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Office Trends – Standing Desks, Stability Balls, and Your Spine

Standing desks and stability balls have become a huge trend in offices across the country. Proponents of these items say they can help to promote good posture and alleviate back and neck pain. But do they really work? Here are some tips to consider if you decide to try it out.

Standing Desks

Sitting down for a large portion of the day can result in several health risks, even for those who exercise regularly outside of the office. Research has shown that when sitting for more than an hour at a time, there can be as much as a 90% decrease in the production of enzymes that burn fat in our bodies. Long periods of sitting can also slow the metabolism of glucose and lower the levels of good cholesterol in the blood, both of which are factors in developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

There are now several companies that offer standing desks, although there are several tutorials on how to repurpose end tables and other items to convert your desk to a standing desk. When purchasing a standing desk, it may be best to opt for one that allows you to adjust the height so that you can adjust to find a positioning that is comfortable for you. While at a standing desk, it is best to have your arms at roughly a 90 degree angle when using your keyboard and mouse.

Standing at your desk can make you more aware of your posture, and many who have converted to a standing desk report that back pain has decreased, and in some cases went away entirely. Others claim that the standing desk has helped them lose weight and strengthened their core muscles. However, standing for too long can cause pain in the feet and back. If you plan on using a standing desk, consider investing in an anti-fatigue mat to stand on while working at your desk. This can help to make standing more comfortable. Also, if you plan on standing all day, be sure to wear comfortable shoes with a good arch support.

You may also want to get a barstool or tall chair so that you still have the option to sit if needed. Try easing into standing while working, standing up every 20-30 minutes. Stand up to answer your emails and make phone calls, or walk over to a coworker’s desk to ask a question in person. You can gradually increase your standing time as you get used to it.

Stability Balls

Stability balls have also become quite popular in some office settings. Those who swap out their desk chair for a stability ball have reported that it has helped to ease lower back pain and strengthen the core, and it helps them to sneak in exercise during the day. Medical professionals, however, have not found any significant benefits to using an exercise ball in place of a desk chair. It is still possible to have poor posture while sitting on a stability ball, but if sitting correctly, your core, hip, and leg muscles are contracting slightly to help you maintain balance. Also, unless you are able to adjust the height of your desk, it can sometimes be difficult to reach a comfortable height at your desk while using a stability ball. There are chairs on the market with built-in exercise balls that allow you to adjust the height, though. These chairs can also minimize another risk of sitting on exercise balls–they can sometimes roll out from under you, causing a fall.

Sitting on stability balls for an extended period of time can also put pressure on the lumbar spine (your lower back). For this reason, it may be best to switch between the ball and your regular desk chair. When you use the ball, you should also make sure that you have the proper size; when sitting on the ball, your thighs should be parallel to the ground.

Although the medical community has mixed opinions on the effectiveness of standing desks and stability balls, we can all agree that it is not healthy to sit for prolonged periods of time. If either of these methods help you to correct your posture and move around more often, they are certainly worth keeping up, as long as you take the proper precautions.

For more tips, check out Everyday Habits Can Cause Back (Neck & Shoulders) Pain.