Headaches and neck pain are common complaints of office workers. There are a number of factors that may contribute to such symptoms, such as posture, eyesight, water intake, and fatigue. However, since I've got a physiotherapy background, this article will focus on posture and the musculoskeletal causes of headache and neck pain, and how a standing desk may be able to assist.
From a musculoskeletal stand-point, the majority of headaches seen in office workers are called cervico-genic headaches. This means that the headache is caused by an irritation to the cervical spine (i.e. the neck). This irritation refers pain to the head (as well as usually being felt as neck pain as well), which is felt as a headache.
The common referral points for a cervico-genic headache are the base of the skull, behind the eyes, and around the forehead and temples.
So, why does this occur?
This referral occurs due to the stresses placed upon the cervical spine. When you're sitting, it's very common to adopt what is known as a "forward head posture", or "poking chin posture" (shown below). This posture compresses the upper cervical spine more than usual, which in turn irritates the surrounding structures. What exactly is being irritated may vary, but may include the intervertebral joint, ligaments, or nerve roots. Alternatively, the surrounding muscles may just go into spasm due to the discomfort, which may also refer pain to the head as a headache.
The connection between poking chin posture and sitting usually comes to fruition after a while spent sitting. It is easy enough to sit with "good posture" for a little while. However, if you're sitting for hours on end, it is all too easy to fall into a poking chin posture, as the body fatigues and you forget about your posture. When this happens, irritation to the structures in the neck occurs, and cervicogenic headache is often the result.
How can a standing desk help this?
Firstly, I'm not a typical retailer, so I'm not going to shove standing desks down your throat as a cure-all. With that said, there is little doubt that a standing desk can help to reduce both the frequency and severity of cervicogenic headaches.
As mentioned above, a key cause of cervicogenic headache is a poking chin posture. The main cause of a poking chin posture is prolonged sitting and fatigue. As you sit for longer and longer, the body is less likely to be able to sit upright. Thus, you fall into a poking chin posture. Have you ever found yourself slouching in your chair? Well you would also have been sitting with a poking chin posture.
Also, how often have you found yourself consciously poking your head forward to take a closer look at the computer screen? This is the same posture as a fatigue related poking chin posture.
Unfortunately, it's a downward spiral as well. Once you have experienced the first bout of discomfort or pain from sitting with a poking chin posture, it is easier for it to happen again. This is because the discomfort and pain may result in muscle inhibition, whereby the supporting muscles of the neck are "switched off". If this happens, the cervical spine has less stability and is even more susceptible to irritation, leading to increased cervicogenic headache symptoms.
Having a standing desk provides you with the ability to switch position regularly throughout the day. This on itself is of great importance as it reduces the monotonous accumulation of muscular strain/stress to the same areas (which occurs when you sit all day), which reduces the likelihood of muscular fatigue and pain.
Here are some more benefits of having a standing desk at the stand-by:
1) You're less likely to fall into a poking chin posture out of fatigue;
2) When you do happen to need to poke your chin forwards to look at the computer more closely, you can move your entire body forward, as opposed to just poking the head forward in sitting;
3) You can't slouch in standing (well, you can, but it would look and feel ridiculous so you're not likely to do it!);
4) If you do happen to experience some pain or discomfort, you have the ability to quickly switch position, helping to prevent the problem from exacerbating.
Short answer - yes!
There are some studies that back this up, which I'll get to shortly. However, firstly I'd like to discuss why, in my opinion as a WHS Consultant, standing up at work increases productivity.
In my experience, most people have a sitting tolerance of between 30 - 60 minutes. After this time, restlessness, irritation or discomfort results in the individual "wanting" or "needing" to change position. Once this occurs, the individual is unlikely to be able to concentrate on the task at hand, because their central nervous system is telling them to MOVE!
The reason this occurs is commonly because the body does not like staying in the one position for prolonged periods. Unfortunately, this is the usual way of things in traditional office settings.
Now to the research....
A study published in the IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors, found that employees who had the option to use a standing desk were a whopping 45% more productive than those who didn't. For this study, they analysed the number of calls taken by employees in a call centre.
Another study, published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that periodically switching between sitting and standing reduced fatigue levels by at least 15% and up to 33%, as well as reducing musculoskeletal discomfort by 31%. Both of these factors are crucial to productivity as they are directly proportional to how long an individual can concentrate on a particular task.
Further, a study published in Preventing Chronic Disease found statistically significant improvements in fatigue levels, vigor, tension, depression, confusion, and overall mood, in employees who used standing desks peridoically throughout the day for a 7 week period. At the end of the study period, 87% said they felt more comfortable, 87% felt energised, 75% felt healthier, 71% felt more focused, 66% felt more productive, 62% felt happier and 33% felt less stressed.
