself constantly leaning forward to take some of the weight off my feet, and spending large parts of the day working at Starbucks, “just to get out of the house”. I think it’s more a subconscious excuse to sit down.
As I’ve already stated in the article, you can’t stand up all the time or benefits, such as increased productivity at home and better health, will actually diminish and standing will cause the exact problems you’re hoping to prevent. It must be balanced.
If you don’t have an alternative – have a seat and ideally taking breaks to move around or work, perhaps lean against a wall or over your desk. Having a footrest/stepstool to change your leg positions will also help.
A good example to model a standing desk that promotes excellent posture is taking a look at an article on The CMO Site, titled Seven Months at a Standing Desk by Mitch Wagner.
Standing For Too Long And Losing Track Of Time
It happens to all of us – we get so lost in our work (and the Internet), whether sitting down or standing up, that we forget that we’ve been in that position for hours. As a standing desk user myself, I found myself changing into odd positions, meaning I wasn’t practising correct posture, after standing too long.
This is a key sign to take a break from standing in one place for a while and change positions by sitting down. Better yet go move around first. If it’s lunch time, walk to the sandwich shop. If you’re the social type, bring a friend. If you’re home for the day, do some chores, go for a run. Just move and do something active, even if it’s walking around indoors.
But you still might be forgetting to take a break in the first place. If this is the case, break up your work into intervals. There’s a website called Standing Clock that tracks the time you sit down and stand up and reminds you to change positions. You might look at these three tools to keep reminded about breaks or adopt the Pomodoro technique and use an app specifically designed to help you stick to your schedule. Of course, there are a lot of other timers available too – ones that don’t necessarily limit you to 25 minutes of work and a 5 minute break, such as E.gg Timer or simply type “timer” in Google as Dave Parrack pointed out.
Thinking The Desk Is All That’s Needed
As you have probably already gathered, a standing desk is not all you need. In an article highlighting 10 accessories you need for a standing desk I go into depth covering each accessory and striving to cover a vast area to appeal to everyone’s wants and needs. Here are the basics that you should have (you can always expand later):
- Standing mat
- Supportive shoes
Spending Too Much Money
Now this may seem to clash against everything this article is about. You may have interpreted everything I said as, “I need to by a dual monitor mount and/or laptop mount, a motorized height-adjustable desk, and a wireless keyboard and mouse (because all I have is a laptop). But that’s not enough – I need to buy better shoes, a standing mat, an exercise bike—-” Alright, I’m stopping you there. I did not say you had to buy the bike! But everything else is totally up to you. If you find a better, more affordable way to put your standing desk together without spending a fortune, go for it! These are simply the guidelines to follow to ensure that you keep your health in mind.
Just get creative, like this person did (below). Note that the positioning of the laptop and keyboard do promote proper posture.
I didn’t spend a whole lot of money when I created my sit-stand workstation, as I was (and still am) on a tight budget. The whole point here is you don’t have to or need to spend a lot of money. It can be done the right way for less. It may take more time and not look as nice as a souped-up workstation with all the bells and whistles, but if what you need is functionality and not so much aesthetics, then considering a less expensive option shouldn’t be out of the question.
I have even figured out how to create a couple of makeshift desks as I’ve been traveling around. The one on the left is at my dad’s house while visiting home and the one on the right is at a friend’s I’ve been visiting for a month.
Now, Where To Start?
If you’re still in the deciding stages and looking for inspiration for a standing desk, these 6 great standing desk designs might do it for you. If you’re tight on space, these compact home office desks might spark some ideas. Lastly, if you’re a dreamer or perhaps you really do have the cash, Yaara has 6 cool work desks, perfect for freelancers.
If you care to do more research on the health risks of sitting all the time, take a look at this study published in 2012 on the mortality risk of sitting in Australian adults. In contrary, Time Magazine published an article on how standing all day can be negative as well.
Have you tried standing? How has it worked for you? Now be honest, have you tried these things in combination with standing? Perhaps you have other advice as well – we’d love to hear your experiences, advice and knowledge on the topic.
Image Credits: Standing at desk with laptop via hunvreus on Flickr, Laptop on UpDesk via Google+, Standing Desk Diagram via Tinkering Monkey, Mitch Wagner at standing desk via The CMO Site, Makeshift standing desk via TheCreativePenn on Flickr, Feature Image: “Stand-Up Desk?” via candescence on Flickr