Low-tech footrest can help prevent lower-back pain

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

People who stand at work for long periods of time might be able to avoid lower back pain by intermittently using a footrest, says a new study by researchers at the University of Waterloo.

Participant in recent study uses footrest at a standing desk.

 The researchers tested whether cyclically elevating one leg on a footrest intermittently for one minute, then putting it on the ground for three minutes for almost an hour and half, helped prevent or alleviate lower back pain. They found that of the 12 participants – six who were pre-disposed to developing lower back pain during standing, and six who were not – only one reported lower-back pain. 

“One of the effects of prolonged standing is the development of lower back pain in some individuals,” said Kayla Fewster, lead author and a Kinesiology doctoral candidate at Waterloo. “We were assessing potential standing interventions, and discovered that the ratio of the foot being elevated to level standing is key. Some of the success of this intervention may be due to promoting movement early in the prolonged standing protocol resulting in consistent changes in low back posture. 

“The nice thing about this intervention is that it can be implemented relatively easily, and in just about any prolonged standing work situation,” said Fewster. “Cashiers, bank tellers and office workers with standing desks can easily implement this standing intervention.”

More research needs be done to see if the height of the footrest plays a significant role, said Fewster, and if other ratios are effective or not.

Previous studies by senior author and Kinesiology Professor Jack Callaghan and others have showed that while sitting at a desk can have negative health effects on individuals, standing for prolonged periods of time can also have negative health outcomes and increase the risk of developing low back pain. 

“The big issue with moving to a standing work station is that about half the population develops severe low back pain if they move too quickly into this new configuration,” said Callaghan. “We want to find the right interventions to ensure good back health for everyone and accommodate movement.”

The study, “Does proactive cyclic usage of a footrest prevent the development of standing induced low back pain?,” co-written by Kayla Fewster, Maureen Riddell, Kaitlin Gallagher, and Jack Callaghan, was published in Human Movement Science.

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