So, the research and clinical experience tends to suggest that standing desks can improve employee productivity. I'd like to point out that I do not advocate standing all day, because most people can't do it - and this itself would qualifiy as a prolonged posture, which standing desks are aimed at eliminating. Standing periodically throghout the day, for about 50% of the working day, is the way to go.
For help in progressing to a standing desk, please visit the "How long should I stand" article here.
If you have any questions, please email email@example.com.
At least 8 out of 10 Australians will suffer from lower back pain in their lifetime. So the chances are that at some point, you will experience a bout of lower back pain yourself.
There are two main forms of back pain that physiotherapists see and treat. There is acute back pain that has a specific mechanism of injury, such a lifting injury, or there is more chronic non-specific back pain, which typically presents as a general ache or discomfort and results from a gradual build up of pain with no obvious mechanism of injury.
Excessive sitting can be linked to both of these types of back pain. The more common relationship is between sitting and the second type of back pain mentioned above, that of non-specific back pain.
Following are some reasons why prolonged sitting causes lower back pain:
Constant Lumbar Flexion
When you sit, your lower back is placed in a flexed position. It is just the reverse of what you would usually associate with flexion - when you're standing and bend forwards, you take your torso towards your thighs, whilst when you're sitting, you bring your thighs towards your torso. Nevertheless, the strain on the lumbar spine is similar.
When the lumbar spine is constantly flexed (as in sitting), there is a build up of pressure on the lumbar discs. Over time, this pressure can wear away the integrity of the disc itself, the surrounding ligaments, as well as simply irritating the intervertebral joints (the joints between each level of the spine) . This is likely to result in a sensation of pain.
More pressure is placed on the lumbar spine in sitting than in standing.
If you sit with bad posture, the load that is transferred through your lumbar spine is 2.75 times greater than standing. Even sitting with perfect erect posture still transfers a load 1.5 times greater than when standing.
Over time, this increased pressure is likely to wear down the structures in the lumbr spine, causing pain and discomfort, not to mention increasing your chances of a more serious injury.
When you sit, the body's natural posture is to slightly round at the shoulders and slouch forwards. This automatically brings the whole upper body forwards. Now, you can resist this posture, by making sure your chair is set up correctly and that you lean back into your backrest. However, most people who experience back pain do not do this - hence why they have back pain.
If the body is constantly leaning forwards, even slightly, then gravity wants to pull you down even further - until your face hits the desk! To resist this, you have to activate your lower back muscles, to hold you upright. This constant contraction of the lower back muscles is likely to result in fatigue over the course of the day, as well as causing a sensation of pain.
Excessive sitting results in weight gain when compared with switching between sitting and standing throughout the day. See this blog post.
Weight gain around the midsection places much more stress on the lumbar spine. Think of your lumbar spine as a fulcrum or pivot point. The further away from the fulcrum that your stomach is, the longer the lever is, and the harder it is to produce the force required to support that weight.
I'm sure everyone has heard of the saying, "use it or lose it". Well, it applies in this instance. If you're sitting all day, then your postural muscles, or the muscles responsible for keeping you upright, don't have to do any work. Over time, these muscles will deteriorate.
If you lack strength through these muscles, your lumbr spine has less muscular support to protect it, making it more vulnerable to injury.
Welcome to day 1 of the Stand Up For Your Health campaign. As it is January 1st, I thought I'd discuss the number one New Years resolution of them all - weightloss!
Did you know that if instead of sitting all day at work, you stood for 3 hours a day, 5 days per week, you could burn an additional 30,000 calories over the working year. This is equivalent to running about 10 marathons. In terms that we can all understand - it is the equivalent of losing about 3.6kg body fat!
This was the conclusion by a team of researchers out of the University of Chester in the UK.
By all means, try to improve your health and wellbeing in as many facets as possible - diet, fitness, mental health and whatever else is needed for you to take control of your health. However, when deciding what steps you will take to improve your health in 2017, don't disregard what you are doing, or what you are not doing, when you're working away in the office.
By replacing your old desk with a height adjustable desk / standing desk, and of course then commiting to standing periodically throughout the day, you will provide yourself with a way to burn fat and improve your health whilst you're at work. Considering how hard it can be to find time to exercise outside of work, commuting and family commitments, this is a god-send!
FYI - there is no need to stand for 3 hours without a break. In fact, I'd strongly recommend against this. Instead, switch between sitting and standing periodically throughout the day. If you would like some guidance, visit this page - how long should I stand?
If you have any questions, please email them through to firstname.lastname@example.org.