Many people come to physical therapy with back pain that seems to bother them while working at their desks. They often ask, "should I be using a standing or sitting desk?" The real answer to this question is that there are advantages and disadvantages to both.
The human spine is comprised of vertebrae, ligaments, and intervertebral discs. The vertebrae are the bones that make up the spine, while the ligaments connect the bones and the intervertebral discs cushion between the vertebrae. A number of things can irritate the vertebrae, discs, ligaments, and the muscles and nerves that surround the spine.
One major source of spinal irritation is static (unchanging) loading on the spine. For many people, their day job consists of sitting at a desk or standing at a counter continually throughout the day. When we stay in one position for a prolonged period of time, the same part of the vertebrae, ligaments, and discs are constantly being loaded. This can cause that particular area of the structure to become irritated or injured.
However, if we are able to stand up from sitting or vice versa, this changes the loading on the particular area of the spine we had previously been loading by the initial position. This allows that particular area to essentially "take a break" and instead loads a different part of the spine.
Ideally, people who have to work at their computer throughout the day would be able to alternate between a standing and sitting desk throughout the day in order to continuously change the loading of their spine, ensuring no one area becomes too stressed or fatigued.
If you are not able to get a desk that transitions between the standing and sitting position, try to take standing and sitting breaks every 20-30 minutes. Additionally, shift your weight from side to side in standing or sitting, wiggle your toes, roll your shoulders, and in general, stay moving throughout your body as much as you can!
If you are having trouble getting comfortable at your desk or are having back pain that isn't getting better, make sure to schedule an appointment with us at Coal Creek PT to get you back on the right path to spine wellness and zero pain!
Annabel Bavage, PT, DPT
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