Stand in the Place Where You Work, Revisited

May 27th, 2012  |  Published in etc

A follow up to the previous post Stand in the Place Where You Work, some reporting on my experience with a standing desk after a month of use.

It has been about ten months since I first wrote about my standing desk (an Ikea Fredrik) and how it was working out for me. At the time, a good four weeks of use seemed like a reasonable assessment period: The ‘net is full of people who have built or bought standing desks and then made blogging about their “experience” practically the first thing they do at their new standing desk. That is ridiculous, and if search engines were really any good, you’d be able to formulate searches like this:

standing desk -"anyone who's been using it for less than a month"

And, as I’ve learned, thinking you have anything to say about it after even a month is probably wrong. Think of it like taking up running, poorly:

If your lungs are good, you might be able to run a long distance the first time you try, without any proper stretching or preparation. It might hurt a little, you might get a stitch in your side, and you’ll have to adapt to the shortness of breath; but if you knuckle down and keep at it, you might be able to run pretty far. After that first time, your body will have something to say about it, and you won’t run that far again for a while unless you rest and learn how to do it better.

Same, I think, with a standing desk: Your body will take a little time to manifest symptoms of its unhappiness with the new regime.

In my case, it took about three months for things to get really uncomfortable, thanks mostly to my hips. As near as I can figure, the small stool I bought to sit at my desk when I needed a rest from standing was a bit too narrow to sit on for long. I took to dangling my left leg off to the side and the right over the front. Over time, my left hip started getting stiff from being angled and extended like that, and that got uncomfortable. Not enough to make me quit, but enough that I noticed it places I didn’t want to notice it, like when I was out on a walk on a Sunday afternoon, having not been at my desk for almost two days.

I stuck with it, though, through fall and into winter. Before the holidays I tried upgrading my little stool to a drafting chair, but the drafting chair couldn’t go up quite high enough and introduced a new set of complaints from my shoulders and upper back. After a few more fitful attempts to get comfortable, I came back from the holidays, tore the desk apart and rebuilt it in its standard sitting desk configuration, and settled back in to a life of sitting.

Sitting Rebound

The thing that’s bad about sitting at a desk, as near as I’ve been able to tell from reading, isn’t exactly merely sitting: It’s sitting for long, uninterrupted periods. Because I’d been pretty uncomfortable in my standing desk arrangement, I took to sitting in a comfortable desk chair again with a vengeance. For a few weeks, it was awesome, because without any little aches and pains or nagging discomfort, I could just strap in and focus for hours on end. After a few weeks of that, I started getting dizzy and uncomfortable in a “swimmy feeling in my head” sort of way. I’d be working along, suddenly feel a little spacey or fuzzy, and the only way to fix it seemed to be to get up and walk around a lot. So … I knew that, right? Sitting for long periods was bad, I’d been doing it more because suddenly I was so comfortable again, so I needed to stop. I didn’t really get the timing of those breaks down, though, and I seemed to become more susceptible to the spins any time I was sitting. Especially if I had a lot of caffeine.

So, one Sunday afternoon Al and Ben and I were out driving around to go pick up a new chair for the (former) t.v. room. We stopped for coffee, I drank mine a little fast, and got a crazy spinning headrush as we sat parked at a red light. I shrugged it off, got on with my day (making sure to take a walk when we got home) and went back to work the next day. Early in the afternoon, the spins and feeling of discombobulation came back, but this time accompanied by a creeping feeling of numbness in my left arm. Maybe it was from bad posture (Mondays are big phone call days for me, and I use a speaker phone with Skype, and would sometimes lean on my chair arms). Still, after feeling weird the day before and feeling out of sorts enough to snap at a coworker during a call, and remembering that a friend and neighbor had ended up in the hospital after an episode began with “weird numbness in arm,” I decided to call Al and have her take me to the doctor.

Al wasn’t willing to settle on the doctor: She wanted me in the ER. So we drove to the Kaiser ER, I was quickly admitted, and then taken into a room and hooked up to a bunch of gear that indicated my blood pressure was pretty normal (initially, it went higher as they hooked me up to more machines that go *bing*). I was also pretty badly dehydrated. But all the tests showed that my heart was fine and that nothing major seemed to be going on. I was prescribed some blood pressure medication, told to get some tests done then follow up with my regular doctor, and sent home.

I got the tests done, went in to see my doctor, and was told to halve my dose of the blood pressure meds since my blood pressure dropped to below normal on them. He told me if I wanted to go back to a standing desk, that was fine, but that the real point was to get up and walk around now and then. Remembering to get up and walk around, though, remembering to do anything, is really hard for me. So I spent a few more days at a sitting desk, went through minor occurrences of “I feel weird, I need to stand up,” and decided I’d rather figure out how to work standing again.

So the Fredrik was torn down once more, and reborn as a standing desk. I spent some more time looking for a drafting chair that was the right height and width, added that to the mix, and things have been a lot better for the last couple of months. Working from a default of standing and occasionally hopping up on a comfortable stool is a workable routine: My hips aren’t bothering me, I don’t get the “sat too long” out of sorts feeling.

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