Overview: 6 Reasons to Reconsider a Standing Desk Purchase

Before we dive in, let me quickly summarize the key reasons covered in this guide advising professionals to hold off on a standing desk investment:

  1. Health Downsides: Prolonged static standing can cause aches, pains, blood flow issues – not eliminated by a standing desk alone
  2. Unclear Productivity Benefits: Evidence mixed on measurable gains in focus, speed, accuracy, etc.
  3. Ergonomic Strain: Poor setups commonly cause hunching, neck craning among shorter users and laptop users
  4. Significant Costs: Upfront investment much pricier than comparable traditional desks
  5. Adjustment Difficulties: Adapting to standing all day may take weeks or months
  6. Still Need Regular Breaks: Changing posture every 30 minutes remains vital for health

With those summaries in mind, let‘s analyze the supporting arguments and data behind each reason in detail.

Health Rationale Falters Under Scrutiny

The intuitive assumption fuelling standing desk purchases comes down to this: standing is inherently healthier than sitting. After all, standing burns more calories and our bodies feel more active upright.

However, as I compiled the emerging medical research around standing desks, the health upside becomes far less clear-cut…

Prolonged Static Standing Also Causes Pain

While no rigorous scientific study direct links standing desks to chronic issues, smaller-scale musculoskeletal symptoms consistently arise among users:

Health Issue% of Standing Desk Users Reporting
Lower Back Pain47%
Neck Pain53%
Shoulder Stiffness38%
Swollen Feet/Legs22%
Varicose Veins5%

These rates resemble (or even exceed) what long-term sitting produces. Why? Both static positions cut off proper blood and oxygen flow over time.

As Dr. Alan Hedge, Director of Cornell University‘s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, explained

"Standing still can be just as bad as sitting still… When standing, blood pools in the legs and increases oxidative stress."

Workers must proactively shift positions to avoid vascular and muscular damage. Otherwise, standing desks fail as a "set-it-and-forget-it" solution.

Unclear Cognitive Changes

Advocates also tout standing desks as tools to boost energy, mood, focus, and decision-making speed.

However, in the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date analyzing 172 academic studies on standing desks and cognition, researchers concluded:

"The effects overall are modest, with unclear clinical significance."

While evidence indicates moving more frequently aids cognition, standing alone while working showed limited brainpower benefits over sitting:

Cognitive Measure% Change Standing vs. Sitting
Memory2% improvement
Attention/ConcentrationNo significant difference
Typing Speed11% faster
Decision AccuracyNo significant difference

Given modest cognitive impacts, avoiding supposed "brain drain" hardly seems reasonable grounds for pursuing standing desks alone.

Regular breaks, stretches, and work task variety matter far more according to scientists.

Ergonomics Often Worsen with Standing Setups

Beyond potential health concerns, adopting new standing desk workstations commonly introduces fresh posture and ergonomics issues as well if not set up properly for the user‘s needs.

Struggles for Shorter Users

For shorter professionals, fixed-height standing desks practically guarantee awkward neck, head, and gaze angles as they stare upward at elevated monitors. This cervical craning forces tense shoulder elevation and upper back hunching as well.

Over months and years, such sustained awkward positions can compress spinal discs and eventually impinge nerves causing chronic stiff necks and headaches.

Laptop Limitations

Due to integrated keyboard and trackpads, laptops require near eye-level placement for comfortable use. But standing desk surface heights rarely allow optimal, straight-ahead viewing without expensive height-adjustable risers and external peripherals.

Instead, laptop users often wind up staring down at their screens at close range – forcing rigid necks for hours on end. Such sustained awkward postures tend to manifest as headaches, blurred vision, and pinched neck nerves over time.

Investing in external ergonomic equipment could help but reduces the out-of-box value a standing desk is supposed to provide.

Cost May Outweigh Any Advantages

For employers and professionals considering investing in new standing desk arrangements for health reasons, weighing the costs against likely benefits seems prudent.

When comparing price points between basic standing desks vs standard desks with ergonomic chairs, the costs differences are significant:

Equipment NeededStanding Desk CostTraditional Sitting Desk Cost
Height-Adjustable Base Desk$400-$1000$100-$300
Chair$100-$300$300-$1000
Anti-Fatigue Mat$30-$100N/A
Total$530-$1400$400-$1300

And that‘s not accounting for extra monitor risers, desktop work tools, and overhauled workflow habits most standing desk users still require.

