To sit or to stand? This is currently the most common work-
related question presenting to physiotherapists in clinics and to
occupational health professionals around the country.
Workers are demanding sit–stand desks more than ever to avoid
health-related issues from too much sitting in the workplace.
The cost of sit–stand desks is becoming more reasonable for
employers to consider as a prevention strategy for their workers;
however, employers are purchasing these desks without always
assessing: (a) the need for such desks; (b) the optimal type to suit
the individual, task or environment; and (c) the risks associated
with the use of the type of desks chosen. Employers are seeking
guidance from health professionals for the indications for use,
guidelines for sit–stand exposures, and safe handling of the sit–
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sedentary behaviour occurring outside of work. Research is
exploring how to break up sedentary work through review of
work-system design, including task variation and furniture and
equipment, to measure the effect to sedentary behaviours.
Musculoskeletal disorders are linked to prolonged sitting and make
up to 44 per cent of compensable injuries in the workplace and
15–22 per cent of sick leave. Comcare reports that many workers
will spend 76 per cent of their time sitting (approximately six hours
per day) and there is a risk of physical injuries if a worker maintains
a static posture. Prolonged sitting can be associated with reported
upper limb and neck discomfort.
A study on the acute mechanical response to prolonged standing
found that 40–70 per cent of asymptomatic people will develop
low back pain within 60 minutes of standing. To date, there is no
clear evidence on the effect of sit–stand desks on musculoskeletal
symptoms, particularly lower back pain or anthropometric
characteristics. Other documented negative effects of prolonged
, APAM, takes a stand on the most common work-related question facing health professionals.
standing include knee/leg pain, foot discomfort, cardiovascular
problems, fatigue and prenatal health outcomes.
How long is ‘prolonged standing’? According to Dutch ergonomic
guidelines, prolonged standing of less than one hour and a total of
four hours is considered safe. Such a range avoids static standing
and promotes mobility and a variety of postures throughout the
On the topic, WorkSafe Victoria (2006) advocates for:
the importance of breaks every 20–30 minutes
task variety (with variety in both the type of work and the mental
and postural demands of work)
frequent short-work pauses rather than infrequent longer pauses.
Alternating between sitting and standing has been reported as the
preferred posture by the majority of workers. Having the choice as to
how often to change working position can itself affect musculoskeletal
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stand desks or reminder software with traditional tables, are effective
in introducing posture variability. This variation was found to be linked
to a decrease in short-term discomfort at the end of the day without a
negative impact on productivity.
a fad or the future?