Standing Desk Ergonomics: How to Maximize Its Benefits

Written by in Adjustable Desk

Quick Overview

People will only get the full benefit of a standing desk if they are using it properly. This makes standing desk ergonomics a crucial concept to be aware of when you purchase a desk for use in standing.

There is a lot of hype these days surrounding standing desks. We are continually told they are one of the most ergonomic work accommodations. But it’s important that people have a good sense of what actually makes a product ergonomic before they buy a device and start using it.

Consumers must also understand that ergonomic products are not a catch-all fix that will solve a person’s muscle and joint problems. An ergonomic product is only as ergonomic as the person using it. This means there needs to be an equal balance between the functionality of a desk and a person’s ability to change their posture, regularly stretch to remain active, and be aware of their body position. The latter is a crucial aspect of ergonomics, but this conversation all starts with understanding what to look for in an ergonomic desk.

What makes a desk ergonomic?

One of the most important features of an ergonomic desk (and other ergonomic equipment) is adjustability. Standard desks with a fixed height might be ergonomic for a select few people of a certain height or stature. But this style of desk is rarely ergonomic for everyone.

Standing desks, on the other hand, offer multiple height adjustments (1). This makes them highly ergonomic since they can accommodate a range of body types. People using a standing desk can make adjustments so their upper body rests comfortably as they stand and work. When this desk is used in the sitting position, people can make even more adjustments to allow enough space for their thighs, knees, and feet.

An ergonomic desk is best utilized when paired with an ergonomic chair. This supports the spine and allows the lower body to remain in its proper posture. These structures both work together to keep the body upright, aligned, and pain-free. Choosing a chair is equally important and comes along with its own set of considerations.

What is the ergonomically correct height for a desk?

There is no one number that details the best height for a standing desk to be positioned at, since this will depend on the height of the person using it. The rule of thumb is that the desk should be positioned so your elbows can comfortably rest on it at a 90-degree angle (2). This being said, a person who is 5 feet 11 inches tall will want their desk to be around 44 inches tall. The desk height measurement can be measured by determining the amount of space from the floor to the tabletop surface of the desk.

If you are seeking a standing desk for your child, be sure to follow these same guidelines to ensure they are able to use their desk to the fullest.

Using a standing desk properly while standing

Proper use of a standing desk involves keeping a fully-aligned body posture. The upper body alignment should be similarly aligned as it would be if you were using a desk when seated. Your elbows should be resting at 90 degrees with your forearms and wrists in neutral and positioned straight (2). This will allow you to properly move your arms around as needed. This position will also allow your fingers to remain flexible and active, which is especially important for those who do a lot of writing, drawing, or computer work at their desk. By keeping the wrists aligned, you are also preventing nerve compression in this area. Avoiding nerve compression, in turn, helps in the prevention of carpal tunnel symptoms.

As long as the desk is positioned at the right height, the lower body should mainly be in an ergonomic position. However, there are a few points to consider because posture is especially important here. Be sure not to lock your knees or ankles, since this can stop blood flow and lead to stiffness or pain. Don’t slump over your desk or put all your weight on one leg versus the other. A good way to help with posture and prevent muscle soreness is by placing an anti-fatigue mat under your feet.

Using a standing desk properly while sitting

When sitting at your desk, you should be sure to align your body properly. Your upper body should be positioned similarly to how it is when you are standing at your desk: your elbows should be at 90 degrees with your wrists and forearms neutral and straight. Your shoulders and neck should be straight and rolled back to allow your head to look straight in front of you. This is mostly if you are using a computer monitor, but your head should similarly be looking ahead even if you are drawing or writing (2). You can do this by getting a slant board or other device that positions your paper at an upward angle in front of you. This helps avoid strain and pressure on the neck from craning or hunching forward.

You should also be sure to avoid slouching over in your chair. This is perhaps one of the most common and harmful habits that cause people injury at their workstations since it causes the discs of the spine to place undue pressure on each other.

Ergonomics for proper cell phone, tablet, and laptop use

Many people neglect to mention how ergonomics plays a part in the safe usage of other electronic devices. It’s just as important to use proper body mechanics when operating cell phones, tablets, and laptops.

For devices like cell phones, it is usually easier to make adjustments since the device itself is so small (3). It’s best to hold the phone at eye level so that you aren’t slouched or craning your neck to see the screen. Use the support of your desk, whether in standing or sitting, to rest your elbows at 90 degrees. Take frequent breaks since typing on small buttons or using a touch screen can be taxing to the small bones and muscles in the fingers. If possible, get a small stand that can assist with propping the phone up so you don’t need to hold it for long periods of time while you are watching something or reading an article. Such stands often come with charging capabilities to serve a dual function.

