Are you sitting up straight?
If you're like most Americans, probably not. Sitting hunched over your computer exacts a cost--on your spine, your breathing, your sense of well being, and your productivity. Ergonomics in the workplace uses science, along with equipment design, in order to reduce injury rates, fatigue, and improve employee performance. As more jobs require computer use and stationary tasks, ergonomics is also defined as the art of placing yourself in an ideal posture and designing your work environment to support that posture.
The ideal sitting posture, according to the experts at Life's Work Physical Therapy, minimizes stresses to your body, most noticeably your spine and arms, but even your hips and legs. Slouching, on the other hand, is the culprit for all sorts of discomfort. Look at the laundry list of ills:
- Dramatically increases loads on the lumbar discs
- Stresses the mid thoracic spine
- Rounds the shoulder blades and shoulders forward
- Shears the neck forward
- Aggravates neck structures leading to neck pain and headaches
- Contributes to arm strains.
Slouching also affects breathing, limiting chest expansion during inhalation and forcing neck muscles to over-work. Forward head posturing is already causing overuse of these neck muscles, and this combination will lead to neck pain over time.
Sitting posture at work is not about being ‘perfect’ every second of the day—this isn’t realistic. Obtaining an ideal posture some of the time is a better goal for two reasons: 1) it gives your body a break, and 2) you’re learning a new way to sit, and with practice, eventually you may sit in this ideal position most of the time.
You must be trained to know what this ideal posture is, and your work environment must be conducive to help you maintain this position. It's helpful if you can practice finding your ideal posture without the help of a work chair or other external support. This video introduces the basics of sitting posture and will serve as a good tool for reminding you how to sit well and comfortably.
Once you understand your ideal sitting position, use these general recommendations to build your workstation:
- Sit all the way back in your chair, feet flat on the floor. Your chair-back should reach to the top of your shoulder blades. Seat depth should allow for a small space between the back of your knees and the chair.
- Elbows bent 90 degrees, arm-rests placing gentle pressure on the forearms.
- Curved keyboard (curved or split) brought in close to maintain shoulder and arm position. Wrist positioned in neutral.
- Ergonomic mouse (wireless, and curved to partially open up the forearm) positioned close to the keyboard.
- Monitor positioned at an arms-length away from the body. The top of the monitor should be at eye level.
If you use a laptop as your primary computer, purchase an external mouse and keyboard, and prop the laptop using the same recommendations as a desktop computer. If you use split-screen monitors, place the monitor used most-often directly in front of you, with the other monitor next to it on either side.
Other recommendations include using a document holder if inputting information from paper to the computer, and using a head-set for phone use. Allow for frequent breaks from sustained positions; get up at least every 30 minutes to walk around and stretch. Sit-stand desks are a great way to offset the sustained sitting postures and have been shown to dramatically decrease work-related injuries associated with sitting.
GreenField Health members can make an appointment to see a Life's Work physical therapist at either the Westside or Eastside locations. Call 503-292-9560 to make an appointment.