Prolonged standing at work can cause health problems too

15 Jul

Research on the health risks of prolonged sitting at work have been

prominent in the headlines recently. Now, a new study also highlights the hazards of prolonged standing at work.

man clutching lower back
Muscle fatigue from prolonged standing can cause back pain.

Nearly half of all workers worldwide have to stand for more than three

quarters of their working day, say researchers who warn prolonged standing

can result in fatigue, leg cramps and back ache – problems that not only

cause discomfort but also affect work performance and productivity.

In the longer term, this type of sustained muscle fatigue can lead to more

serious joint problems and back pain, they note in a report of a study

published in Human Factors, the journal of the Human Factors and

Ergonomics Society.

First author María Gabriela García, who is working towards her doctorate

in the department of health sciences and technology at ETH Zürich in

Switzerland, says:

“The work-related musculoskeletal implications that can be caused

by prolonged standing are a burden not only for workers but also for

companies and society.”

Despite this, she notes that the long-term muscle fatigue caused by

prolonged standing has not received much attention in research.

Younger and older workers affected

For their study, García and colleagues invited 14 men and 12 women in two

age groups to simulate standing work for periods lasting 5 hours at a time.

These periods included seated breaks lasting no more than 5 minutes and a 30-minute lunch break.

The researchers measured muscle fatigue with a system that uses electrical

stimulation to cause muscle twitching and then measures the muscle twitch

force (MTF). They also measured postural stability and asked the volunteers

to assess their level of discomfort.

The results showed that even when they had regular breaks, the

volunteers experienced significant long-term fatigue following their 5-hour

simulated working day.

Symptoms of long-term fatigue lasted for at least 30 minutes following a

seated recovery period, the authors note.

Moreover, younger participants (age 18-30) were just as likely to show

signs of long-term fatigue as older workers (age 50 and over).

‘Fatigue may be present but not perceived’

The researchers also found a discrepancy between the physically measured

results and the perceptions of the volunteers, who did not perceive fatigue

as lasting more than 30 minutes after the end of the 5-hour standing work


García says that “long-term fatigue after prolonged standing work may be

present without being perceived,” and concludes:

“Current work schedules for standing work may not be adequate

for preventing fatigue accumulation, and this long-lasting muscle fatigue may

contribute to musculoskeletal disorders and back pain.”

According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety

(CCOHS), working in a standing position on a regular basis can lead not only

to fatigue and lower back pain but can also cause other health problems

such as sore feet, swollen legs, varicose veins and stiffness in the neck

and shoulders.

These are common complaints among workers whose jobs require them to stand

for long periods, such as assembly-line workers, sales people and machine


The CCOHS also note that:

“In a well-designed workplace, the worker has the opportunity to choose

from among a variety of well-balanced working positions and to change between

them frequently.”

They add that even in jobs that require workers to remain standing to carry out tasks, seats “should be provided in any case” to allow them to sit occasionally.

In February 2015, Medical News Today reported another study led

by the University of Sydney in Australia that found performing manual tasks

involving awkward postures can increase the

chance of low back pain by as much as eight times. Writing in the journal

Arthritis Care & Research, the team also identifies some triggers

that can be modified to prevent acute episodes of low back pain.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD

Copyright: Medical News Today