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Saturday, 21 October 2017

Defy "Death by Sitting" Update

My sit/stand desk...
This is an update to my post from October 2015. It's been over two years since I bought my Varidesk, and for the most part, I've been standing at my computer over that same period.

For much of the first half of this year, I had an increasingly bothersome lower back pain. In reality, it had been a nagging thing for well over a year, but I first chalked it up to getting older. Then I had a sneaking suspicion that my constant standing in front of the computer — probably 95% of the time — was likely contributing to the issue.

But was it the way that I was standing that was making it worse? (Was I standing "wrong"? Was I not evenly distributing my weight somehow? Who can stand strictly at attention all the time, right?) Online, I found some exercises that were recommended for lower back pain and even incorporated a routine into my interval training. But all in all, I wasn't getting the relief that I thought should happen.

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About a year and a half ago, I picked up this thing for $4.99.

Be Active Knee Brace
Be Active knee brace for lower back pain...

Acting on pressure points in the area of the knee to address lower back pain, it actually did work for me. Still, it was at the back of my mind that I shouldn't be having pain, period.

When it occasionally gets to the point where I am aware of the pain all day long — and this is rare — I use this.

Voltaren works too, but that's getting into a territory I don't particularly like...

By early August, I was convinced that the actual act of "standing" was the primary cause of my pain. I put my desk down and sat for an entire week. My back ended up feeling quite a bit better, but I wasn't particularly fond of the solution. As in, am I going to be forced to sit down again?

I checked out a book from the library called 8 Steps to a Pain-free Back, by Esther Gokhale. While her methods are proven and she has had all sorts of positive testimonials, it was difficult to know if I was following the written instructions correctly. The way the book is laid out with all sorts of surrounding "filler" was hugely annoying, so I never got beyond page 43. While I did gain some knowledge about how to stretch to decompress the spine, my thought was, there has to be another way.

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In the two years since I purchased my Varidesk, other companies have entered the "adjustable sit/stand desk" market. While the original model that I purchased still sells for a rather hefty $375 USD, you can get similar setups starting at about the $150 mark. In revisiting the market place to take a peek at these other alternatives, I noticed that all sorts of anti-fatigue mats popped up alongside. Some are even bundled as a combo.

And just as with the sit/stand desks, anti-fatigue mats come in various configurations and price points. They aren't just flat anymore; here is a "calculated terrain" version from Ergodriven (as low as $99 USD, as high as $205 CDN).

Topo by Ergodriven
Image courtesy of Amazon...

Now, anti-fatigue mats are not new; I've known about them since forever. The question is, why have I not tried them since forever??

The reason may well be that I've never read enough about them to understand that their benefit is not just a matter of having something cushier to stand on. That is, I've always just thought that well, of course you'd want to use a mat if you're standing on concrete all day. I work at home on carpeting, why do I need a mat?

In reality, carpeting — unless perhaps one has splurged on the best and thickest polyurethane under-padding ever made — is not at all equivalent to having an anti-fatigue mat. That it's taken me this many years to realize this is crazy.

Here's the short version of my story... I ordered a mat on Thursday and it was dropped off on my doorstep the following Tuesday. After using it for two days, I was jumping around in celebration over the fact that my back pain had disappeared. Not only that, soreness just above the balls of my feet — that I had been putting up with as a matter of course — had also subsided.

Truly, my entire house needs to be re-floored in this material!

ZBrands Anti-Fatigue Mat
This (the smaller one) is what I ultimately bought for $50... image courtesy of Amazon

The longer version of this story is that the support of an anti-fatigue mat minimizes spinal compression and improves circulation by encouraging subtle movements. (I'm not going to write a medical report here; you can search online for yourself if you need more info.) I can attest to the fact that I will never be parted from my mat as long as I have to stand at my computer.

I also read another article about this whole sitting/standing debate. Both can be bad and it is mostly due to the inactive part. So whether you get more active while standing by using a funky looking anti-fatigue mat or do your sitting on an exercise ball, the best solution is to move from one to the other on a regular basis.

In the short time that I've been using it — when I use it (i.e., when I'm at the computer) — my back does feel better. However, if I stand for extended periods elsewhere, I still have minor issues with the occasional twinge. It's not a consistent ache or pain, just something that's noticeably "there". (I know; I should move the mat.) To that end, I've taken to sitting at my computer on the weekends and have incorporated several more stretching exercises to my daily routine. My guess is that maintaining a certain amount of flexibility as one ages is a benefit in many ways.

All in all though, the mat has been a great help and my only regret is that I didn't buy it sooner.


  1. Very interesting- thanks

  2. I too stand at the computer ever since experiencing sciatica pain! I have a rug with a pad under on top of our vinyl plank floor. Plus I wear Vionic sandals that I bought that work great for me, helping me to stand and align my spine. Not all Vionic shoes fit or feel the same which is strange, since that is what they are selling you is their "Orthoheel" technology. But the ones that did work, no pain! I have ball of the foot pain in my right foot. I bought 5 sandals and the Vionic athletic inserts which work great too! I tired some athletic shoes, and they didn't feel as good as the inserts in my New Balance shoes. So I am now sold on that combo. Okay no affiliation to Vionic, just glad I found something to take away the foot pain for standing and walking!

    I have my computer sitting atop the baskets that hold my fabric. It is the perfect height. Another thing I did was to buy 2 kitchen timers. When I was in some pain I set the timer to 30 minutes when I was sitting and sewing. Then set it again to 30 minutes to stand and iron or use the computer. This helps as sitting compresses your spine worse than standing.

    I do walk every or nearly every morning for a few miles. That is what is the best to get up and move. So I hear you Rochelle. Do whatever it takes to find comfort and keep the pain at bay.


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