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  • Writer's pictureKaren O'Keefe OTR/L

Standing Desk Ergonomics Done Right

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

Standing desks are becoming increasingly popular, and with valid reasoning. These standing workstations allow the worker to take a break from sitting, changes use of major muscle groups, and can actually improve productivity.

Despite these benefits, it is important to keep in mind the appropriate standing desk ergonomics. It is not enough to randomly set up a taller desk.

You must ensure that these new workstations are set up in an ergonomically friendly manner for each individual worker.

The options for a standing workstation seem endless. There are electrical or manually adjustable standing desks, corner or L-shaped standing desks, and even treadmill desks.

But no matter what style you choose, you first need to start with education on and assessment of standing desk ergonomics.

Why use a standing desk?

Maybe you have heard the phrase, “sitting is the new smoking.” While there is not enough research to say that this is 100% accurate just yet, there is some truth to the fact that standing may have benefits over sitting.

A systematic review done in 2015, concluded that prolonged sitting, even 5 hours a day, is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, regardless of what other exercise or physical activity is performed outside of the hours spent sitting.

Plus, the more we stand, the more calories we burn, which in turn helps weight loss, obesity, and risks of these chronic metabolic diseases.

Use of a standing desk can help significantly reduce the times spent standing per each working day.

Think about it: We wake up and get ready for our day. Then we sit to eat, sit during our commute, sit at work, and sit while relaxing after work.

Use of a standing desk provides at least 8-10 hours of variability to our typically sitting posture.

In addition to being overall good for your health, use of a standing desk, with the right desk ergonomics, can also lead to decreased musculoskeletal pain. This is true, not just in the workplace, but also in classrooms!

In fact, this study found that decreased sitting time correlated, not only with improved back and neck pain, but also with overall improvement in mood.

Standing desk ergonomics

Most standing desks are adjustable. This means you can have a healthy balance of both standing and sitting while at your workstation. When first starting out with your standing desk, become familiar with how it adjusts.

Once you know how it works, follow these suggestions to ensure you are comfortable and gain the most benefit from using your standing workstation:

Proper standing desk ergonomics
Proper standing desk ergonomics
  • Keep a neutral posture. This means your head, neck, torso, and legs are vertical and in line with each other

    • Don’t lock your knees out

    • Use an anti-fatigue mat and wear supportive shoes

    • Use a footrest to help shift your weight from side to side

  • Bend your elbow to 90 degrees and raise your desk so that it meets your forearm and wrist.

    • At this position, your forearm should be parallel to the floor.

    • You should be able to draw a straight line from your elbow to your wrist, hand, and keyboard or mouse.

    • Keep your elbows close to your body.

  • Bring your monitor screen up to eye level. This ensures you do not have to look up or down and allows you to maintain a neutral spine.

    • You can bring your screen through a number of different ways, but using an adjustable monitor stand or monitor arm seems to work best.

    • Place your screen at a 20 degree tilt backwards

    • Place your monitor at an arm’s length away (around 20 inches) from your eyes

  • Keep frequently used items within reaching distance

  • Have an elevated, adjustable, and supportive stool with a foot rest for sitting breaks, especially if you do not plan on lowering your desk when you need to sit

  • Take regular breaks

    • Alternate from standing to sitting

    • Also take regular breaks from your entire workstation and monitor

Take the time to set up your standing desk so that you have the appropriate desk ergonomics for your workstation. Using a standing desk won’t just minimize aches and pains and improve your productivity, it is overall better for your health.

Sitting versus standing desk ergonomics?

When you compared sitting and standing desk ergonomics, there are a lot of similarities. The main difference with standing desks, besides the health and productivity benefits, include the need to ensure you maintain a neutral posture from head to toe.

You will use an anti-fatigue mat and supportive shoes, try weight shifting from side to side using a footrest. Have an adjustable stool so that you can take sitting breaks without needing to adjust your table back down to the sitting position.

Otherwise the same recommendations apply to use of other objects and tools at your workstation.

It is beneficial to alternate between sitting and standing at your desk. Prolonged positioning in any posture has its own negative effects. Some research is recommending a ratio of 1:1 or 2:1 sitting versus standing.

This ratio appears to be optimal for comfort and energy levels. For example, for every 1 to 2 hours you spend sitting at your desk, you should stand for 1 hour.

Once you have the correct set up and desk ergonomics for your workstation, you will begin to notice the positive impacts it has on you, both in and out of work.


Karen O’Keefe, OTR/L has combined her passion for Hand Therapy with the rewards Ergonomics can bring to her clients over the past 32 years. Co-founder of Exeter Therapy Associates and now Access Sports Medicine, she has specialized in Ergonomics in the workplace, along with musculoskeletal and neurological injuries.

Karen is equally passionate about hiking, biking and cooking. She lives with her husband in Kittery, Maine.

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