By: Steve Siwy for Back1
A recent Cornell University study has found that using a height-adjustable desk that enables a person to move from sitting to standing positions throughout the workday can improve workers’ productivity and reduce their discomfort. The study compared the results of questionnaires given to workers using electric, height-adjustable work surfaces, and some using fixed-height work surfaces, over a period of four to six weeks. The study participants reported less musculoskeletal discomfort with the height-adjustable desks, especially in the afternoon, and almost unanimously preferred working at the adjustable workstations.
In a recent Reuters article, Dr. Alan Hedge of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Laboratory, who authored the study, said that being able to stand occasionally while working may help alleviate discomfort and pain allowing workers to use different muscle groups throughout the day, as well as by improving circulation.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), back injuries are the number-one work-related hazard in the United States. Among their recommendations for preventing back pain at work (as well as at home) if you must spend long periods sitting at a desk, is to try to stand once an hour and stretch.
Indeed, changing position throughout the workday, whether one’s job is done primarily in a standing or sitting posture, has been shown in previous studies to reduce back pain, as well as other symptoms such as foot swelling and spinal shrinkage. Improvements in worker productivity have also been noted when people are able to vary their posture, as in one study where employees using “sit-stand” adjustable furniture reported feeling more energetic and less tired at the end of the day.
|Back Pain at Work|
1. It is #1 work-related hazard in the United States
2. Varying posture results in employees feeling more productive and energetic
3. Adjustable desks are proven to decrease discomfort in the upper body as well as the neck, hands, and even eyes.
4. Workers should stand and stretch at least once per hour.
In previous studies, the adjustable desks used manual cranks, which, according to the Cornell paper, “suffered several limitations.” It notes that the crank handles were “poorly located,” they were difficult to operate (especially when the desk surface was weighed down by equipment), and they took too much time to adjust. In their study, Hedge and the Cornell researchers used desks powered by electric motors.
The electrically-adjustable work surfaces allowed workers the “ability to changer their work posture without having to stop doing their computer work,” Hedge told Reuters. “The whole movement is quick and quiet.”
Participants who used the electrically-adjustable desks in the Cornell study reported that they stood for about 21% of the day, and nearly all of them preferred the adjustable desks to fixed-height workstations. In fact, the study says, three participants who were supposed to switch to fixed-height desks for the second part of the study “refused to relinquish their EHAW [electric height-adjustable worksurface] during the study.”
The desks didn’t only reduce back pain, either. Study participants reported a slight decrease in discomfort in most regions of the upper body, including the neck, hands, wrists, shoulders, and even eyes.
Given the improvements over the four-to-six week span of the study, the Cornell researchers believe that even more benefits may be seen from the use of easily-adjustable work surfaces over a long period. Further research is necessary, the study says, to determine just what the long-term effects might be.