Is your desk posture causing back pain?
Have you ever stopped to wonder how much time we spend at our desks and what all that sitting is doing to your body?
"Studies show the average length of time an adult spends sitting per day is
Sitting for a prolonged time increases the chances of slouching and slumping in a chair compressing the spine and stretching the supporting spinal muscles and ligaments. It can create back and neck pain and can increases any preexisting symptoms, making back and neck pain worse.
The questions are:
How can I improve my posture when sitting?
Everyone is talking about standing desks.... should I buy one of these?
What is the best setup for my work station?
If I do get sore, how do I fix it?"
To sit or to stand?
The answer is both! If you were asked to run 10km tomorrow, most wouldn't be able to without training. And like athletes, we need training to take on a new activity for 10 hours a day. So if you were asked to stand for 10 hours tomorrow, your body would be unconditioned to this and likely not cope. Back and neck pain would develop before the end of the day.
Standing desks are fantastic and take load off the low back, but researchers have found that starting off with 2 hours of standing at a desk per day is ideal, with the aim to gradually increase this to 4 hours. This also, doesn't all have to be in one stint.
"It's the variability of Sitting AND Standing that is the best!"
By varying what you do, the muscles throughout your body evenly take the load. You also get the opportunity to unload the muscles used in sitting when you stand, and unload the muscles you use standing when you sit.
Recent studies in the British Journal of sports medicine link being sedentary with high risks of heart disease and other health conditions. Studies showed that a group of obese sedentary workers developed healthier outcomes when they added 2 hours of standing to their daily work schedules.
Standing improves not only your back and neck pain but also your cardiovascular health and blood flow, allowing you to think more clearly and it keeps you alert.
It is important to note that you should wear good footwear and if the flooring at your workstation is hard, then using rubber matting where you stand is important. Those who work in heels and try standing desks also need to remember to take a flat pair of shoes to work for the time that they spend at a standing desk.
So, in summary, variation is best with an aim to start with 2 hours of standing and build to 4 hours over a couple of weeks.
The Ergonomics pointers
1. Elbow measure
First, begin by sitting comfortably as close as possible to your desk so that your upper arms are parallel to your spine. Rest your hands on your work surface (e.g. desktop, computer keyboard). If your elbows are not at a 90-degree angle, adjust your office chair height either up or down.
2. Thigh measure
Check that you can easily slide your fingers under your thigh at the leading edge of the office chair. If it is too tight, you need to prop your feet up with an adjustable footrest. If you are unusually tall and there is more than a finger width between your thigh and the chair, you need to raise the desk or work surface so that you can raise the height of your office chair.
3. Calf measure
With your bottom pushed against the chair back, try to pass your clenched fist between the back of your calf and the front of your office chair. If you can’t do that easily, then the office chair is too deep. You will need to adjust the backrest forward, insert a low back support (such as a lumbar support cushion, a pillow or rolled up towel), or get a new office chair.
4. Low back support
Your bottom should be pressed against the back of your chair, and there should be a cushion that causes your lower back to arch slightly so that you don’t slump forward or slouch down in the chair as you tire over time. This low back support in the office chair is essential to minimize the load (strain) on your back. Never slump or slouch forward in the office chair, as that places extra stress on the structures in the low back, and in particular, on the lumbar discs.
5. Screen Distance
There should be a 50-70 cm distance between your eyes and the computer screen when you are sitting up straight. To make sure that you are comfortable at this distance and not leaning forward, you can increase the screen zoom so that the writing is of a clear and easy to read size.
6. Screen Tilt
The screen should be tilted at an angle of 10-20 degrees upwards.
1. Floor surface
Make sure the surface that you are standing on isn't too hard. If you are working on concrete or hard flooring then make sure that you use a rubber mat.
2. Foot wear
If you wear heels to work make sure that you have a supportive flat pair of footwear to change into when at your standing work station.
3. Elbow measure
First, begin by standing comfortably as close as possible to your desk so that your upper arms are parallel to your spine. Rest your hands on your work surface (e.g. desktop, computer keyboard). If your elbows are not at a 90-degree angle, adjust your office desk height either up or down.
4. Screen Distance
There should be a 50-70cm distance between your eyes and the computer screen when you are sitting up straight. To make sure that you are comfortable at this distance and not leaning forward, you can increase the screen zoom so that the writing is of a clear and easy to read size.
5. Screen Tilt
The screen should be tilted at an angle of 10-20 degrees upwards.
The Benefits of Good Posture
Tips for alleviating pain
Low back pain, sciatica, leg, knee and foot pain, shoulder pain and headaches are just a few of the ailments that can be alleviated by having good work station ergonomics.
But if your setup is good and you are still getting pain, you can try a couple of easy tips.
Low Back Pain
Try tilting the front of your chair slightly downward to keep your hips above your knees. The tilt will be no more than 2cm and is only slight. This tilt will allow you to keep a neutral position of the low back rather than rounding backwards and helps to keep low back pain at bay.
Shoulder Pain and Headaches
A gentle stretch of your neck and shoulder done at your desk can help relieve muscular tension. Gently lean the neck to one side and look towards your armpit. If you are leaning towards the right, support your head with you right hand. Don't pull the neck over. Instead, tucking the left hand under your bottom palm upwards, bend your left elbow as if you are pulling the elbow toward the floor. This should increase the stretch to a comfortable level through the left side of the neck. You can alter the neck muscles being stretched by carefully turning your head away from your armpit.
What to do next...
If you have been through a proper desk set up and tried to integrate a good level of variation between sitting and standing, and even tried some gentle stretches and you're still getting pain, it could be that you have an underlying injury that needs to be addressed.