For physiotherapists, the recent article by Marina Vitale in the Australian Physiotherapy Association's 'InMotion' newsletter outlines the key points:
- Like any new equipment, sit-stand desks should be assessed for the real need (Are there alternatives? Will it do what it's meant to? Will it solve the problem at hand, or is there another way?), optimal type for the situation, and the new potential risks introduced (lower limb symptoms from standing?).
- Standing isn't a panacea for back pain, with 40-70% of asymptomatic people at risk of developing back pain from standing within 60 minutes. Therefore this must be understood for the individual, and other control measures brought in including training and proper ergonomic set up for them.
- Guidelines for sitting and standing are currently very fluid, with emerging research in this new field being published very often. Marina points to recent research that workers should "initially aim to accumulate two hours per day of standing and light activity during working hours, before eventually progressing to a total accumulation of four hours per day."
- Sit-stand desks should not replace good ergonomics as both sitting and standing ergonomics now needs optimising. The previous point makes this clear, that if someone is accumulating standing and light activity, the rest of their time might be sitting and that can't be ignored.
- Where there are symptoms or problems, both the person and the ergonomics should be assessed, and not ignoring the person or comparing to expected standards necessarily. Not assessing the person can lead to ergonomic guessing and often failed interventions that serve only to frustrate the worker and employer when nothing is solved - we see this quite a lot in workstation ergonomics. Even worse here is not teaching worker's how to set themselves in supported sitting and to use their chair fully when this might solve simple back pain for example.
- Other strategies to promote movement may be more appropriate. The Happy Body at Work program is testament to that, and it could be easily argued that adding standing meetings, walking meetings, walks during breaks and improving exercise out of work would quickly provide far more physiological and psychological benefits than a sit-stand desk alone.
As Marina points out there's plenty of research to do in this new field, and if you think a sit-stand desk might help you or you have a staff member request one, we recommend:
- Have the worker assessed, both their ergonomics and musculoskeletal system where symptoms might be present.
- Consider other control measures and weigh them up against new equipment.
You can access Marina Vitale's excellent article here
http://www.printgraphics.net.au/myfiles/InMotion_June_2016/#12 and our other ergonomic articles here