February 13, 2019
Doctor of Physiotherapy
Neck, shoulder and back pain are common complaints among school children (Treveleyan & Legg 2006) but also highly prevalent in their office working parents with 60% of office workers complaining of musculoskeletal related discomfort (Spyropoulos et al 2007).
Ergonomically efficient workplaces and the highly sought after sit to stand’ desk is gaining momentum and with good reason. A Finland based research group conducted a 2 year longitudinal study with 16 – 18 year olds still in school. Adjustable furniture (desks and stools) were implemented within an intervention group, whilst the control group used the standardised school furniture. Findings showed that in comparison with the control group students sitting postures, standing kyphosis, scoliosis and lordosis (spinal curvatures) became significantly better as well as there being improvements in trunk muscle strength with decreased muscle tension through the upper trapezius (neck and shoulder muscles) and lumbar (low back) muscles, areas which we know provoke headache and back ache symptoms respectively. Interestingly, these students also displayed higher academic achievement than their control counter parts however, this is a novel finding and it is unclear if we can attribute this directly to the intervention. Similar findings have also been replicated in adults with data entry occupations (Husemann et al 2009).
Clinically we see patients who suffer these types of musculoskeletal discomforts on a daily basis, some who can spend 6-10 hours seated without even blinking an eye, working sub optimally and left with neck, shoulder, upper back related headaches, low back aches and the associated health decrements when they leave their workplace. Enter sit to stand desks. With current studies yielding results like the aforementioned with reductions in musculoskeletal complaints and increases in cognitive function and workplace efficiency, why are we not implementing these into more and more workplaces and schooling facilities proactively rather than reactively?
From a physiotherapy perspective, if we can implement better postural solutions, particularly when dealing with patients who replicate sustained postures for numerous hours a day and reducing injury while improving efficiency then sit to stand desks present a logical solution. They can be lowered when the user requires a sit break and raised back up when the user is ready to stand – it must be noted however, that poor postures can still be attained in standing positions particularly when weight distribution over the feet is not relatively even and there still lies risks of laziness and slouching over the desk. It is important the user regularly rotates their sitting and standing positions through the day to gain a therapeutic benefit. So while sit to stand desks may not be the complete solution they are certainly a step in the right direction!