In the past three decades, time spent at work sitting has almost doubled from an average of 3.4 hours to 6.3 hours daily (1). This increasingly sedentary lifestyle has brought with it increased incidences of musculoskeletal discomfort. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has sent millions of people to their homes for work with limited access to proper workspaces on top of closing gyms and other recreational fitness facilities. Though it’s too early to say that stay-at-home orders have increased incidences of lower back pain, it’s likely that many individuals now working from home are spending even more time sedentary with limited back support (2). In the past decade, standing desks (and more recently, exercise desks that feature components such as pedals similar to stationary bikes) have grown in popularity, promising to offer relief from the musculoskeletal discomfort that comes from long periods of sitting. 

A three month long, randomized trial of 46 desk-based workers studied whether or not sit-stand workstations (SSW) offered significant lower back pain relief, both to those that reported experiencing mild-to-moderate pain beforehand and those that only had occasional discomfort (3). Participants were either given an SSW at the beginning or end of the three month trial. They were surveyed on their pain levels three times throughout the study, using a modified brief pain inventory and the Roland-Morris Low Back Pain and Disability Questionnaire. By the end of the study, the participants in the SSW-intervention group had experienced a 4.51 times greater decrease in overall lower back pain than those in the control group (3). Meta-analyses of similar studies have also found that across studies, SSW interventions offer lower back pain relief. Despite inconsistencies across the studies in the duration of standing prescribed to participants, all studies found that participants using SSWs experienced pain relief during the study (4). Further research is needed into the long-term benefits of SSW use.

With nearly 80% of adult individuals bound to experience lower back pain more than once, there’s a great demand to find ways to protect the back and prevent strain and injury (3). Evidence currently suggests that for those with mild-to-moderate lower back pain, standing desks or SSWs can offer relief. For patients with more advanced lower back pain, physical therapy may be a necessary intervention to prevent greater injury. Proper engagement of the core is essential to maintaining good posture and supporting the back. Tools such as Esurgi’s BioStabilizer offer real-time feedback about core muscle engagement throughout movement and exercise. This allows specialists to tailor treatment methods to individuals and better understand the extent of the problem. When used in conjunction with other intervention methods such as standing desks, physical therapy and regular exercise can offer significant reductions in pain and serious injury risk.

Sources:

1. Agarwal, S., Steinmaus, C., & Harris-Adamson, C. (2018). Sit-stand workstations and impact on low back discomfort: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ergonomics61(4), 538–552. https://doi.org/10.1080/00140139.2017.1402960

2. Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. (2020). Wave of COVID Pandemic-Related Back Pain Due to Poor Ergonomics? The Back Letter, 35(8), 94–94. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.back.0000694644.49250.28

3. Ognibene, G. T., Torres, W., von Eyben, R., & Horst, K. C. (2016). Impact of a Sit-Stand Workstation on Chronic Low Back Pain: Results of a Randomized Trial. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 58(3), 287–293. https://doi.org/10.1097/JOM.0000000000000615

4. Agarwal, S., Steinmaus, C., & Harris-Adamson, C. (2017). Sit-stand workstations and impact on low back discomfort: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ergonomics61(4), 538–552. https://doi.org/10.1080/00140139.2017.1402960