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Exploring the benefits of sit–stand desks

Marina Williams
7 November 2016

Adelaide Physiotherapy & Pilates Studio is taking an innovative approach in making patients more comfortable in the waiting room. The clinic has installed a sit–stand desk to enhance patient care and to help break sedentary behaviour associated with a ‘desk-bound culture’ within the home and workplace.

The desk has an electric motor and can be adjusted to suit the height of the user; and is proving beneficial for patients who attend the clinic seeking relief from musculoskeletal pain.

‘Many of our patients can’t sit comfortably, especially if they have back pain,’ principal physiotherapist Claire Osterstock, APAM, says. ‘We used to encourage patients to limit their sitting, and we noticed them looking quite uncomfortable standing in the waiting room. We decided that it made good sense to give them a comfortable standing space.’

Prolonged sitting and a lack of regular movement throughout the day is causing a notable rise in patients seeking help to manage musculoskeletal disorders, Claire says, adding that other health-related issues include weight gain, obesity, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

‘Prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor and, for example, going to the gym after work does not change this risk. Regular interruptions from sitting reduce the risks. Standing does not increase a worker’s activity level much, but contraction of the leg muscles in standing breaks down more triglycerides and glucose,’ she says. ‘It is recommended that adults limit their total sitting time during the day. The benefits of encouraging employees to sit less include reducing rates of chronic disease, hence reducing absenteeism and increasing productivity. A sit–stand desk is one tool to reduce overall sitting time and increase the frequency of breaks from sitting.’

The desk was custom-made to suit the waiting room, and patients have been keen to understand how it operates since it was installed in June. Other custom features include an anti-collision mechanism and a weight limit of more than 100 kg. ‘People will lean on it, and possibly even sit on it, so we made sure it was fitted with safety mechanisms,’ she says.

To encourage patient use, staff usually have a puzzle, such as a jigsaw, on the go—a simple, yet smart, approach to experience the desk, Claire says.

‘It welcomes people to use it, encourages standing time and allows them to see that the desk functions as a useful space for other activities besides just computer work,’ she says. ‘There is growing evidence to show that prolonged sitting is bad for our health. While we encourage workers to take frequent breaks from sitting, which can often be achieved without the need to buy new furniture, some workers, such as accountants and payroll clerks, may have little opportunity to move around the office. The sit–stand desk allows them to take frequent breaks from sitting and keep working.’

However, Claire stresses a sit–stand desk should not replace good ergonomics, with employers and users needing to understand good work practices, as well as the benefits of a tailored work station.

‘There are many physiotherapists skilled to go into a workplace and assess if sit–stand desks would be of benefit. It is then important that workers are trained in their use. Prolonged standing can cause other problems, so a balance needs to be achieved.’

As more businesses look to invest in ergonomic furniture as a preventative measure to staff injuries, the clinic is preparing to expand its services to include a physiotherapy retail store.

‘We feel there is a gap in the market for clients wanting physiotherapy advice on product purchases. This is often the domain of furniture stores or chemists, without the expert advice; so we’ve found the desk has been a fantastic investment for the practice, as it’s a real talking point, and shows our patients that we practice what we preach.

‘It has also created another income stream, with the ability to onsell customised electric desks at very reasonable prices. Several patients have purchased desks to use a home, one even as an adjustable sewing table.’

An electric desk will also be installed for staff use as part of the office expansion.

‘It makes sense to purchase another electric desk rather than a static desk,’ Claire says. ‘We are all different heights, and even having the desk at an ideal height for sitting makes great ergonomic sense.’

Claire's top tips for moving

To get more movement into your working day, Claire recommends sitting breaks every 20-30 minutes, and incorporating some other postures into the day, such as introducing standing or walking meetings:
  • don’t have everything in reach—a short walk to the printer makes a great break from sitting
  • organise standing meetings, preferably around a higher surface for the person taking notes
  • go walking with a colleague who’ll keep you motivated
  • remove rubbish bins from under individual desks, so you have to walk to a communal bin
  • look at investing in sit–stand desks.


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