Standing desks 'increase pain' and slow down mental ability, study suggests

Henry Bodkin
Standing desks are becoming increasingly popular - Getty

Standing desks increase bodily pain and slow down people’s cognitive functions at work, new research suggests.

Experts have warned that despite the “feverish” trend towards adopting the adjustable desks, there is little solid evidence to support their use, as well as concerns they may do more harm than good.

The devices are becoming increasingly commonplace as awareness improves regarding the dangers of sedentary living - most office workers spend more than 80 per cent of the time sitting - and they are also popular with people suffering from back pain.

But the new study, published in the journal Ergonomics, has linked prolonged use of standing desks with lower limb discomfort and deteriorating mental reactiveness.

Researchers at Curtin University in Australia observed 20 participants working at standing desks for two hours.

They found discomfort “significantly” increased for the lower back and lower limb regions, which correlates with previous research suggesting standing desk is responsible for swelling of the veins, which can endanger the heart.

Mental reactiveness also slowed down after roughly an hour and a quarter, however “creative” decision making was shown to marginally improve.

Professor Alan Taylor, a physiotherapy expert at Nottingham University, said: “The bottom line is that this expansion has been driven more by commercial reasons than scientific evidence.

“But the evidence is catching up and it’s showing there are some drawbacks.

“They are not a panacea for back pain, yet companies are worried that if they provide them they’ll be sued.”

Key conclusions | National Obesity Forum report

Last year a report by Edinburgh University revealed some office workers, in particular middle-aged men, spend more time sitting down than pensioners, with large parts of the population described as “dangerously sedentary”.

It builds on research showing that a third of Britons are putting themselves at risk of an early grave because of their lack of exercise.

Professor Taylor said that, while future evidence may emerge suggesting some benefits of standing desks, office workers should not ignore current advice to go for regular walks at work just because they are standing rather than sitting.

“Get up, go and make a cup of tea or coffee - don’t just stand there,” he said.

Standing desks, or systems to elevate computers, range range from around £200 to three or four times that sum.

Some scientists believe their use can help office workers lose weight, particularly if combined with a treadmill to form a so-called “walking desk”.