Have you ever thought of how often you are sitting? Let’s break it down…… When you get up in the morning, you sit to eat breakfast, then sit to use the restroom. You sit in the car to go to/from work, while also sitting all day at work. You sit to eat lunch and dinner. Watching television, reading, or hanging out in the evening with your family are all most likely done in the sitting position too. This example highlights how much of our daily life is spent in the sitting position, and is why sitting posture and ergonomics in the workplace is important to maintain overall body health. Work is typically the highest time spent activity done in the sitting position for most people, so the most energy should be spent improving work posture prior to other activities.
Ergonomics in the workplace can be described as the ability to build your work environment around your optimal posture. Too often are we jeopardizing our posture to our environment, which over time places high amounts of stress on our backs, necks, shoulders, wrists, etc and can contribute to the onset of pain in one, or more, of those areas.
The word ‘optimal’ now needs to be described. If we talk about sitting posture, optimal posture includes the following:
1. The lumbar spine in a neutral posture, with the back well supported against the chair-back
- neutral lumbar spine posture is not all the way arched or slouched, but rather somewhere comfortable in the middle
2. Both feet are flat on the floor, and the knees are slightly lower than the hips. A small space is left between the back of the knees and the edge of the chair
3. The majority of the spine, all the way up into the shoulder blades region, is also supported by the chair-back
4. The arm-rests are adjusted to a height where they apply only light pressure on the forearms when in an upright posture
5. The keyboard and mouse are positioned so that your arms do not need to move from the arm-rests. When using the keyboard, your wrists stay in a relatively neutral position
6. The computer monitor height has the top of the monitor at eye level. The monitor is distanced an arm’s length away from your body
These are the basics of sitting posture at work, and I typically have clients adjust them in this order. Posture starts from below; you can feel that as you find an upright posture of your low back, your chest and shoulders already get taller, and your neck elongates. If you try to lift your chest and neck while you stay slouched in your low back, it is impossible to maintain this position for any period of time.
This ‘optimal’ posture has a positive effect on the following:
1. Breathing. Upright posture allows for the normal rib expansion and diaphragmatic breathing, which allows the lungs to expand naturally during inhalation. If you are in a slouched posture, these expansions cannot occur and the tendency is to lift the shoulders to expand the chest which utilizes neck muscles excessively and can contribute to neck pain.
2. Low back pressures. Unsupported sitting (not sitting with any back support) is a highly-loaded position for low back and increases the pressure on the lumbar discs. If you are unsupported sitting and slouching, the pressure in the vertebral discs is substantially higher.
3. Neck strain. When slouching, it tends to round the shoulders and push your chin forward, placing a high-shear force on the mid cervical spine (mid-neck). If this posture is utilized repetitively, the shearing force on the mid-cervical spine can be a source of future pain. Upright posture, initiated through the low back, lengthens the neck and begins getting you out of the chin-poked position. This allows for neck stabilizing muscles to work optimally to help maintain proper neck position.
Ergonomics at work does not have to be a stressful and time-consuming project. The first thing is being able to take an outsider’s look at the positions you are in all day. At Life’s Work Physical Therapy (LWPT), we either come out to your place of work to observe your postural habits, or have you get pictures taken of yourself in your natural postures at work and bring them with you to your physical therapy appointment. From there, the changes can begin. Realize that no matter what exercises you do to ‘strengthen’ your body, or whatever ‘stretches’ you do to relieve stresses incurred from sitting if you do not address the postures you are in for the majority of your waking hours each week then you probably are not going to begin feeling better. If you feel like your work postures are not ideal for you, and you are sensing increased stresses to your body from these positions, contact Life’s Work Physical Therapy for an ergonomic assessment and physical therapy evaluation, so you can begin improving today!