Working from home has created a ton of new benefits, but it’s not without challenges.
Each day we are learning about new health conditions associated with prolonged sitting, ill-positioned technology, and furniture that may have been repurposed to suit the frantic requirements levied at the start of the pandemic.
So, How do You Achieve the Best Sitting Posture at Your Computer?
Whether you are back in the office or working from your home office, that is a lot of sitting. So, with all this time sitting, what are some techniques to apply to your desk space to reduce chronic fatigue and enhance productivity throughout your work week?
Sitting Posture Tip 1: Keep Your Elbows at 90 Degrees
When working at your desk, your elbows should rest comfortably with a 90 degrees bend at the elbow joint.
Know This: If you place your hands on your keyboard and your elbows dip below the edge of the table, then the desk is too high.
If your arms are extended straight and reach for the keyboard, then the desk is too low. This 90-degree angle in the elbows will prevent hunching from getting a too low keyboard or raise your shoulders to work on a too-high keyboard.
This relaxed position of the elbows will take some pressure off the wrists. If you have noticed more wrist pain at the end of your workday or have suffered from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, the first order of business is to check your desk height. Most desks are not adjustable; what you see is what you get.
If you are very tall, you can add a block to the table legs to raise the desk to the correct height.
If you are short and find that when you type, your arms are all scrunched up, you will need to bring yourself up to the desk level.
Since your work surface cannot be lowered, we will use this to gauge where the chair height and other desk settings should be. Raise your chair height until that 90-degree angle is created at the elbow.
Sitting Posture Tip 2: Keep Your Hips and Knees at 90 Degrees.
When sitting, you want the angle at your hips, and the angle of your knees to both be bent at 90 degrees.
Know This: If the angle is too large, meaning your chair is too high, it might feel like you are falling out of the chair. If the angle is too small, meaning your chair is too low, it will likely force your hips to tuck under, and you will slouch while you sit.
Sitting Posture Tip 3: Keep Your Feet Flat on the Floor
Almost everyone I see in my office tells me that they cross their legs when they work or put their feet up on some part of the desk in front of them.
If this sounds like you are at work, you are not alone.
People cross their legs for many different reasons – their chair is too high, it has become a habit, their chair is uncomfortable – the reasons vary.
Know This: In addition to the poor posture created, crossing your legs can lead to a rise in blood pressure (2). This sitting posture at your computer creates problems when sustained for long periods. Crossing your legs while you sit can strain the hip and sacroiliac joints and cause the pelvis to rotate and tilt (2).
Over time this can lead to low back and even some hip pain. It’s almost like holding a Figure 4 or Pigeon Pose stretch for hours. Placing your feet flat on the floor helps provide a stable base and takes some of the strain off the lumbar spine.
The majority of the patients I see in my office sit in too high chairs, causing their heels to hover just above the floor. At this point, most people start crossing their legs, leaning to one side, or propping their feet up in front of them.
When the chair is too high, the muscles in the low back do more work to keep you in that sitting position. Muscles like Psoas and the low back stabilization muscles can become hypertonic (tight) and create low back pain if not addressed.
I’ve just spent the first half of this blog discussing setting your table and chair to create the 90/90/90 position with the knees, hips, and elbows. If you were following along, I’m sure your feet are dangling right now.
So how are you going to get your feet flat?
Pro Tip: Find a box or some other firm platform that you can place your feet on.
Sitting Posture Tip 4: Sit Back in Your Chair
Now that the chair is set to the correct height, the next step is to sit back in the chair. This is no problem for the tall readers out there, but for short people like me, you may find this more difficult. The chair seat should extend from the area just behind the knee (with approximately 1-2 inches of play) and support your entire hamstring region extending to the buttock.
The seat of the chair should transition seamlessly to the seat’s backrest to support your lumbar spine.
Know This: If the seat region is too large or too small, you will experience chronic fatigue and undue stress over time.
Sitting Posture Tip 5: Use a Lumbar Support
Many office chairs have adjustable lumbar support. If your chair has a setting that is comfortable for you, great!
Set the support to be comfortable while also compiling with the other parameters we have discussed above.
Try This: If your chair is broken or is not adjustable, there are a few tricks you can use to give some support to your low back. You can find many lumbar supports online that attach to the chair if you want a more permanent solution. You can also roll a small towel into a cylinder and place it against the small of your back as you sit back in your chair. This is an easy way to quickly add some support to your lumbar spine while you are sitting.
Sitting Posture Tip 6: View Your Screen at Eye Level
With many jobs turning to virtual options for their workers, I have seen an uptick of people now working on their portable laptops. While laptops can be convenient, they are not ergonomic. The display area is small and misaligned with the head and eyes when the laptop is set up on a desk.
The keyboard tends to be ergonomically poor and can be difficult to view (requiring frequent slouching to see the keyboard icons).
For older workers, bifocals add an extra dimension to the ballet of data entry, collaborative conferencing, and screens designed for a younger generation.
Throughout the workday, these changes in position can lead to neck pain, burning or tingling in the shoulder/upper back area, headaches, and in some cases radiating pain and numbness. Chronic poor posture can even lead to structural changes in the neck and arthritis.
Know This: This problem can be fixed by obtaining a detached keyboard and mouse.
If desired, external monitors with adequate brightness and acuity can also be purchased to add ergonomic benefits to your desk setup. The peripherals can be aligned to support our 90/90/90 construct, and the screen can be lifted to eye level to help take some of the strain off the cervical spine.
If you are already working on a desktop computer system, adjusting the peripheral equipment will require fewer add ons.
Sitting Posture Tip 7: Stand Regularly and Move
Now your desk and chair are set for success, but that doesn’t mean you can sit and work for 8 hours straight.
Sitting puts a lot of strain on the lumbar discs, even with all the system configuration and setup tips we discussed.
To help relieve some of this stress, it is recommended that you stand and move around frequently throughout your workday.
Try This: I usually tell my patients to try to stand for 10 minutes every hour.
Use that time to refill your water bottle to help keep you hydrated or perform a couple of the postural exercises your chiropractor showed you the last time you were in the office.
If you are having a hard time remembering when to stand, set a timer on your phone to help you keep track of the time.
- Joint Prevalence of Sitting Time and Leisure-Time Physical Activity Among US Adults. JAMA. 2018.
- Is Crossing Your Legs Dangerous? Healthline. 2017.
This article was provided by The Smart Chiropractor.