Roughly 80% of Americans work at desk jobs, and even more spend time at a desk when they get off work. This totals to an average of 9.5 hours sitting per day! Chances are you have had some pain develop due to some issue with your specific desk setup. This blogpost will answer your most important questions with great tips to be creative and save money!
Desk Setup Guidelines
Source: Nordin and Frankel, 2001
Screen Position- You will want to make sure the screen is 18-30 inches from your eyes and within the parameters shown in the image above: ideally 15 degrees below the horizontal, but definitely within your comfortable line of sight, which is 0 to 30 degrees below the horizontal.
Standing Desk Height- most desks are 40-42 inches in height, but you want to make sure it fits you as well as possible as a unique individual. Your arms should be at a 90 deg angle with the forearms parallel to the floor. This is the height you want your desk to be at plus one inch for the keyboard (this is just a guide, it’s more important that it is comfortable for you rather than exactly at this height).
It has been recommended to get an adjustable desk which is obviously more versatile, but also more expensive. If you are going for a desk with a fixed height, make sure you underestimate the height if anything, because you can always stack books and increase the height of the objects you need on it. If it is too tall, you’re out of luck unless you stand on something, but I wouldn’t recommend that!
Sitting Desk Height- This will obviously differ from your standing desk height unless you have a super adjustable chair. If you can adjust your chair height, you will want to be able to bring it to the level where your feet make solid contact with the ground. In other words, if you had wheels on your chair (not super important but can be good to promote more movement), you would want to be at a height where you could push and pull yourself forcefully along the ground. This is because this ensures you are in a position of stability.
Having an adjustable back to the chair is good for comfort purposes, but you also want to occasionally sit upright in the chair as it forces your core and lumbar stabilizers to engage. These muscles will fatigue eventually, therefore it is important to have the option to lean back comfortably.
Source: Nachemson and Elfstrom, 1970
This image is a great visualization of how “perfect posture” when sitting actually increases the pressure on the lumbar spine! You can see the ideal is 110 deg in terms of pressure, but this is all greater than the pressure when standing up.
It’s important to note that you still want to get into these positions for brief periods of time because the changes in directions of force help promote blood flow and bone remodeling for the spine. That’s why it’s important to keep moving and avoid being stuck in one position for too long!
I highly recommend you try out different chairs before spending a considerable amount of money on them. Just because it’s rated highly or your friend loves it doesn’t mean it’s optimally designed for your body!
If you imagine a bar, it’s set up for people to stand around it and order drinks. Obviously the bartenders want people to be as comfortable as possible and buy as many drinks as possible, so they designed everything with this in mind. You want to take some of these elements when making a standing desk setup!
Having a place to lean on either in front or behind you is better than sitting because it still forces you to engage some muscles, but it allows you to take a break while standing if unassisted standing is difficult for you.
Setting up a step in front of you under the desk is another great option because having one foot up in the air will lessen the pull of the muscles in the front of your thigh on your low back, therefore reducing the stress on the low back. This leads to the ability to stand longer too!
There are also fidget bars and fidget chairs designed to allow for more movement while sitting. This is a surprisingly effective way to improve calorie expenditure as you see from the numbers I have below.
Calories Burned Compared to Lying Still:
-Sitting motionless 6% increase
-Fidgeting while sitting 54% increase
-Standing motionless 13% increase
-Fidgeting while standing 94% increase
-Walking 1 MPH 154% increase
-Walking 2 MPH 202% increase
-Walking 3 MPH 292% increase
I have an Instagram video that I will be posting tomorrow, 7/11/23 that explores some of the options we have available for extra fidgeting!
Instagram Link: Instagram.com/crosshealthwellness/
At the end of the day, these are the most important things to take into account: do not sit for too long cumulatively (greater than 6 hours ideally), alternate between sitting and standing at about a 2:1 ratio depending on your capacity (20 minutes sitting to 10 minutes standing is roughly ideal), and progress slowly when increasing your standing tolerance (think of time spent sitting weekly and go from there)!
There are general guidelines on where to place the different components of your desk setup, but the most important thing is to find what is most comfortable in the ballpark of the recommendations I outline in this blogpost.
Good luck and please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!