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physiotherapy.asn.au

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–

stand desk.

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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

Marina Vitale

, 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

working day.

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.

Sit–stand desks:

a fad or the future?

Photo: ©iStock.com/wavebreakmedia