Do Standing Desks Help With Interstitial Cystitis and PGAD?
I have not been paid or offered any other incentive to write this post. I simply wanted to share with you something that I have personally found to be of great benefit.
In one of my earliest blog posts, Tiny Tips for Dealing with a PGAD Flare, I talked about various things that I found helpful in dealing with the symptoms of my own persistent genital arousal disorder. Although it took me a while to notice any patterns or triggers, I eventually realised that sitting at my desk for long periods of time made me much worse. I worked as an audio typist when I first got PGAD, so I spent hours a day sat at a desk with my foot on a pedal. I also liked to sit on my bed with my legs crossed to read or study, which meant I had to lean forwards to see my books. This created a lot of pelvic tension, which I now know certainly wasn’t helping matters. It was only when I got a few days where I wasn’t working much and had spent more time on my feet than usual that I realised sitting down was such an issue – up until then I’d discounted it as a factor, as I’d tried taking regular breaks when working to move around and do stretches and it hadn’t seemed to make any difference. I’d also tried to improve my posture when working and had experimented with different kinds of cushion to no avail.
Once I realised that sitting down WAS playing such a part in exacerbating my symptoms, I made a concerted effort to spend less time doing it. This would have been harder to achieve if I had continued working as a transcriber; however, as fate would have it, I left my job for personal reasons shortly after my PGAD began in earnest. It was difficult at the time, but it was a blessing in disguise as far as my pelvic health and maths tutoring business were concerned.
After I’d left my typing job, I did improve quite a bit, but I was still sitting down to do other computer work and to teach. I’d also just started trying to study herbal medicine and I was really upset that I couldn’t do this, as every time I sat on my bed with my books and leaned over to write, all the symptoms flared. For ages it felt like I couldn’t do any of my hobbies – no reading, no studying, no jigsaws, no needlework – and even eating out, going to watch theatre shows, or watching TV was painful. I did try to do some of them stood up in the kitchen or in my mum’s surgery, but surface space is sadly lacking in our house and I still did a lot more computer work than I should.
One day I read a Joseph Mercola article in which he talked about how bad sitting is for our health and recommended that people used standing desks instead. I was immediately keen on the idea of getting one, but there were so many to choose from and the prices varied wildly from under £200 to over £1,500. I made the mistake of assuming that the cheaper ones wouldn’t be as good and I was so worried about spending a lot of money on something that might prove to be a bad choice that I didn’t actually get one. I just kept thinking about them and putting them on my wish list for when I was rich.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, a couple of birthdays ago I got bought this standing desk from IKEA as a birthday present and it was a life changer. There is a choice of two sizes for the top surface and I was bought the bigger size, meaning I could have my computer on one side and (in theory) textbooks and writing work on the other. (In practice it’s covered in clutter – I am, like most mathematicians, outrageously untidy and disorganised!) The height of the desk can be adjusted by winding a handle, meaning you can switch between sitting and standing as you want to. I need not have worried about a cheaper model not being very good – the handle is so easy to wind and you can do so without needing to empty the desk. The top goes up and down really smoothly, so you don’t need to worry about things bouncing about or falling over, and it’s just a beautiful, sturdy piece of furniture. I absolutely love it. I’ve never even thought about upgrading it and two years in it still looks brand new, even though it’s white.
As soon as I got the standing desk and eliminated seated computer work from my life, my PGAD symptoms improved enormously. For while I was dogmatic in doing ALL work stood up, be it studying, writing or teaching. I pretty much only sat down on sofas, with my legs crossed the way children cross them to sit on the floor. (That’s always been my preferred way to sit – I think because I’m small, it’s more comfortable than having my legs dangle off chairs!) The less I sat, the better I got – and in time, the better I got, the more things I was able to start doing again. Whereas I used to have to stand up every 20 minutes or so and dance about when watching television, I can now comfortably sit for an hour. Whereas I used to really worry about going to see shows, or going on long car journeys, or sitting in restaurants, I’m now able to do those things without too many consequences. (I still get up in the intervals, and restaurants depend on what kind of chairs they have, but I’m certainly not left with flare ups that last for days anymore. It’s more like I’ll feel a bit squashed and sensitive for the rest of the evening and will need to take a bit more care to prevent a worsening of symptoms.)
