Many people with office jobs spend more time sitting at their desks than lying in their beds at night. If you have not yet read my previous blog post on the dangers of uninterrupted sitting, please check it out. It is relevant to understand just how bad sitting can be for your health, and to try minimizing it as much as possible. However, the reality is that a large number of people spend the majority of their work day sitting at a desk. So while it is still important to try minimizing sitting time as much as possible and to take frequent micro-breaks from sitting, it is also important to make sure people know how to sit properly to reduce the stress of sitting on their body.
It is helpful to have a basic understanding of spinal alignment in order to better understand optimal sitting posture. In a neutral position, there are three natural curvatures of the spine. These include the cervical lordosis (neck), the thoracic kyphosis (mid-back), and the lumbar lordosis (low-back). A neutral spine allows for a good amount of space between each vertebrae, it is the strongest position of the spine, and it is the position we want to be in most often while sitting.
With the task of sitting, the weight of your upper body needs to be supported by your lower back and pelvis. For that reason, it is important to set yourself up for a good sitting posture by positioning your pelvis and lumbar spine properly when you first sit in your chair. It might be helpful to think of the transition from standing to sitting like a squatting exercise. Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your chair behind you, and slowly hinge at your hips to stick your bum out behind you while you let your knees bend and lower you to sitting. It is important to really focus on keeping your spine in a neutral position – all the folding should happen in the hips and pelvis, not in your low back. As you lower into your seat, place your hips all the way at the back of the chair and bring your upper body to rest over your pelvis. If your chair does not have any lumbar support, you may want to use a small towel rolled up to support that curved area of your low back. This will help you to maintain a neutral spine all the way up your back into your neck.
Now that you are able to transition into sitting properly, here are some other tips to help make your desk set-up more conducive to good posture:
- Distribute your body weight evenly on both hips.
- Adjust your chair height so that your feet can rest flat on the ground, hip-width apart.
- Your hips should be the same level or higher than your knees
- Position your arm rests so that you can rest your forearms easily on them with relaxed shoulders
- Your computer monitor should be at or slightly below eye level so that you can keep your neck in a neutral position while working.
- Make sure the chair is close enough to your desk so you don’t have to reach forward to type or write, and keep things you need to access often within an arm’s length away.
- Try to avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes. Take short frequent ‘micro-breaks’ from sitting to help reduce the strain on your body.
Many employers offer ergonomic assessments of staff workstations. Ergonomics is defined as the applied science concerned with designing and arranging equipment people use so that the people and equipment interact most efficiently and safely. Having a proper ergonomic desk set-up can make a big difference in posture and reduce the strain of sitting. It is worth looking into whether your employer offers this service. If they do not, try to follow the above tips as best as you can. If you are still having trouble and would like some more feedback or help with your sitting posture, contact us to book in with one of our physiotherapists. They will be able to assess your specific needs and provide you with appropriate exercise, education and manual therapy to help you get through your work day feeling your best.
Written By: Reanna Montopoli, FCAMPT Physiotherapist