standing desk for home office

The Proper Height Of A Standing Desk

Standing desks have become very popular. Early studies show they can be highly beneficial for health and productivity. This is especially true with versions that adjust between standing and sitting. However, there are no clear guidelines about the best ways to use a standing desk.

Now that you are up and running, it is essential to determine the correct height for the standing desk in order to maintain the best posture possible. It would be of little essence to use a standing desk should you be slumped into it, straining your back, or straining up to reach it, so here we will establish the perfect height of your specific standing desk. 

If you're using a standing workstation, you've already made a move that might improve your health. Research has linked sitting for long periods with health problems, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels.

standing desk workplace

What is the proper height for a standing desk?

The height of your desk should generally be at elbow height. This means: as your elbows are positioned at a 90-degree angle from the floor, measure the distance from the floor to the bottom of your elbow. The desk should be built to this height.

For instance, the average standing desk height for those 5'11" is 44 inches tall, but remember this is guidance, and you should consider your body's proportions before settling on a height. Of course, you can always grab an adjustable standing desk if you decide to. An easy way to get the proper height for standing *and* keep your existing desk is by using a Standing Desk Converter.

Keep in mind that there is no need to try and stand all day. To learn about how long you should stand for. 

Another thing to consider is that no single formula will allow you to set your standing desk to the right height. I often get asked in my capacity as an Occupational Physiotherapist for The Ergonomic Physio how high should a desk be for someone of "x" height. Leg length, torso length, and arm length will all influence how high your desk should be. So, the safest option is not to follow any formula. 

Instead, use the angle at your elbow as your primary guide (explained below) and comfort as your secondary guide. If it doesn't feel comfortable, then your desk is set to the wrong height. 

Adjust the height of your standing desk so that when your hands are on the keyboard (in a natural way - as if you're typing), there is a 90-100 degree angle at the elbow. 

Any range between 90 degrees and 100 degrees is fine for most people, and it is fine if you find 90 degrees more comfortable than 100 degrees and vice-versa. However, problems can occur if you go outside of this range.

Note that my elbow angle is closer to 100 degrees than 90 degrees in the photo to below. I find this more comfortable than 90 degrees. 

homeoffice standing desk

In order to fully take advantage of the health benefits from your new standing desk, it's important to customize your workspace to suit your body's needs. Using standing desks correctly may seem like a no-brainer from an outsider's perspective: You stand. You work. You repeat. However, ergonomics is not an exact science because every human body is different. The optimal height for your desk will be different for you than for someone else, and that's a good thing! So, let's review how to use a standing desk setup!

Here are some instructions on how to use your own body's proportions and natural posture to create the ideal active workstation. Once you're all set up, make sure to read further for additional few tips on how to use a sit-stand desk the proper way and reap the most rewards from everything it has to offer.

Tips to Use a Standing Desk Correctly

Alternate Between Sitting and Standing

There's no doubt that sitting too much is very bad for your health. However, that certainly does not mean you should stand all day instead.

Studies have found strong associations between lower back pain and standing occupations, such as bank tellers and production line employees.

Standing still for long periods is also thought to negatively affect your leg muscles, tendons and other connective tissue and may even cause varicose veins. Fortunately, this can be avoided by simply alternating between sitting and standing.

The research is still in its early stages, but a ratio of 1:1 or 2:1 sitting versus standing time appears to be optimal for comfort and energy levels without affecting productivity. 

That means for every 1 to 2 hours you sit in your office, 1 hour should be spent standing. Try to alternate between sitting and standing every 30 to 60 minutes.

Chair

Studies show that specific seated postures can lower the risk of musculoskeletal symptoms and musculoskeletal disorders. So how exactly should we be sitting?

"The standard desktop correlates to the elbow height of a 6'4" tall male," says Puleio. "What this causes is a situation where people will sit unexpectedly high in their chair to reach the keyboard and mouse, and this creates a host of potential health risks."

