I was so excited when I got my standing desk. I saw it as a positive step towards healthy living. No more sitting and letting my muscles go soft. I would stand. I would burn more calories. I would even (maybe) start eating kale. The first few weeks were glorious. My mind felt sharper. The days went by faster. I moved around the office more because I was already standing, so why not take a few steps. My chair dancing became actual dancing. I was embracing the standing desk lifestyle, and feeling sorry for those still stuck sitting.
Then my shoulder started to hurt.
I didn't remember any incident that would have caused trauma. I figured I had strained it while walking my dog, or slept on it strangely. Maybe I was just getting old. I started putting ice on it, and taking ibuprofen. Finally, when I could no longer move it from my body ninety degrees without pain, I decided to make an appointment with Emily Harold, MD, at the University Of Utah Orthopaedic Center. Her diagnosis? Shoulder impingement. The culprit? My standing desk.
She explained that it's all about how I was standing. "When using a standing desk it is important to maintain good work station ergonomics," Harold told me. "The elbows should be held at 90 degrees of flexion and close to the worker's side. The standing desk should be at elbow height. I had positioned the desk too high, making it so my elbows were pointed out from my body, rather than at my sides. The repeated stress had caused the pain.
Harold also told me that shoulder pain was just one of the problems seen with standing desks. "The most common problems associated with standing desks are the most common problems seen with standing workers," she told me. "These include chronic venous insufficiency (leg edema), lower back pain, and foot and ankle disorders."
So, should we all just sit back down? No, says Harold, but we should stand smart. "One should limit standing to one hour or less at a time, and four hours or less in an eight hour work day," she says. "Also, frequently change positions, and use a mat to soften the region under the feet which helps with back, foot and ankle pain. You may also want to wear compression stockings to prevent venous insufficiency."
Thanks, Dr. Harold. I'm still standing.