Home Office Workstations: Are Standing Desks the Bees Knees or Bad Business?

Since COVID, many employees have chosen to work from home, leaving the cubical lifestyle in the past. This change has led to an increase in postural-related aches and pains due to poor home office ergonomics.

Physical therapy is a great way to manage these new physiological challenges in the workplace. One question physical therapists are often asked is, “What is the best home office set-up?”

Recently, sit-to-stand desks have been perceived as a great solution to posture-related pain due to the sedentary work environment. So the question is, “Are sit-to-stand desks really worth it?” The answer is not as easy as yes or no.

Standing desks have become increasingly common in office settings as the conversation about the health impacts of prolonged periods of sitting has ramped up. Studies have found that sitting for long periods can lead to higher mortality rates, obesity, postural abnormalities, and complications with circulation, regardless of personal physical activity level.

What we do know is in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that standing desks reduced upper back and neck pain and improved overall mood vs sitting down. However, there is minimal research looking into the possible long-term risks of using a standing desk vs sitting for a workstation setup.

Whether you are sitting or standing, ask yourself: is my workstation set up correctly for my body?

You may be surprised to learn that it’s just as easy to increase your risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) while standing as it is while sitting if you’re not following proper ergonomic guidelines.

Reviewing the most common mistakes, physical therapists often must aid in simple adjustments to minimize musculoskeletal risk of injury or overloading. One such adjustment is addressing monitor height. The correct monitor height to reduce strain on the head and neck is to have the top of the monitor at the top of the forehead. This is important as you change from sitting to standing.

Additionally, one must provide support for your upper extremities (UEs) when standing or sitting to minimize the strain on the shoulder complex and cervical structures. No chair means no armrests. This can add to UE strain and poor posture over time. Proper mouse and keyboard height/alignment can also be overlooked when standing. Reaching outside of the recommended zone for extended periods can increase the risk of injury and increase your chances of pain and other negative side effects.

Now, reading all of this, you may assume the answer to the question is unequivocally “No, a standing desk is not better than a sitting desk.”

Well, you would be incorrect. It is recommended that anyone who sits longer than four hours a day should opt for a transitional desk to allow for intermittent change in position. However, this means when transitioning, you must follow correct guidelines for proper use.


Proper Guidelines for Standing Desk Setup

  • Back and neck straight, elbow around 90º
  • Wrist in a neutral position
  • Standing mat to reduce overall fatigue
  • a potentially a footrest to allow alternating offloading

Additionally, it is recommended that no position should be held for longer than 30-45 minutes at a time. Change is good for your body! Movement is even better, so as you take intermittent breaks, go for a little walk around your home, or even ger outside for some fresh air!

Maximizing your workstation setup will promote proper ergonomics and give you the best opportunity to work in a pain-free environment. Hopefully, this will give you an optimal environment to which you are excited to come back to every work day!


Maria Caccamise DPT, PT

Clinical Director