Research by Matt Rowan, B.S.
Updated July 31, 2020
Standing is Surprisingly Easy to get Wrong
Standing seems easy, right? Well, many of us are guilty of simple mistakes at our standing desks that can lead to pain, lack of health benefits, and a general dislike for your standing desk and an otherwise very healthy activity.
We’ll go through the common mistakes we see and how to correct them. Avoiding these mistakes can dramatically reduce the risk of back and neck pain and lead to more standing, more calories burned and a healthier you.
The basis of proper standing desk ergonomics begins with setting the height of your desk. The height of your desk has an impact on the position of your keyboard and monitor. How those items are positioned can have a dramatic impact on your upper back, neck and wrist comfort.Solution:
Raise your desk to the height of your elbows and ensure your elbows can remain close to your body. You’ll know your desk is too high when you elbows begin to pull away from your body to reach the keyboard. Everyone’s body is different so use this a starting point and make small adjustments until you’re satisfied.
Improper positioning of your monitor or computer screens can lead to significant neck and upper back pain. We find that many people have their monitors set too low requiring them to look down at their screen while standing. This also can lead to discomfort while sitting as well. This also applies to those using a laptop at their desk. Using a laptop flat on the desk while standing makes it nearly impossible to keep proper posture as you’ll likely need to raise the desk too high in order to see the screen which will create issues for with your arms and typing position.Solution:
Raise your monitor as high as it will go and tilt it back slightly so you can see the screen clearly without leaning forward with your head angled down. If you’re using a laptop screen, we highly recommend investing in a laptop stand paired with a secondary keyboard and mouse. This will raise the bottom of the laptop screen at least 8 inches off the surface of your desk.
Unlike sitting one of the benefits of standing is the freedom to move and change your positions as often as you’d like. Too commonly we see people standing still in a fixed position for extended periods of time. This can lead to joint and foot pain.Solution:
Add as much movement variability as you can during standing. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. We recommend making use of a footstool or the legs of your computer chair to stand in a stepping position - you can also change from left to right. You can also stand normally and sway left and right. If you’re on a call you can make short paces. Get creative and find ways to change up your standing position every 20 minutes or so.
The luster of a standing desk can quickly wear off if you find yourself standing on a dense surface like concrete, hardwood floors or tile. Even some commercial grade carpet provide little to no give. Like some of the other mistakes on this list, standing on a hard surface can lead to discomfort and joint pain.
When the floor surface is out of your control or too cost prohibitive to change we recommend standing mats. Simple standing mats are around $30 while more high end standing mats that offer more standing position variability can be had for around $90. Both will provide a dramatic improvement over a hard surface for standing and make for a worthwhile investment if you find your floor surface too hard.
We commonly see issues with the ergonomics of wrist position at the keyboard. This is one of the most frustrating areas of joint and muscle pain for someone who works as primarily on a computer. For those who spend a lot of time typing, minimizing wrist pain should be a priority.Solution:
Ensure that your wrists lay flat at 180 degrees of your forearms, or close to it. If you find that your desk height is ideal but your wrists are still bending upwards we recommend getting a keyboard pad to raise your wrist. This also adds additional comfort.
Many of us that work in the office have a priority of looking good. The comfort of our footwear may come second. If you’re sitting all day your footwear may not become a burden but when you have access to standing desk your footwear, like the surface of the floor can play a much larger role in your comfort. Improper footwear has shown to have a domino effect on many other areas of the body.
Take the time to consider your footwear options especially if you’re planning to stand a lot at your desk. There are quality comfortable shoes available in nearly any style. Some elect to bring an extra pair of comfortable shoes to change into at their desk, or make use of insoles.
Some people that jump right into standing try to stop sitting cold turkey. The enthusiasm to stand a lot is great but often not realistic. Standing too long, especially in the incorrect posture can lead to the exact issues caused by sitting like back and neck pain as well as an increased risk for joint pain.
Your standing time is something you work up to overtime but normally shouldn’t exceed 4 hours during a workday. Even within that 4 hours of time, it shouldn’t be continuous. You should alternate sitting and standing as frequently as you can.
Adjusting your standing desk to the right height and body posture can be fairly tedious. If your desk doesn’t come with memory settings or an easy way to return to the same sitting or standing height you have to find the right height over and over again every time you want to change from sitting to standing. This can get very old and can lead to less standing and be simply frustrating.
Carefully consider the features of the control unit of your standing desk when making your purchase. If you’re standing at a company provided desk without memory settings, ask HR about having the desks fitted with new control units. Many manufacturers have revised their desks to include up to 4 memory settings in newer models. This normally doesn’t apply to standing desk converters since you preset the standing height and returning to that height is easily repeatable.
If you avoid some of the common mistakes on this list you should be able to maintain a great posture standing. However, poor posture has become a habit for many people, especially leaning and hunching over at their desk.Solution:
Make sure your desk height, monitor, and keyboard position are dialed in and then focus on your posture. Your body will likely maintain the muscle memory of poor posture so it may take some time to re-train. Remember to roll your shoulders back under your ears press your chest outward and keep your neck upright. You may need to bring your monitor closer since your head is likely much further away.
Even the most hardcore standers still need to sit for a significant part of the day. Sitting imposes significantly more strain on your lower back than standing and for that reason, it's important to have a quality chair at you standing desk to ensure your sitting doesn’t cause lower, upper back or neck pain. You don't want your sitting time to counteract the benefits of your standing time.
Make sure your chair has the key features of an ergonomic chair. You’ll want a chair that has adjustable armrests and lumbar as well as adequate thigh support and a soft forgiving seat surface. Chairs with these features are usually more expensive but often will last longer and make sitting at your standing desk less painful or pain-free.
Standing at Work Frequently Asked Questions
Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about standing properly at work.
How high should your standing desk be?
Your standing desk should be at a height where your elbows are close to your sides, your eyes are looking staight forward to see your screen (not down), and your wrists are at a 170 degree angle.
Should you change your positions when you work?
Experts recommend changing positions every 20 minutes to avoid the dangers of being sedentary. Switch from sitting to standing if you have a standing desk; if not, take frequent movement breaks.
What type of surface should you stand on?
An ideal surface to stand on while using a standing desk is a standing mat. Standing on a dense surface such as tile, hardwood, or concrete can lead to fatigue.
How long should you stand?
It's best to change position every 20 minutes, unless when you're standing you're being more active, in which case, you can stand as long as you're comfortable.
How high should your screen be?
Your screen should be at least 8 inches off of your desk; it should be high enough that you don't have to look down to see it, which often results in leaning your head forward, straining your neck.