Similar stands can be helpful for tablets, which may also come with wireless, bluetooth keyboards to prevent pain and stiffness from extended touch screen use. As for laptops, they may not have the innate adjustability that desktops and computer monitors have. However, the entire unit can be adjusted by placing a stand or box under the base. This helps make the height more appropriate even after your desk is positioned properly.

Desk stretches to prevent pain and stiffness

Stretches can benefit nearly anyone, but they are particularly helpful for people who use workstations, whether standing or sitting ones. If anyone is in one position for too long, they are at risk of experiencing pain, stiffness, and soreness. The best way to combat or prevent this is by stretching and moving around enough. Some of the following stretches are particularly ideal for people who use standing desks and may alternate between positions:

Calf Stretches

The best way to stretch your calf muscles is to find a wall and get very close to it. Have one foot flat on the ground and place the front of your other foot up the wall while keeping your ankle on the ground. Slowly and gently lean in toward the wall and feel the stretch in the back of your lower leg. If you want more of a stretch, you can lean in more, but if you feel any pain or too much tightness, you should lean in at less of an angle. People who sit for an extended period of time often experience leg tightness, so this stretch is particularly useful for those who experience leg pain or issues.

Chest openers

If you have a tendency of slouching over your desk, you will especially need to do a chest-opening stretch. This can be done while seated or standing. You should reach both arms out behind you and try to make them touch behind your back. This should cause a nice stretch in the chest muscles. You can balance this stretch out by then crossing one arm across your chest and hooking it under your opposite elbow. Do this with both arms to stretch the back of your arms, which will also help loosen the muscles of the chest.

Forearm stretches

Forearm stretches are ideal for anyone who works with their hands often. These are simple and can be done by placing your arm straight in front of you, rotating your forearm (the part of your arm closest to your wrist), and bending your wrist backward. Gently do this several times and don’t forget to include both arms before finishing your stretches.


This is another great way to loosen and strengthen the legs, which may easily fatigue or tighten after prolonged sitting or standing. You can do lunges in standing by placing one leg several feet ahead of the other leg. Bend the knee on the front-facing leg and gradually lean into it. Do this several times until the stretch becomes easier. Then switch legs and repeat on the other side.

Neck rolls

To properly roll your neck, you will start by bending your head to the side so that one ear is close to your shoulder. From here, you will slowly move your head either forward or backward in the direction of a circle. To get the full effect, it’s often best to do 5 or 10 going clockwise and another 5 or 10 going counterclockwise. Whatever number you decide on, just be sure that there is a balance between the two directions.

Shoulder shrugs

When sitting or standing, bring both shoulders up toward your ears several times. Try to get them as close to that position as possible. Next, roll them forwards and backwards as if you are making a circle on each side of your body. This will relieve tension and pressure that usually accumulates in the neck and upper shoulder as a result of hunching over.

Spinal twists

Try to sit in a chair with armrests or at least one that has back support while doing this stretch. While sitting, turn to one side and keep your legs positioned normally with your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Bring your arms with you and hold on to the armrest on that side or the back of the chair to deepen the stretch and ensure your body stays in that position for several seconds. Repeat several times on that side and switch to the other side to do the same stretch.

Why should you use a standing desk?

As you can see, there are many evidence-based reasons to use a standing desk to improve your posture and pain levels. When people use a standing desk alongside stretches, improved posture, and a good balance between standing and sitting, they stand to experience better joint health as well as increased job performance. Purchasing a standing desk is not only a sound investment for your home or work office, but it is also an effective device for improving your health.


Is standing for 8 hours bad?

While most people think that sitting is bad and standing is good, too much of any position can be harmful since it prevents blood from properly flowing. The key is variability. Whether you are sitting or standing, be sure to walk around and stretch periodically to loosen your muscles and remain flexible. This should be done every 1 hour or more, if possible.

Is standing at a desk better than sitting?

Standing is often regarded as a better position than sitting since blood is not as likely to get trapped at flexed joints such as the knee or hip. However, standing should also come with a good mix of sitting, since being in this position for too long can cause blood to pool in the legs.

Do standing desks help with carpal tunnel?

Standing desks can be helpful for carpal tunnel syndrome, but positioning is the most important way to prevent and manage these symptoms. No matter what desk you use and whether you are sitting or standing, it’s important to keep your elbows at 90 degrees with your wrists and forearms in neutral while pointing straight ahead. This will prevent compression of the nerves that run through the wrist and ease or altogether avoid symptoms of carpal tunnel.

Do standing desks help with posture?

Standing desks can help people develop better posture, but they won’t do it on their own. A person who uses a standing desk still must remain aware of their body position to ensure they are not causing themselves injury.