Altwork: The Best Work Station in the World? Yes…and No. A Review
The most common complaint I hear in my office is back pain; sometimes accompanied by numbness, burning, or tinging sensations that radiate down their arms and/or legs.
While I tell my patients that the first goal of treatment is to eliminate their pain, I also let them know that it is equally important to identify the cause(s) of the pain. With that understanding, we can make lifestyle modifications to both facilitate the healing process and prevent the symptoms from returning.
My practice demographics
Because I practice in San Francisco, it is not surprising that the majority of my patients work in front of computer screens.
Sitting 8-10 hours (or more!) each day seated at a computer creates a great deal of muscle and joint tension which, over time, can lead to back pain. And these problems have been exacerbated during the pandemic because so many people are working remotely–hunched over their laptops, at kitchen tables, in bed, or on soft living room couches.
So my first recommendation is, stand up! Don’t spend more than 45 consecutive minutes in a seated position. Set your phone timer as a reminder. Get a glass of water, walk around the block (or the room), but do whatever it takes to get you out of your seat. Even better: Get a sit/stand desk, and a high quality ergonomic chair. Moving between seated and standing positions throughout the day will help to prevent the build-up of muscle tension that can lead to pain. It also has the added benefit of helping concentration.
When you need something extra
While the combination of chiropractic care, stretching, core strengthening, cardiovascular exercise and moving throughout the day will help relieve most posture related pain, there are situations which may require additional, specialized accommodations. A few of the most common causes of these pain syndromes are herniated intervertebral discs and stenosis (the buildup of bone in the spinal canal and/or posterior spinal joints).
These syndromes can cause debilitating pain that can make it very difficult to mentally focus, let alone put in a full day of work.
Designed by aerospace engineers, the Altwork is an “all-in-one” ergonomic work station.
The first thing that struck me upon viewing the Altwork station was its bulk. This is because the seat and the computer platform are connected, and the seat can be adjusted from an upright to a reclined position. The total floor space required is 18 square feet and–when the seat is fully reclined–the station is six feet in length. Its large footprint will dominate most rooms in which it is set up.
I questioned, of course, whether the Altwork’s high price tag ($4,950 for the Flex Station and $7,950 for the Signature Station—the former having a pared down set of features) could be justified, when one could find a good quality sit/stand desk and ergonomic chair for well under $2000.
The answer quickly became clear.
The back pain epidemic
Chronic back pain can drain energy from both mind and body, making mental focus difficult.
Sit/stand desks provide two options: sitting or standing. But there are times when those two options are just not enough to relieve or prevent pain. The Altwork offers the added options of fully reclined and “zero gravity” positions. (“Zero gravity chairs are designed to suspend your body in a neutral posture, with your feet elevated, allowing you to fully relax the back.)
With the electric push button controls easily accessible from all positions, the user can find the exact angle that relieves the symptoms and enables them to work comfortably. Sometimes, just one or two degrees of tilt can make the difference between comfortable ease and sciatic pain. And with Altwork’s fully adjustable head support, the same can be said of relieving neck, upper back, and radiating arm pain and/or numbness.
Ease of use
One of the most important features of a good quality work station–and especially ones that include a sit/stand desk–is its ease of use. I often analogize the use of sit/stand desks to gym memberships. How many of us have purchased a membership and gone to the gym 20 days the first month, then 15 days the second, until month eight comes along–and you realize you haven’t gone at all the previous month?
I see this same pattern with sit/stand desks; especially ones with electric controls. In a culture that expects immediate results for almost everything, the length of time it takes for an electric desk to go from one position to another (i.e., 3-4 seconds) can seem intolerable, thus inhibiting its use.
But in the case of the Altwork, which is mainly electric, it is a necessary “flaw”. The user needs the finely tuned electronics to find the exact position needed to provide relief. (It should be noted that the station does have some easy to use manual functions.)
Who is the Altwork for?
In my view, the Altwork is appropriate for a narrow (but significant) slice of the population. This “narrow slice” includes millions of people who are currently living with so much pain that they are unable to work. The personal as well as societal costs of this chronic pain are huge: disability payments, lost work productivity, addiction, family crises, and more. The difference between being able to work or not can impact all of these areas.
For that population, the Altwork is worth every penny. Granted, it is very expensive. I would suggest that technology companies have several of these in their offices to provide workers in pain with a viable work alternative. Worker’s compensation, as well as Medicare and private health insurance companies, should also make these available with patient subsidies.
But what about the average person, seeking to avoid the onset of computer-related back pain by working in a healthy manner? In that case, the cost vs. benefit is just not there. The price of high quality desks has decreased, and they are available in lots of attractive finishes/designs that can fit into the décor of any home or work office space.
In summary, I give a qualified thumbs up to the Altwork. It is the “Rolls Royce” of ergonomic work stations. Great for many…but not worth the financial outlay, for most.
Dr. Ricky Fishman has been a San Francisco based chiropractor since 1986. In addition to the treatment of back pain and other musculoskeletal injuries, he works as a consultant in the field of health and wellness with companies dedicated to re-visioning health care for the 21st century. He is the founder of the health news and information website, Condition: Health News That Matters.