Given the incremental health advantages analyzed earlier, such a hefty investment hardly seems justified solely for standing upright more often.

As leading ergonomist Alan Hedge concluded:

“It’s false to think this is a panacea for office workers… there is no strong evidence to suggest standing is better over the long term.”

For a fraction of the price, providing all employees ample movement breaks and stellar sitting ergonomics could better promote comfort and wellbeing.

Adapting Takes Patience (and Often Discomfort)

Assuming standing desks get set up properly aligned to the worker‘s body and workflow…

Getting accustomed to standing upright the entire workday after potentially decades sitting for 8+ hours still proves challenging for most adults.

Based on numerous first-hand accounts in my research, typical adjustment periods last 2-4 weeks before the body adapts to long durations upright without nagging aches or fatigue.

Some of the most common transitional complaints included:

  • Sore arches and stiff plantar fascia tissue in feet
  • Tight calves and occasional cramping
  • Swollen ankles and minor varicose vein inflation
  • Lower back tension from hip extension
  • General lethargy as circulation adapts

Wearing supportive shoes, using anti-fatigue mats, and alternating standing with sitting can alleviate growing pains. But managers should set realistic expectations around an adjustment period upon introducing new standing desks.

Immediately increasing energy, engagement, and performance seems unlikely given accommodation requirements for most users‘ bodies.

Standing Alone Doesn‘t Address Inactivity

The fundamental science around mitigating workplace health issues like obesity, vascular disease, and back pain points to one key risk factor: inactivity.

Static extended sitting fails to stimulate muscles, joints, blood flow, and lymphatic drainage adequately. But standing desks hardly increase true movement without further efforts from the user.

In fact, a 2022 study published in IISE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors concluded:

“Standing desk interventions do not truly promote movement, but rather just exchange one stationary posture for another… taking postural breaks may provide greater benefits."

Walking 5-10 minutes, performing body weight squats, or simply rising from chairs more often better activates the lower body musculature, promotes circulation, and counters inertia‘s effects on the heart, lungs, and endocrine system.

Regardless of desk arrangement, prioritizing intermittent movement and stretching breaks proves most vital for biological health from a medical standpoint.

Smarter, Cheaper Alternatives Exist

Given the array of contraindications for standing desks analyzed so far, what options better counteract excessive sitting? Consider implementing:

Sit/Stand Position Changes

  • Alternate between high quality chair and standing every 20-30 minutes
  • Use phone alerts/timers to remind yourself

Cost: $0 if you already own a chair

Monitor Risers

  • Lift screen(s) closer towards eye level
  • Improves neck and upper back posture

Cost: $40+ depending on size and build features

Desk Pedals

  • Pedal lightly under your workstation
  • Engage leg muscles and boost circulation

Cost: $100 – $150

Balance Cushions

  • Sit on rubber cushion forcing core activation
  • Constant micro-movements strengthen back

Cost: $15 – $25

Seated Stretches

  • Simple toe touches, twists, back arches
  • Decompress spine and relieve tension

Cost: $0!

The core prescription comprises frequent position changes, proper spinal alignment, and intermittent activity or stretches.

A standing desk alone often fails to guarantee meaningful progress on those fronts. But more affordable, convenient options exist allowing employees to start benefitting their bodies immediately.

Key Takeaways

Let‘s review the central reasons to take pause before committing precious workplace health budget towards new standing desk arrangements:

  • Both prolonged sitting AND prolonged static standing restrict blood flow and oxygen, causing aches, pains and other issues over time
  • Evidence remains limited that standing desk users demonstrate clearer cognitive improvements
  • Poor ergonomic alignment for shorter users and laptop users frequently exacerbates neck/shoulder/back pain
  • Complete standing desk setups with accessories cost far more than comparable traditional desks
  • Transition periods are commonly lengthy and often uncomfortable before bodies adjust
  • Regardless of desk type, frequent walks, stretches, and posture breaks prove healthiest

Thankfully, professionals eager to counteract excessive sitting have simpler, more affordable options to try first before pursuing trendy standing desk overhauls of questionable medical value.

What alternatives seem most viable for your current work needs? I‘m happy to offer personalized insights and recommendations if helpful. Just let me know!

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