A simple thing employers can do to help desk-bound employees with chronic back pain and perhaps even to reduce obesity levels among employees may be as simple as a change of office furniture.

Replacing the standard sitting desk with higher and height-adjustable desks that allow employees to comfortably stand while they work may offer substantial health benefits.

Standing May Help Prevent/Reduce Obesity

A recent health story in the New York Times by Gretchen Reynolds quotes Barry Braun, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“Emerging evidence suggests that unlike bouts of moderate-vigorous activity, low-intensity ambulation, standing, etc., may contribute to daily energy expenditure without triggering the caloric compensation effect,” Braun wrote in the American College of Sports Medicine newsletter.”

“In a completed but unpublished study conducted in his energy-metabolism lab, Braun and his colleagues had a group of volunteers spend an entire day sitting. If they needed to visit the bathroom or any other location, they spun over in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, in a second session, the same volunteers stood all day, “not doing anything in particular,” Braun says, “just standing.” The difference in energy expenditure was remarkable, representing “hundreds of calories,” Braun says, but with no increase among the upright in their blood levels of ghrelin or other appetite hormones. Standing, for both men and women, burned multiple calories but did not ignite hunger. One thing is going to become clear in the coming years, Braun says: if you want to lose weight, you don’t necessarily have to go for a long run. “Just get rid of your chair.”

Reed Group’s Vice President of Account Services Vicki Schweitzer says: “Some may say there is cost involved with modifying work stations, but it is a great idea to have an ergonomic evaluation and options for sitting/standing.”

“Another low-cost alternative,” she says, “is to get employees on their feet more is to put the parking lot a mile away and let employees have 10 minutes to walk into work in the morning.  They are also then in the position of walking back, and two miles a day is a really good thing!”

Chronic Back Pain and Return to Work

For employees who suffer chronic low back pain, MDGuidelines Return-to-Work recommendations say that prolonged sitting should be avoided.

Heavy or unassisted lifting; repetitive rotation of the back; carrying, pushing, or pulling heavy objects; vibrational stresses; overhead work; and prolonged sitting are to be avoided early on. Prolonged standing should be evaluated for aggravation of the pain. Rest periods are an important part of both treatment and prevention. Some health care providers may recommend wearing a lumbosacral support. Use of medications such as pain relievers (analgesics) and muscle relaxants will necessitate review of safety issues and drug-testing policies. Recurrence of back pain is common, and education regarding safer work practices for lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, and sitting can help decrease or prevent recurrence.

For more information on low back pain, visit

An Employee Health Investment that’s Worth Considering

Spending a few hundred dollars per employee on adjustable standing desks, along with higher chairs that encourage employees to switch between standing and sitting, may be a wise investment that saves employers health care and disability dollars down the road.

Previous Workplace Injury of the Week: Wrist Fracture
Next Workplace Injury of the Week: Ankle Fracture