Can a Standing Desk be Bad For You?

A height-adjustable standing desk

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As more people swap their traditional desks for the upright alternative, there’s a burning question on everyone’s mind: Is standing the new sitting? While standing desks are praised for their posture-perfecting properties, they might negatively affect your health if not used properly. 

Key Takeaways

  • standing desk can help reduce back pain and increase activity, but they may also lead to muscle fatigue and foot problems if used for extended periods.
  • Standing too much can cause health issues like varicose veins and lower limb swelling. That’s why it is important to find the right sit-stand balance. It is important that you start with short intervals of standing, like 10 minutes per hour, and work your way up. Many experts recommend to aim for switching between sitting and standing every 30 minutes. Remember to always listen to your body. 
  • Proper setup of a standing desk is important. Adjust the height so your elbows are at 90-100 degrees when typing, place your computer monitor in your normal line of sight (where your eyes are relaxed), use an anti-fatigue mat, maintain good posture and move regularly.
  • Taking regular breaks from either sitting or standing allows you to stretch muscles which reduces discomfort. Simple exercises like calf raises or shoulder rolls during these breaks boost overall wellness.

Risks of Using a Standing Desk

Person standing at a correctly adjusted standing desk

Long hours of standing can lead to muscle fatigue and discomfort in the lower limbs. This prolonged position increases the pressure on our knees, hips, and feet which often results in pain.

Furthermore, if you stand for more than six hours daily, you’re at a higher risk of needing surgery due to varicose veins. Prolonged standing also affects mental function and reaction times negatively as blood flows down without being efficiently pumped back up due to less physical movement.

So while it’s good that we are avoiding sedentary behavior by using a standing desk, we must also be aware not to replace one extreme with another. 

Muscle fatigue

Muscle fatigue remains a significant downside to the prolonged use of standing desks. Standing all day puts immense stress on leg joints and muscles, leading to an increased risk of muscle fatigue.

This may manifest through feelings of weakness, discomfort, or an inability to complete physical tasks as easily as before. 

Lower limb swelling

Extended periods of standing lead to lower limb swelling. Your body works hard to pump blood against gravity, which can result in pooling of blood in the ankles and calves. This process leads to discomfort and painful swelling called edema.

sedentary lifestyle isn’t healthy, but standing for over six hours a day exposes you to the risk of needing surgery for varicose veins 

Risk of Getting Varicose Veins

Using a standing desk for prolonged periods can lead to varicose veins. This health condition occurs when valves in your veins, typically in the legs and feet, don’t work properly causing blood to pool and pressure to build up.

Spending more than six hours per day on your feet significantly raises this risk. Varicose veins not only create discomfort but often require surgery as well. On the flip side, individuals who reduce their standing or walking time to less than four hours daily show a decreased likelihood of needing such procedures.

Decreased reaction time and mental function

Continuous hours without movement, even if you are standing, can have a negative impact on your cognitive performance. You may suddenly realize that you’re having difficulty focusing or making quick decisions.

Your reaction time often slows notably, potentially affecting productivity or even safety if physical tasks are involved in your job. Mental fatigue sets in as well, causing decreased motivation and clouding judgment.

Notably, the effects aren’t simply limited to the workday – prolonged periods of standing could lead to lasting impacts on mental function over time. It’s important to create a balance in our daily routine by incorporating regular breaks and stretching exercises while using sit-stand desks.

Finding a Balance

Switching between sitting and standing

Having recognized the risks of using a standing desk, it’s important to find a balance between sitting and standing. Adopting an alternating pattern maximizes the benefits while minimizing the negatives.

Ergonomics are crucial when using a sit-stand desk; adjust your workstation so that you stand in a natural and relaxed position. Take frequent breaks from standing or sitting to stretch and move around.

The Importance of Alternating Between Sitting and Standing

Standing all day is just as detrimental as sitting all day. The key to a healthier work environment is balance. 

Continuously remaining in one position, whether sitting or standing, can lead to muscle fatigue, strain, and other health issues. By alternating beween sitting and standing you can reap the benefits of a standing desk without having to worry about the negative effects of prolonged standing.

If you are a beginner, you should definitely start with short standing intervals, like 10 minutes per hour. Many experts recommend gradually working your way up until you reach a point where you are comfortable with alternating between sitting and standing every 30 minutes, which would translate to a 1:1 sit-stand ratio. Remember that this is only a recommendation and that you should always prioritize listening to your body and making adjustments accordingly.

Ergonomic Considerations for Standing Desks

Proper ergonomic design plays a vital role when setting up your standing desk. Here are some tips:

  1. Adjust the desk height: The standing desk should allow comfortable typing with your elbows bent at 90-100 degrees.
  2. Consider the computer monitor placement: Your eye level should be in line with the top third of your screen to prevent neck strain.
  3. Use an anti-fatigue mat: This can help reduce foot pain and fatigue from standing for extended periods.
  4. Employ proper posture: Try to maintain a neutral body position, avoiding any unnecessary strain on any of your muscles.
  5. Move regularly: Even when using a standing desk correctly, try to move around for at least 5 minutes every hour.
  6. Alternate between sitting and standing: It’s essential to change positions throughout the day, as both prolonged sitting and standing can have health risks.
  7. Keep fine motor tasks for seated work: Tasks requiring precise hand-eye coordination may be easier while seated, as research suggests that prolonged standing can affect fine motor skills.

Taking Breaks and Stretching

Engaging in regular breaks and stretching exercises can significantly enhance your experience with a standing desk. Fostering this habit is not just about breaking the monotony of your workday but also boosting your health in countless ways.

Taking regular breaks during extended periods of sitting or standing alleviates stress, reduces muscle fatigue and backache, and improves circulation and productivity.

Incorporating simple stretches into these break times can further offset discomfort and reduce the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, while potentially alleviating existing pain and enhancing physiological well-being.

In essence, taking breaks and engaging in routine stretches make using a standing desk more beneficial for overall wellness.


Long hours of standing may pose a risk to your health, just as prolonged sitting does. Therefore, it’s crucial to strike a balance in using a standing desk. Tune into your body signals and alternate between sit and stand positions throughout the day for an optimal work experience.

Remember, the key lies not solely in our posture but also in motion – maintaining regular movement is integral, irrespective of whether we’re sitting or standing.


1. What is a standing desk and how do you use it?

A standing desk, which can be fixed-height or height-adjustable, allows you to work while standing up instead of sitting down.

2. Can using a treadmill with a standing desk help?

Using a treadmill with a standing desk introduces continuous walking, which not only increases calorie burn but also offers enhanced circulation and cardiovascular benefits beyond the simple act of standing. This active movement provides a more dynamic shift in posture and blood flow, further mitigating the risks associated with prolonged stationary positions.

3. Is there any relation between overuse of a Standing Desk & heart disease?

According to the University of Toronto, prolonged standing at work can actually double the risk of heart disease due to blood pooling in the legs, increased pressure in the veins, and increased oxidative stress.

4. Which is better – Sitting too much or Standing too long?

Neither is definitively “worse” as both pose significant health risks; the key is to strike a balance between the two.

5. Can standing desks hurt your back?

Yes, a standing desk can hurt your back. If you stand or sit too much, don’t adjust your desk’s height so that you can maintain good posture, and don’t take regular movement breaks, you will likely hurt your back instead of getting rid of back discomfort.