July 16, 2015
The apparently compelling idea that ‘sitting is the new smoking’ is given yet another shoeing by new research which confirms that long term standing at work can be harmful too, in both the short and long term. The study, “Long-Term Muscle Fatigue After Standing Work” is published in the journal Human Factors and available to read in full here. It found that prolonged standing is associated with a range of health issues including fatigue, leg cramps, and backaches, which can affect performance and cause significant discomfort in the short term and develop into something more in the long term. Over time, this type of sustained muscle fatigue can result in serious health consequences, according to the academics who carried out the research behind it. It confirms previous research which shows that health problems are associated with a lack of variation in working position, not a specific position.
“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,” notes María Gabriela García, a PhD candidate in the Department of Health Sciences and Technology at ETH Zürich. “Long-term muscle fatigue caused by standing for long periods of time has not received much attention.”
García and fellow human factors/ergonomics researchers Bernard Martin and Thomas Läubli asked participants of two age groups to simulate standing work for five-hour periods. Participants could take brief seated rest breaks and a 30-minute lunch. The authors found evidence of significant long-term fatigue following the five-hour workday, even when it included regular breaks, and that adverse symptoms persisted for at least 30 minutes following a seated recovery period. Moreover, young adults ages 18 to 30 were just as likely to experience long-term fatigue as were workers over the age of 50.
“Long-term fatigue after prolonged standing work may be present without being perceived,” continued García. “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.”