"The primary challenge with current task chairs is that they are too complex for users to benefit from their adjustability," he adds. "Results from a recent Cornell University research study on task seating showed that less than 5 per cent of those surveyed could correctly identify the tension control knob. Furthermore, even when participants could correctly identify a particular chair control, less than 50 per cent reported ever using the control."

Less than 5 per cent of those surveyed could correctly identify the tension control knob [on their desk chair].

Take the time to learn how to adjust your chair. First, Puleio recommends raising or lowering your seat until your thighs are parallel to the floor with your feet flat on the floor (or on a footrest if your feet cannot rest comfortably). Next, you should aim to have two inches of clearance between the back of your knees and the edge of your seat. "The seat pan should be adjusted to allow at least 2 inches of clearance behind the user's knees, and the armrests should be adjusted no higher than seated elbow height," he adds.

Puleio also notes that many people lock their backrest, which is a major faux-pas. "The backrest of the chair should be unlocked and properly tensioned to promote movement," he says. "Certain chairs self-adjust to user's body weight, so you don't have to worry."

Be sure to lean back in your chair, with your backrest sitting comfortably in the small of your back, to allow the backrest to support your upper body.

Adjust Your Desk and Screen

Correct desk height and computer screen position are fundamental for improving comfort and minimizing injury risk in the office. 

To begin, set your standing desk at about elbow height. This means your elbows should be in a 90-degree position from the floor. As a guide, the average 5'11" (180 cm) person would have their desk about 44 inches (111 cm) high.

Recommendations for screen position are not black and white, but the general consensus is to have it 20–28 inches (51–71 cm) from your face. As a quick reference, the distance should be no less than from the tip of your middle finger to your elbow.

The top of your screen should be eye level, with a small upwards tilt of between 10 and 20 degrees. The idea is that you should never need to tilt your neck up or down.

Keyboard and Mouse

Place your mouse and keyboard on the same surface and at a distance that allows you to keep your elbows close to your body. While typing or using your mouse, keep your wrists straight, your upper arms close to your body, and your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows. Use keyboard shortcuts to reduce extended mouse use. If possible, adjust the mouse's sensitivity so that you can use a light touch to operate it. Alternate the hand you use to operate the mouse by moving the mouse to the other side of your keyboard.

Working long hours on the computer can strain your wrists. Therefore, it's important to optimize wrist position when sitting or standing. The ideal angle when standing is slightly more extended (tilted upwards) than when sitting.

A failure to consider this difference in those who frequently swap between sitting and standing has been shown to lead to greater wrist pain and discomfort. To protect your wrists when standing, always keep your keyboard and mouse at the same level and your wrists straight when typing.

If you still experience sore wrists occasionally, consider using an adjustable keyboard stand and gel mouse pads for optimal support.

Lighting

Adding a light to your desk isn't just a means of decorating — it's healthier for your eyes. Experts say a desk light is essential for viewing hard copy documents, as it helps prevent glare and Computer Vision Syndrome — a condition affecting up to 90 per cent of computer users which causes eyestrain, eye fatigue, dry eyes, light sensitivity, blurred vision, headaches and other symptoms.

In fact, as we get older, the amount of light contrast required increases dramatically.

"We take lighting for granted; people underestimate the amount of light needed for a task," Puleio says. "Lighting requirements are highly dependent on the age of the user. In our early to mid-40s, our eyes change dramatically, and we all develop a condition called presbyopia, characterized by our inability to focus on near-field objects. By the time we reach our 60s, we require 250 per cent more contrast to view the same documents as we did in our 20s."

The key is to choose a task light on an arm that you can manipulate — versus a table lamp that gives off ambient light. By the time we reach our 60s, we require 250 per cent more contrast to view the same documents as we did in our 20s.

"Controllable task lights allow workers to adjust light levels based on their individual requirement," Puleio adds. "When using a task light, the ambient light levels can be reduced to optimize viewing conditions for computer monitors. Task and ambient lighting schemes have been shown to improve visual comfort and reduce energy consumption by up to 40 per cent."

