Nearly half of people who use a standing desk are at risk of developing lower back pain, says a University of Waterloo study.

The study involved adults – an equal mix of men and women – who had no known back issues. They were asked to stand at desks for two hours and perform tasks similar to office work like transcribing a document on a computer or sorting cards. Of the 40 people tested, 40 per cent developed lower back pain by the end of the standing period. The immediate pain usually dissipated within 10 to 15 minutes of sitting down. The people who did not have back pain during standing recovered their muscle strength by the end of the two hours. Females, in general, did not fatigue as quickly.

“People have different amounts of standing tolerance,” said Daniel Viggiani, lead author and a PhD candidate in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo.

Some of the tests were conducted after participants performed a tiring exercise. In those cases, the participants’ muscle strength was unable to recover from the exercise during the time spent standing.

“The key takeaway, regardless of whether sitting or standing at work, is to move around and shift your posture often,” said Viggiani, who co-authored the study with Jack Callaghan, a professor in the university’s kinesiology department.

Other studies have shown that prolonged standing can have negative implications on lower back pain later in life.

The University of Waterloo study was published in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics.