Standing Desks and Veins

By Charles Li, MD
December 14th, 2020

Standing Desks and Vein Health

For some, standing desks feel like a life changer. They feel more energetic, more lively, and they can't stop talking about it.

However, there are some drawbacks.

One of the biggest medical concerns with standing desks is the increased pressure on your feet and legs.

Standing for too long at work, without breaks, may lead to more blood pooling around your feet and legs.

As one study demonstrated, those who are required to stand at work had a higher volume of blood in their feet. This may manifest a self as more swelling in your feet and legs.

Does standing lead to more blood volume and swelling?
Standing and Fluid Pooling
Blood Volume in Foot After Work
Experiment: 34 minutes of work
Measurement: LDF Fluid Measurements
Antle et al
A study of 16 individuals found that standing led to more blood pooling in feet. Volunteers were asked to work standing up. They then had their blood volume measured with LDF.

Similarly, individuals who were measured after standing and working also had higher pressures in their veins in their legs.

Does standing lead to more pressure in your veins?
Standing and Vein Pressure
Blood Pressure in Legs After Work (mmHg)
Experiment: 34 minutes of work
Measurement: LDF Fluid Measurements
Antle et al
A study of 16 individuals found that standing led to higher venous pressure. Volunteers were asked to work standing up. Researchers then measured the blood pressure in their veins. They found that standing led to higher pressure in veins when compared to sitting.
Study Source
From the abstract:

"Combating sedentary behavior in the workplace is a complex and difficult challenge, and standing work postures are often used as an intervention in the workplace. However, this research notes that stationary standing work postures increase discomfort, MAP and blood pooling in the lower limb, when compared to static seated work. Based on these outcomes, recommendations for individuals to use exclusively standing, or high proportions of the work day at a standing workstation, as a means of dealing with sedentary work places or musculoskeletal discomfort should be tempered."

Lower limb blood flow and mean arterial pressure during standing and seated work: Implications for workplace posture recommendations

When you stand, your feet are further away from your heart which makes it harder for blood to return from your feet to the heart. Our hearts pump blood to the rest of our bodies through our arteries. We then use our veins to return the blood back to the heart with a system of tubes and valves.

Since we don't have pumps in our feet, we rely on movement in our legs to counteract gravity. Standing moves our hearts further away from our feet, making this job harder for our blood vessels.

Standing and Veins
How Varicose Veins Work

"The blood moves towards the heart by one-way valves in the veins. When the valves become weakened or damaged, blood can collect in the veins. This causes the veins to become enlarged. Sitting or standing for long periods can cause blood to pool in the leg veins, increasing the pressure within the veins. The veins can stretch from the increased pressure. This may weaken the walls of the veins and damage the valves."

Hopkins Medicine

Standing Desks and Varicose Veins

Fortunately, issues in your veins are typically not as harmful as issues in your arteries.

Because veins return blood to the heart, they are not as critical as arteries because they are not depended on to supply oxygen and nutrients.

But, damaging your veins does come with some risks. Most notably, higher pressure in your veins can lead to a condition called varicose veins, where your veins begin to form visible twists and lumps.

In one study, researchers found that individuals who were required to stand at work had a significantly higher risk of having to go to the hospital because of varicose veins.

Does standing lead to more varicose veins?
Standing and Varicose Veins
Higher risk of varicose veins with prolonged standing
Risk of Varicose Veins
Typical Employees
1.78x (1.19-2.68)
Prospective Cohort
Outcome: Varicose Veins Hospitalizations
Tuschen et al
A prospective study of 9653 individuals found that those who stand at work for prolonged periods had a significantly higher risk of varicose veins.
Study Source
From the abstract:

"This prospective study confirms that prolonged standing at work constitutes an excess risk of hospital treatment due to varicose veins and accounts for more than one fifth of all cases of working age."

Prolonged standing at work and hospitalisation due to varicose veins: a 12 year prospective study of the Danish population

Conclusion: Are Standing Desks Bad?

Does this mean that you should skip the standing desk? Not at all!

Standing desks come with great benefits including higher calorie burn and potentially better fitness.

Just a little bit of walking around should be most of what you need to normalize the pressures in your veins and bring blood back to your heart.

Additionally, walking during work is probably on the healthiest things you can do during a break.

But, this research does show the standing desks don’t necessarily solve every problem.