Be sure to position the task light to the side opposite your writing hand and shine it on paper documents but away from computer monitors to reduce glare.

Desk

Choose a desk deep enough to allow your monitor to fit directly in front of you and at least 20 inches (51 centimetres) away. The desk should allow you to keep your wrists straight and your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows. A desk with a rounded front will prevent pressure on your wrists. Don't use books or boards to change the height of your desk.

Watch Your Posture

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Keep your neck tall and your shoulders relaxed. Also, make sure to keep your knees slightly bent while standing so they're not hyperextended or have their joints lock.

"Good posture is also known as a neutral spine. When we have good posture, the muscles surrounding the spine are balanced and supporting the body equally," says Nina Strang, a physical therapist and strengthening and conditioning specialist at the University of Michigan. Most back pains are attributed to sedentary habits and bad posture. Applying these recommendations will limit harm to your body.

Use Arm Supports

Arm support is soft padding or surface area that attaches to your desk. It is designed to reduce pressure on the wrist that operates the mouse.

This is a well-researched area, with numerous studies showing arm supports can significantly reduce the risk of developing neck and shoulder problems. 

These are worth looking into if you often experience problems, especially on the side of your dominant hand.

Purchase an Anti-Fatigue Mat

Anti-fatigue mats are commonly used in jobs that require extended periods of standing, such as working on a product line or at a counter.

These mats reportedly combat standing fatigue by encouraging subtle movements of your leg muscles. This improves blood flow and reduces overall discomfort.

Studies show that people who stand for 2 or more hours per day report less discomfort and tiredness when using anti-fatigue mats. The mats also help with leg problems and lower back pain. 

Monitor

Place the monitor directly in front of you, about an arm's length away. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. If you wear bifocals, lower the monitor an additional 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm) for more comfortable viewing. Place your monitor so that the brightest light source is to the side.

If you have dual monitors, the location of the monitors depends on the percentage of time you spend on each monitor and the type of work being done. If you use both monitors equally, place them close together on an angle in front of you with their edges touching. If you use one monitor more than 80 per cent of the time, the place that monitors directly in front of you and the other monitor off to the side.

Taking Care of Your Neck and Back

When using a standing desk, the height of the monitors is important, and the distance between your eyes and the monitor is important. You should set the monitors at a height where your eyes are in the top 1/3 to 1/4 of the screen area. This reduces eye strain and prevents tilting your head up or down to compensate. This adjustment in your head has big negatives for your neck over time. Being lower is better than being higher.

The focal distance is also important. You want the monitors to be placed around 24 inches away from your eyes. This prevents eye strain from overly close monitors and helps you compensate more easily to monitor height if it is slightly too high or too low.

If you have to adjust your monitor height when you switch from sitting to standing or walking, you need to check your back alignment in all three positions; generally, you are reclining in one or more of those positions, not in others. Get that fixed.

Frequently Asked Questions About Standing Desk

That means for every 1 to 2 hours you sit in your office, 1 hour should be spent standing. Try to alternate between sitting and standing every 30 to 60 minutes. Bottom Line: Try to alternate between sitting and standing.

On the topic of orthopedic health, standing is certainly a better option for your posture, as well as back and neck, than sitting. However, when factoring in all the unique drawbacks of standing desks, research around this issue suggests that standing desks generally don't offer more orthopedic benefits to sitting desks. 

Remember that using a standing desk is like any other "intervention" — it can come with "side effects." For example, if you suddenly go from sitting all day to standing all day, you run the risk of developing back, leg, or foot pain; it's better to ease into it by starting with 30 to 60 minutes a day and gradually. 

Working while standing may take some getting used to. However, there has been no negative impact on daily activities reported by those using standing desks. The boost in mood and energy and the reduction in the back, shoulder, and neck pain are likely to improve productivity and mental alertness.

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