The wonderful world of wobbling
Sit-stand desks are a great way of maintaining energy levels, concentration and comfort – providing they are used sensibly!
Standing to work is not a great cure-all though – as anyone will tell you who’s had no option but to stand all day! The main benefit comes from regularly switching between sitting and standing – and the 15 minutes either side of a switch is typically the most comfortable and beneficial. Initially we recommend building up to a total of 2 hours standing per day – in batches of about 20 minutes at a time.
If you need / want to stand for longer
However in some cases, we need to stand for longer. For example if we are overcoming a back injury or musculoskeletal disorder. As a long-term sciatica sufferer from an injury years ago, a recent flare up meant sitting even in well adjusted high-end chairs was far less comfortable than standing and felt like it was a ‘set-back’ each time I did it. In this situation I ended up standing for probably about 90% of the working day – far more than usual, more than is generally advised and without frequent changes to sitting.
The risks and effects
Standing still for such greater periods of time puts significant static strain and loading on the ankles, knees, hips and back. The back is prone to hyper lordosis, or if the desk surface is too low, lumbar kyphosis – neither of which are a good thing. But if the alternative is sitting – which might be very uncomfortable – it presents a quandary.
But help is at hand! There are a number of solutions that can help you stay standing more comfortably for longer – without spending several thousands. We discuss these below:
A wobble board is a great way to really delay the onset of fatigue and static joint soreness when standing. Micro adjustments keep the blood flowing and take the strain off joints. There are various designs out there but two main types: central pivot point (usually circular platform) and see-saw / yoga board style.
These are low cost devices that noticeably keep you feeling fresher while standing for longer periods – keeping that strain away from your lower back and leg joints. They also have a great benefit of making sure that while standing, your weight is evenly balanced between both legs – eliminating any tendency to lean on one leg which can create hip and back strain.
- Fairly portable
- Not suitable for someone with mobility / stability issues
- Pivot point designs can mark flooring (easily solved though)
- Can significantly increase elbow height – so for taller users, desks may not adjust high enough to compensate for the height of the wobble board.
- See-saw board can lead to poor ankle posture if not used correctly.
Smaller, lighter than wobble boards, they are quite a bit more wobbly. The feet are constantly quite active to maintain balance. Like wobble boards they force you to balance the weight evenly between both legs. One noticeable difference is that (assuming you use both in socked / bare feet) wobble cushions are significantly more tiring for the calves. This might be what you are after but for a lot of people it will probably become tiresome – they are a proper workout. Wobbliness of course depends on how firmly they are inflated.
- Very portable and lightweight
- Also great for sitting on when you switch to sitting – to help keep that lower back moving a bit
- A serious workout for the calves
- Core builder par excellence!
- A serious workout for the calves!
- Definitely not for anyone with mobility / stability issues
- Might explode up if you leave it in the car on a hot sunny day (? ..maybe!!)
A number of companies produce anti fatigue matting which is designed to facilitate micro-movements of the legs and spine while standing, to reduce fatigue and joint strain over a given time, or to increase the length of time you can stand without feeling discomfort.
These are a more visually subtle and less extreme offering than either of the wobblers, but they are also a less pronounced intervention physically. Lower quality offerings can result in heel sink, which can put increased tension through the calves and ankles – best avoided.
The Topo mat by ErgoDriven is almost like a crossover between a wobble cushion and an anti-fatigue mat in that it has a good amount of ‘squish’. Worth a look and the reviews are excellent generally. It’s main USP is that it has a range of ‘terrain’ to vary ankle posture, and a foot massage bump in the middle.
- Micro movements help delay fatigue and reduce static joint strain
- Some are a hassle to move out of the way when you switch to sitting (the wobblers can just be booted out of the way!)
- Potential trip hazard (but then all these suggestions are really, to some extent)
- Heel sink.. strain on calves and achilles tendon (especially if you are wearing high heels etc.)
- They don’t force you to balance the weight between legs.
- May still make some people less stable.
Our thoughts and recommendations
Out of the three groupings above, if you do need to stand for longer periods due to back injury / disorder and during recovery, our go-to kit is a wobble board – pivot type. It creates natural movement that you don’t have to fight too much stay upright and balanced, but it helps you stay comfortable for longer. The see-saw boards are reasonable alternatives but they don’t offer the same ability to pivot in the vertical axis (spin). For a really serious wobble your legs need to be splayed quite a bit, and if they aren’t splayed, then your ankles are likely to be lilted. A number of companies produce ‘high-end’ wobble boards that look a bit more swanky – if that is your thing!
Wobble stools – a great half-way solution
If none of these wobbly standing paraphernalia appeal to you, don’t worry, there is one more solution – a wobble stool. These are more expensive – with a decent height adjustable one costing between £100 and £200 (still less than a good quality office chair). These allow you to perch rather than sit – which keeps your knees down and your pelvis tilted forward – maintaining that nice lumbar curve. They also – as the name suggests- wobble! So you get that movement that is so important in keeping the intervertebral discs supple and supplied with nutrients.
Wobble stools are curious creatures! There are a lot to choose from out there but be quite careful – you must absolutely try before you buy. Things to look out for are: Does it tilt far enough while not sliding away? Does your bum stay on it or do you slide off when it is tilted? Is the height right (or does it adjust to a suitable height)? Does the contouring mean discomfort in the crotch area – (mainly one for the gents to consider..!!)?
In an ideal world – always vary things as much as you can. Alternating from standing on a wobble board, to perching on a well designed and suitable wobble stool, is a great way of keeping strain away from your lower back during recovery. Some desk surface height adjustment will of course be needed when alternating.
We hope you found this interesting and useful. Please get in touch if you are thinking about switching to sit-stand working, and we can offer advice and resources to help you.