• Dr. Eric I. Degis, MS, DC

Standing Desks Can Save Your Life!

Google the benefits of standing desks and you will see they: lower Blood pressure, reduce obesity, improve productivity, lower blood sugar levels, reduce risk of heart disease, improve mood, and make you live longer!

Wow, all from a standing desk? That is amazing. Amazing that people take the time to write that crap!

Sounds to me that if everyone got a standing desk, we would cure pretty much every major illness in this country! Sign me up. If you have not sensed a bit of sarcasm in my writing, please rest a second and hear this: “Standing desks are not the cure for everything that ails you”.

I’m sure as your eating your snickers bar and drinking your can of coke at your magical standing desk, your chances of gaining weight and your diabetes will magically reset (mild attempt at humor)!

Why not bypass the standing desk all together and just walk for 60 minutes in a row at a brisk pace? That will have a greater effect on your blood sugar, weight, heart health, and maybe even the change of scenery may perk up your mood which may lead to you being happier. Of course, on that walk you may get run over by a UPS truck, so maybe the standing desk is going to help you live longer after all if that happens on your walk.

So, do I not like standing desks? Of course not, I love them! I bought a standing desk 24 years ago from a German office furniture supplier and was one of the first people I know to own and use one. Why did I buy it? Well, I can assure you it wasn’t for the potential longevity perks or the effect it was going to have on my late 30’s Daddy stomach I had developed after my kids were born (I kicked that stomach to the curb at age 40 and never looked back and the desk wasn’t the catalyst!). No, I unfortunately had severe low back issues in my early 20’s from sports, poor training in the gym (Evil strength coaches!) and the sitting was just not possible for long periods when my back would get irritated. I searched the internet (AOL dial up anyone?) and not sure how I came about the standing desk on this German furniture importer site. It cost me an arm and a leg to ship, but the promise of not having to sit when my low back was irritated and being able to work, was definitely worth it.

Soon after I received and started using the desk, I noticed a few interesting things. One, my calves were tight as hell after the first week, to the point walking hurt! Your deep calf muscles (Soleus) are a postural muscle and are very active in keeping us upright so the standing for long periods really was a killer on them. Daily stretching helped manage it until my body adapted.

On average I was normally at a desk 3-4 hours a day doing insurance related paperwork and before the standing desk, my low back would always just ache and feel just plain terrible. After about 2 weeks, when my calves stopped screaming, my low back started feeling, for a lack of better words, “better”?

Wow, I was sold and felt like I was going to live forever (kidding). But I took it one or several steps further. I stopped sitting on the LIRR into the city (45M each way), I did not sit on the subway (10m each way). I even stopped sitting when I ate my breakfast and lunch (40m combined). My wife yelled at me when I said no to sitting at dinner and literally put her foot down, so I acquiesced and sat with the family instead of standing rudely.

As the months went by my low back felt so much “better” that I just could not believe it. I had spent the last 10 years prior in PT offices, Chiropractors, Orthopedists, Physiatrists, and did more “core exercises” (next week’s blog post) than a human should, and I felt only marginally better and for the most part my low back always felt vulnerable. But, that all changed in 2 weeks with the standing desk and sitting less overall.

So, what was it that made my back feel this much better when nothing else had helped? Of course, being the aspiring Engineer (didn’t know that, did you? That was my first calling) I needed biomechanical and anatomical answers to these newfound phenomena of a standing desk.

Well, there is a few reasons but basically what I have realized after 25 years of helping people with low back issues is that the biggest secret to not having chronic low back issues is not what you do, but rather what you don’t do. That is, if you identify the physical stresses that you put on your low back each day and remove or reduce them, you will feel better over time. Doing core exercises for the most part is useless without removing the destructive forces first. Sitting it seems, has 3 negative effects on the low back structures: 1) lack of imbibition: which is a pumping of fluids in and out of the disk. Waste goes out, nutrients get pumped in when me walk and move. That does not happen when sitting. Not a big deal after 1 day, but over many years it adds up to progressive degradation. 2) the physical component of sitting, is similar and amplified, compared to just rounding your spine and flexing it forward. In essence, it pushes the disk backwards (which is how disks herniate). That repetitive stress creates disk degradation and in the case of an active herniation, it hurts like hell (if you’ve ever had an active herniation your back told you not to sit!). 3) Tissue creep: tissue who? Tissue creep is a phenomenon in which the low back ligaments and passive structures (non-musculature) destabilize. Basically, the support of the joints is diminished. So that means your structures are more at risk if you then get up and pick up a bag off the floor. Hence, that feeling of vulnerability.

Combined, for those reasons, sitting creates a large physical stress on your low back. More so than any other activity in your life. Now the kicker is, it does not often feel that way. And that’s the problem. It does not hurt unless the disk is actively inflamed or damaged, but nonetheless the damage continues each passing day.

So, how should I manage a standing desk in my life? Well, I would recommend getting a standing desk that you can set automatically to rise up and down every 20-30m (that’s the peak of tissue creep), sit 20-30m, stand 20-30m, and of course get up and walk to the bathroom or the fridge when you can to add some "imbibition" to the disks.

I think standing in one place for too long is not great either, but by comparison I’d say the sitting without moving for prolonged periods is worse than the standing for a similar amount time.

Are there other issues with sitting? For us males possibly the effects on testosterone (slight but possible), neck, and other musculoskeletal issue too from poor posture (what is good posture and why does it even matter, for another post?). The way most people look at it is, they know sitting feels worse for long periods of time than if they were moving. So, listen to your body and move!

In the end, the standing desk may make you a nicer person as maybe you will not feel your chronic low back pain as often or at all. It will not elongate your life (at least not directly but who knows, maybe in 100 years we are all still alive from our standing desks!)

If you’re looking for a place to start for getting a standing desk, upliftdesks.com isn’t a bad place to start. It’s a build your own standing desk store. Just don’t buy the 100-year guarantee, as you most likely won’t be around to take advantage of it (They promote longevity as a perk of a standing desk!).

Till next time; be happy, be healthy, and be mindful of the world around you. And, please tell someone you care about how much you appreciate them in your life😊


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