Within six months of getting my first desk job, I was a member of the pain squad.
Like everyone else in sedentary jobs, sitting all day was giving me agonizing back pain that persisted even after I stopped sitting. The worst part was that, after years of sitting all day, my chronic back pain became so bad that it persisted in my sleep and led to insomnia for several years.
And one of the biggest studies of over 100,000 people found that people who sat over six hours a day had a 40% increased risk of dying in the next 15 years than those who sat less than four hours per day.
As much as dying really sucks, what I want to focus on here is sitting and fixing your back pain.
So after sitting in pain for ten hours a day, I became curious: is sitting really the cause and origin of back pain for so many of us? In other words, are there people who sit all day without back pain? And if so, how?
Will a Standing Desk Fix My Back Pain?
Is sitting really what’s causing your back pain?
Let me give you an example.
On average, I sit close to 10 hours a day at work.
I also know someone else who has been sitting just as much – every day – except for 40 years – who has no back pain whatsoever. That person is my mom.
After I noticed this, I began informally spying on people (friends and family) while they sat, and then asking them if they had any neck or back pain.
And an interesting, and not-so-surprising connection emerged:
People who had back and neck pain had the worst sitting position and posture, and even if they sat shorter hours, they were in more pain.
In the images of the kid below, which one do you think led to more back and neck pain? Obvious, right?
My point is that sitting is not what’s giving you back pain. Sitting improperly is what’s giving you back pain.
But, I’ve found that by using a standing desk, if can sometimes fix back pain by naturally improving your alignment.
So here’s my own experience with using a standing desk for my back pain.
My Experiment With a Standing Desk
Since I wasn’t sure whether or not a standing desk was going to help me, I did an inexpensive experiment.
The picture above is my expert standing desk at work ;).
Right now – half of my days at work are spent sitting, and the other half are spent in sheer awesomeness standing. So has it helped my back?
Here’s what I found:
What I liked:
Much higher levels of alertness
Easier to keep proper posture
What I didn’t like:
Achey lower back (upper back didn’t hurt though – which is my main issue)
If you get too tired (e.g. after 6 hours straight) it can drain your mental energy because you’re getting fatigued
The biggest thing for me was the energy boost I got from standing.
Meditators have known for thousands of years that posture = alertness. If you lay down on a couch, it’s easy to get tired and sleepy.
If you stand, it’s not.
My big problem is upper back and neck issues. did it help for that? Yes.
But it actually made my lower back pain worse.
…Which is probably because I have really tight hips (lower crossed syndrome) My butt would arch and pelvis would lean forward.
Bad news for lower back pain, like this:
Image via NASM Essentials of Personal Training
Here’s the thing: if you already have an overly-arched lower back (a large portion of 21st century people do), then standing sometimes over-emphasizes that arch.
So when you stand, you’re sometimes putting more pressure on your lower back. When you sit, sometimes you’re hunching so it’s going the other way. Both can lead to pain, depending on your posture and individual situation.
Will it Cure Your Lower Back Pain?
No, not necessarily – but it’s one of those things you have to test out. You won’t know unless you try it out. For me, it fixed my UPPER back pain.
It’s hard to have hunched, slouched shoulders if your computer is eye-level and you’re standing up. Slouching is much more common when you’re sitting down because your spine begins to collapse into that “C” shape.
Try it out. Don’t spend a lot of time assembling something. Just throw your chair on top of your desk for a day and see how you feel.
Try it out for a 30-day challenge to see how it might improve other aspects of your life (sleep, energy, etc.)
Where Can I Get One For My Home/Work?
If you want to invest in one at home (where awkwardly putting a chair on a desk is strange or dangerous with pets/kids) here are some available on Amazon:
Furinno: The Furinno standing desk is more of a desk stand, so if you have a desk already, and you just want to add extra height, this is what you might want.
Safco. The safco is a full-on standing desk. If you don’t already have a desk where you can put something on top of, you might want to check this one out.
Techni Mobili. The Techni Mobili is a more multi-purpose standing desk.
Or, If You’re Really Awesome Get a Treadmill Desk
If you really love what I do, and want to get me a Christmas present, you can pick up one of these for me 😉
In all seriousness, some companies are now utilizing treadmill desks both for the health benefits, as well as the increases in productivity.