'Too much standing hurts, too'

Published: August 10, 2016

It might be a common perception that prolonged sitting is linked to increased pain or injury, but the evidence indicates that too much standing is also a risk factor, said Dr. Jack Callaghan in a keynote lecture at the recent 9th International Scientific Conference on the Prevention of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (PREMUS).

From a musculoskeletal perspective, we’re at direct odds with the health community that’s saying standing is really good for you. I’m going to say sitting is also good for you in some ways, he added.

Callaghan, a professor of kinesiology at University of Waterloo and Canada Research Chair in Spine Biomechanics and Injury Prevention, does not dispute the research on the negative health consequences of prolonged sitting—including research linking sitting time and early mortality from cardiovascular disease and cancer. However, he cautioned workers against switching from sitting all day to standing all day.

Based on his research, Callaghan offered the following take-home messages:

  • standing in constrained conditions can accelerate low-back pain for some;
  • a one-to-one ratio of sitting and standing may be ideal, but no single ratio between sitting and standing time will work for all individuals;
  • sit-stand rotation alone does not reduce low-back pain;
  • once pain is initiated, it’s residual or cumulative—that is, if people wait to feel pain before changing postures, it’s already too late; and
  • interventions that encourage exercise or induce movement early and often may be a promising way forward.

A slidecast is now available of Callaghan's keynote remarks.