Do Sit-Stand Desks Have a Role in Spine Care?

Do Sit-Stand Desks Have a Role in Spine Care? – Lead author Bethany Barone Gibbs, PhD, FAHA and A. Nick Shamie, MD Comment

Office workers who alternated between sitting and standing significantly increased the number of calories they burned without causing pain, according to a study published online ahead of print in Occupational Medicin

The increases in energy expenditure were relatively modest (7.8% increase with sit-stand desks and 11.5% with continuous standing), but may be sufficient to help people prevent weight gain when combined with other low-impact activities.

“Our acute study shows that standing or alternating [between sitting and standing] doesn’t cause any additional pain,” said lead author Bethany Barone Gibbs, PhD, FAHA.  

“In fact, other longer-term studies are showing that using a sit-stand desk may actually reduce pain,”

In terms of spine care, “we all know that sitting down puts significant pressure on the discs and spine,” commented A. Nick Shamie, MD,

“In addition, intradiscal pressure is extremely high when a patient is seated and bends forward to pick something off of the floor,” he noted.

Dr. Shamie said that the study findings validate his advice to orthopaedic spine surgery patients to get up and walk around for 5-10 minutes every half-hour postoperatively.

The study involved 18 participants (9 men, 9 women; aged 22-57 years) who performed standardized deskwork

Sadly, this number is too small to reach broad conclusions. However, it’s clear that any movement is better than none at all, so even the change of positions is beneficial.

From my own experience, after only standing all the time instead of sitting, I woke with pain in my legs the next day. I thought I could get better used to it, but after 2 weeks I gave up because of the pain.

See Standing can also be bad for you

Now while I’m working, I have an app running (Workrave) that reminds me to take a 20-second break every 20 minutes. 20 seconds is long enough to get my butt up off the chair and walk around a little.

See WorkRave: PC App to enforce breaks at computer

Once I’m standing, I might even do some big arm circles or back stretches or even decide to take a longer break to do something different.

Patients who alternated between sitting and standing burned an extra 5.5 ± 12.4 kcal/h (7.8% increase), and those who stood the entire hour burned 8.2 ± 15.9 kcal/h (11.5% increase) (P<0.001 for both interventions compared with exclusively sitting).

Thus, alternating between sitting and standing to achieve a total of 4 hours per day of standing was estimated to burn an additional 56.9 kcal/day for an 88.9 kg man and 48.3 kcal/day for a 75.5 kg woman.

In addition, both the sit-stand and standing positions were associated with significant increases in heart rate compared with sitting, by 7.5 ± 6.8 and 13.7 ± 8.8 bpm, respectively (both P<0.001).

While the caloric benefit may be minimal, there is definitely an overall benefit to the whole body.

Physicians can encourage patients to “find a way to perform some work or daily tasks while standing—such as using a laptop at a counter or high-top table, standing/walking meetings, or standing/moving while talking on the phone,” Dr. Barone Gibbs said.

“Also, physicians should encourage patients to avoid long periods of sitting, which can exacerbate pain.”

Any movement is better than none at all. See Don’t just sit there — fidget

“It is important that we understand standing at work isn’t going to burn as many calories as going for a brisk walk or a long run. However, our findings add to a growing field of research that shows the benefits of sit-stand desks, including

  • increases in productivity and energy, and
  • lower pain, blood sugar, and potentially blood pressure.”  



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