To sit, to stand, to walk? The office conundrum

Sean Archer 15 October, 2020

Problem solved, everybody! All good! Turns out buying everyone in your business a new age sit-to-stand desk will fix all their aches and pains GUARANTEED! ….Not really. Imagine, though. It may help a small percentage of them, but probably not enough to justify the cost.

There has been a distinct increase in the amount of people working in sedentary office jobs over the last few decades due to the evolution of the “technology age”, and more recently due to the global health pandemic having more and more people working from home. Many of these workers complain of musculoskeletal symptoms such as pain and stiffness and current research has found increased sedentary time sitting down is directly associated with poor health and mortality. Interventions aimed at increasing walking and standing in the workplace have been effective at decreasing the time people spend sitting down. It was still unclear, however, if these strategies were effective at reducing the intensity or prevalence of pain and stiffness amongst these office workers.  


What does the evidence tell us?

Proactive businesses that are aware of the risks of prolonged sitting to their workers’ health, have started investigating ways to increase the amount of time standing or walking in the workplace. This usually involves changes to the physical environment through devices such as sit-to-stand desks and even treadmill workstations (yes, actual treadmills), or strategies aimed at the individual where they utilise devices such as activity trackers. These businesses should honestly be congratulated for identifying health risks to their workers and trying to address them. Unfortunately, a recent Cochrane review (high level review of current studies) found no conclusive evidence that strategies to increase standing or walking are effective in reducing the intensity or presence of musculoskeletal symptoms (aches and pains) among office workers. That’s a shame.


So what can businesses do instead?

I’m not completely ruling out the use of sit-to-stand desks and activity trackers all together. However, I am saying they’re only ‘sexy’ sit-to-stand desks, if used correctly. We know from previous research, workers are more likely to use a sit/stand workstation effectively when provided with the right education and also less likely to experience pain and soreness from the transition to sit/stand work when provided with guidelines and ergonomic set up advice from a physiotherapist. In the end, more studies need to be done in this area as these current 'interventions' smack of a fad/bandaid approach, when workplaces need long term, tailored solutions for sustainable change. 


Employ Health’s stance is around creating an office environment that encourages greater movement. An Active Office! Getting people up and away from their desks more frequently lends to more sustainable long term outcomes for pain & function. Interactive education presentations that take place at their very workstations or an onsite physiotherapy presence, such as an Employ Health – Health Hub, is a perfect way to help develop tailor based strategies and provide guidance on ways to manage and support your workers and have them feeling great. Investing in the health of your workforce may be one of your greatest business opportunities. 



  1. Bauman A, Ainsworth BE, Sallis JF, Hagstromer M, Craig CL, Bull FC, Pratt M, Venugopal K, Chau J, Sjostrom M: The descriptive epidemiology of sitting - a 20 country comparison using the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ). Am J Prev Med. 2011, 41: 228-235. 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.05.003.
  2. Parry SP, Coenen P, Shrestha N, O'Sullivan PB, Maher CG, Straker LM. Workplace interventions for increasing standing or walking for decreasing musculoskeletal symptoms in sedentary workers. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2019, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD012487. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012487.pub2