The best things for me though have been that I can now do computer and written work again without pain. Simple things like replying to emails or writing a blog used to set off the whole cycle of congestion, arousal, discomfort and intrusive feelings. Now, provided I stick to the other things mentioned in Tiny Tips for Dealing with a PGAD Flare, I have massive chunks of time where I don’t give PGAD a thought. It’s been so long since I needed to use Releveum to get to sleep that the bottle I’m using expired in 2016. I haven’t needed to take a cool Hypericum bath for ages. Provided I stay hydrated, maintain my gluten free, dairy free diet, don’t use tampons, don’t touch my g-spot and limit the number of orgasms I have and the way by which I have them, PGAD has no impact on my daily life anymore. It’s so great to be able to work, read and write, free from the constant sensation of false arousal and cystitisy feelings.
Because PGAD is so closely related to interstitial cystitis and other pelvic pain disorders, I’d urge anyone who suffers with any of those conditions to experiment with NO seated desk work for a while. I was mistaken in thinking that breaks every half hour or so would offset the impact of being seated for so much of every day and in this way I kept myself stuck in a vicious circle of PGAD symptoms for longer than I need have been. In the beginning it can be very difficult to know what things are helping or hindering, because there are so many factors at play. Hormones, diet, lifestyle, posture, any structural damage – all these can affect the state of our pelvic health. For this reason, sufferers of PGAD and IC often don’t know whether sitting or standing makes them better or worse. However, I have spoken to a few IC patients who find relief from lying down, sometimes with hot or cold packs applied to their bladder area. I make a point of asking people now, “Do you find it makes you worse if you sit down for long periods of time?” If they say yes, I always suggest for them to try a standing desk.
If you do have a pelvic pain disorder, I cannot recommend highly enough that you give yourself a week or two with as little sitting as possible and for this time do some walking and stretching and ‘twerking’ as well. Basically, keep your pelvis active! If this means taking a week off work because you have a desk based job, please do so, because it could be that your job is making you worse without you even knowing it. If during this time you notice that you start to improve a bit, I really do encourage you to get a standing desk. Unless your desk work requires you to also use a foot pedal like mine did, most computer work can be performed stood up just as easily as sat down. I thought it would take a while to adapt to typing stood up, but it really made no difference at all!
Standing desks are not just potentially beneficial for those with pelvic pain conditions – they offer a plethora of other health advantages too. There is research to suggest that sitting down for more than three hours each day reduces our life expectancy by up to two years, even if we exercise and live an otherwise healthy lifestyle. Clearly a standing desk can drastically reduce the amount of time we spend on our derrieres. Many of us have poor posture when we are seated; standing desks are therefore good for reducing back pain and may improve posture. They may also lower the risk of heart disease and lower blood sugar levels. Standing up burns more calories than sitting down, so standing desks are good news for those who are watching their weight. Finally, I’ve also found my standing desk rather good for productivity – I’m a lot less inclined to watch trashy videos online or waste hours reading nonsense gossip now because after a while stood up, I get sore feet and tired legs! I still procrastinate more than I should, but certainly far less than I used to (at my computer, in any case!).
If you are currently employed in a seated job and you find after some time away from it that your symptoms improve, there are so many health benefits to having a standing desk that many employers may be happy to contribute towards the cost of a standing desk for you. Indeed, they may decide to get them for the whole office once they’ve seen how great yours is! If they’re not in a position to be able to help you out with the cost of one, it’s still well worth investing in one of your own. Winston Churchill used a standing desk and the White House spent $700,000 on standing desks in 2015, so you could probably make a great case to your employers as to why you should be allowed to have one – especially if you’re willing to pay for it yourself.
For a few people, standing for long periods of time is a trigger for their symptoms. The beauty of most standing desks is that they can be adjusted so that you can sit down at them as well. I really do hope that you’ll consider investigating whether the position in which you spend most of your day is affecting your health. If you find that sitting is indeed a trigger, get yourself a standing desk – it might just change your life!
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Copyright © Tiny Pioneer 2018
EDIT February 2020: If you are based in North America and enjoyed this blog post, you might also be interested in this piece by Consumers Advocate. They have spent over 200 hours researching the subject of standing desks and have reviewed models in a range of price brackets that ship within North America (some ship to other locations too). In some of their pieces, they work with partners and receive commission. They have advised me that for their standing desks post, there are no partners and no paid links.