Can Standing Desks Hurt Your Back?

Person having back pain

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In recent years, standing desks have become increasingly popular in the workplace and home offices. Standing desks are known for helping to alleviate back pain caused by sitting for long periods and bad posture. But can they also hurt your back?

In this article, we’ll answer this question and explore how standing desks can affect your back.

Key Takeaways

  • Yes, a standing desk can hurt your back if you don’t use it properly.
  • If you want your standing desk to benefit your back instead of hurting it, you should start with short standing periods and gradually extend them until you reach a good balance between sitting and standing, adjust your desk to the right height to be able to maintain good posture, use an anti-fatigue mat, wear comfortable shoes, and take a short movement break every hour.

How a Standing Desk Can Affect Your Back

While standing desks have gained popularity as a way to reduce back pain associated with sitting for long periods, it’s important to understand how they can impact your back health. Let’s explore the key factors:

Prolonged Standing

Although standing more often can improve posture and alleviate back pain, standing for long periods without breaks can do the opposite, meaning promote back pain. Here are some studies that show the effect of prolonged standing on your back:

  • A study published on ScienceDirect shows that standing for 2 hours caused low back discomfort in 13 out of 16 individuals. It is also important to note that these participants who developed lower back discomfort during the 2-hour period of standing didn’t suffer from any lower back pain at the start of the study.
  • A study published on the website of the University of Waterloo found that 40% of 40 adults, who did not have any pre-existing back problems, developed low back pain after standing for two hours.


These studies not only show that prolonged standing can hurt your back but also that people have varying tolerance for standing for long periods. Some experience back pain sooner, while others can stand much longer without discomfort. It is also important to consider that the studies took place on one day only. If you are going to use a standing desk, you will use it long-term and not for just one day. Therefore, you have to be extra careful. 

It is essential that you start small and gradually increase your standing time until you find a good balance between sitting and standing. After years of experience and different attempts, we and many other experts recommend the following if you want your standing desk to benefit your back instead of hurting it because of prolonged standing:

  • Start with around 5-10 minutes of standing per hour. Increase your hourly standing time by approximately 1 to 2 minutes every day.
  • Work your way up towards a sit-stand ratio of 1:1, which translates to 30 minutes of sitting followed by 30 minutes of standing.
  • Take a movement break of 5-10 minutes every hour, which you should use to stretch, do some light exercises, and walk around.
  • Always listen to your body and make adjustments accordingly. If you feel unsure about any of your approaches, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a healthcare professional.

Incorrect Desk Height and Bad Posture

An improperly adjusted standing desk can cause strain on your back, neck, and shoulders. If the desk is too high or too low, it will force you into an unnatural posture, leading to muscle tension and back, neck, and shoulder pain. To determine the correct height for your standing desk, follow these steps:

  1. Stand tall with your head centered, neck and shoulders relaxed, and arms at your sides.
  2. Bend your elbows to form a 90-degree angle.
  3. Adjust the surface of your desk until it is just below your elbow height.
Here is an illustration of what your posture should look like when standing and sitting:
How to sit and stand at a height-adjustable desk

Maintaining good posture while standing is essential to minimize the risk of developing pain or discomfort. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your weight evenly distributed. Keep your head centered over your spine, shoulders relaxed, and elbows bent at around a 90-100-degree angle with your forearms parallel to the desk surface. At the same time, make sure your neck is in its natural position and you maintain your spine’s natural “S” curve, or, in other words, a neutral back position.

Use of an Anti-Fatigue Mat and Comfortable Shoes

supportive shoe and anti-fatigue mat

When using a standing desk, consider investing in an anti-fatigue mat to provide cushioning and support for your feet and legs. These mats encourage subtle movements that improve blood flow and reduce overall discomfort. Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes can also help reduce the impact on your lower body and alleviate back pain. Proper footwear is very beneficial because standing on a hard surface for extended periods can lead to foot, leg, and back pain.


On one hand, standing desks offer the potential to improve posture, reduce back pain associated with sitting for extended periods and bad posture, and lower the risk of various health problems linked to a sedentary lifestyle. By encouraging good posture and alleviating the static strain on your back that occurs when sitting, standing desks can provide relief for those who experience back discomfort from sitting at their desks.

However, it’s crucial to recognize that standing for long periods and an improper ergonomic setup can also contribute to back pain and discomfort. Factors such as incorrect desk height, poor posture while standing, and the lack of cushioning or support for the feet and legs can lead to muscle fatigue, strain, and increased pressure on the back. But not just that. A standing desk can be bad for you in many ways.

Ultimately, the key to reaping the benefits of a standing desk while minimizing the risk of back pain lies in finding a good balance between sitting and standing, ensuring a good ergonomic setup and good posture while standing at your desk, as explained above. 

It’s also essential to listen to your body’s needs and consult with a healthcare professional if you have pre-existing back conditions, experience increased discomfort while using a standing desk, or are unsure about anything regarding the use of your standing desk.


1. Is it better to sit or stand at a desk all day? 

Neither sitting nor standing all day is good for your health. As mentioned several times, the key is to alternate between sitting and standing positions throughout the day. 

2. Can standing desks cause lower back pain? 

Yes, standing for too long can contribute to lower back pain, especially if you have poor posture. 

3. What should a proper standing desk setup consist of?

For maximum comfort and benefits, your setup should include an anti-fatigue mat, an ergonomic chair for the sitting periods, and a monitor arm if needed.