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Postural Variations Using Sit-Stand Workstations

Thursday, October 21, 2010
By Anne Kramer

One of the leading complaints of employees who maintain a seated position throughout the day is that of physical discomfort. Research has confirmed this with the discovery that maintaining any one position for extended periods of time can lead to musculoskeletal discomfort, and in some cases, damage. Of course, this should come as no surprise to anyone who has worked at a computer desk for more than an hour or two; leg shifting, straightening of the torso, and shifting in the seat are the body’s natural responses to becoming physically uncomfortable.

Approaching this problem from an ergonomic perspective, researchers over the past few years have recommended the construction of a workstation that can be adjusted to meet the needs of the worker at any given juncture. The so-called "sit/stand workstation" does exactly that: it allows the individual to perform his/her daily tasks in a sitting position, a standing position, or really any one in between.

Researchers have found that not only is it preferred by most users, but that alternating between a sitting and standing position results in decreased discomfort and increased productivity. In fact, an article recently published by Cornell University states:

"…sit-stand workstations, that can be quickly adjusted, allow each worker to modify the height of their worksurface throughout the day, and this may reduce musculoskeletal discomfort and improve work performance."

The secret is "postural variation." By changing positions throughout the day, individuals redistribute their weight and engage new sets of muscles, thereby reducing pressure on the lower back, buttocks and legs, and eliminating musculoskeletal discomfort. This repositioning also satisfies the body’s natural tendency to stretch, and promotes blood flow which research shows prevents a number of disorders from varicose veins to blood clots.

There are, in fact, a few different types of sit/stand workstations. Differentiated primarily by the mechanism which allows their transformation, the major categories are:

Electric Workstations: These units are typically sold as entire workstations. That is, they are actually desks as opposed to a workstation accessory, making them a more expensive than alternative approaches to the sit/stand concept. With the touch of a button however, they mechanically lift your entire workstation so that it can be used in any number of positions.

Monitor Arms: Generally the most cost-effective solution for the individual looking to retrofit their existing workspace, monitor arms physically raise the monitor through a range of height options, while workspace lifts are able to accommodate the entire workstation.

Articulating Arms: As the most popular method of retrofitting an office workspace, articulating arms replace the existing stands for both the user’s keyboard and monitor. Keyboard arms generally offer over 20 inches of movement and swivel left to right, while monitor arms allow seamless movement to the height which best corresponds to the chosen keyboard height.

In addition to allowing users to adjust their posture throughout the day, these types of workstations can accommodate users of varying physical size, from children and the handicapped to adults of all sizes.

Workers who alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day enjoy a higher level of comfort and productivity while ensuring their ergonomic health.

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