Is Your Workspace Hurting or Helping You?
Many people sit at a desk either for work or recreation. Since computers are such an integral part of our lives, it is only necessary to make sure you are seated in a comfortable, non-straining position. There are many ways you can adjust your workspace to fit your needs. Every person’s body is different. We are all at different levels of flexibility, have different areas of tension and injury so this is a general guide to start you off to discovering what feels best for you.
It’s important to understand that body awareness is the key to discovering what is best for you. Body awareness is basically being able to feel your body in space which allows you to know when you are in a strained position and when you aren’t. When “the lights are on but nobody is home” you aren’t aware of your body and could be sitting poorly making you vulnerable to strains and pains. You could be twisted upside down and not even know it!
Adjustments to your workspace and your posture can help with your current aches and pains as well as prevent future strains! If for example, you sit at a desk and you are slumped down so that your back is curved forward, over time that could cause or add to back pain, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and the list can go on.
When you are sitting in a poor position for a period of time, it becomes a physical habit. Your body adjusts your muscle tension to fit that position creating restrictions and knots. That is why once you get up, you can still be in a hunched over or lop sided position even when you are walking around. The tension or tightness from the prolonged position becomes a “stuck” spot. It is an area that doesn’t move fluidly with the rest of your body. The stuck spot can pull on any other areas causing tension, soreness or pain. I know this can sound scary, but it is only meant to educate you on how adjusting your body alignment really does affect the WHOLE.
Here are some common poor posture mistakes. Poor posture at your desk is usually from a combination of bad habits, as well as poor ergonomics from your workspace.
5: Crossed Leg
1-Slumping forward and down. (very common!)
2-Projecting your neck forward towards the monitor. (Possibly to see better)
3-Slumping back and sliding down your chair.
4-Talking on the phone with your shoulder elevated towards your ear.
5-Crossing your legs for long periods of time- you are sitting unevenly, which can cause strain.
6-Shoulders elevated towards your ears. (Not shown but you know what that is!)
7- Good Posture! The chair and arm rest height are just right, allowing the wrists to be neutral. Good support in the backrest and feet on the floor allows for a tall aligned back and neck.
How you are sitting right now. Are you comfortable? Put both feet on the floor and sit up tall. Don’t think about sitting straight, because you don’t want to be rigid. It should feel comfortable and more aligned. You should feel like both “Sits” bones are connecting with your chair. Now relax your shoulders. You should feel like your head and neck are sitting evenly on top of your torso.
With adjustments to your workspace and adding certain props, you should be able to sit comfortably without effort.
Here are some products that could be helpful to you. It is not my point to sell any products. In fact, I don’t have any specific recommended brands. It is best that you go ahead and try products out yourself. You can even start with a throw pillow from home and go from there. Lumbar pillows and wrist guards can usually be found at office supply stores and even drug stores. There is a wide variety of all and in various price ranges.
When you are looking for a chair, a few general guidelines are:
- Make sure you are not too far back in the seat. If you are then the tendency will be to lean forward with no back support when working on a computer. (Executive chairs aren’t always the best for computer work for this reason)
- Cushion: See what feels best for you in terms of softness and firmness.
- No Flimsy Backrests! It should support you.
- Lumbar support (low back region)- You can add a pillow if needed, but having a decent starting point helps.
- Height adjustable- so you can customize how you sit at your desk for best alignment.
- Arm Rest height-Not all chairs have adjustable arm rests, but if they are too high, your shoulders will becomes elevated and if too low, you will slump down to meet them.
Lumbar Support Pillow
When the lumbar spine is supported allowing for a neutral alignment, it is much easier to get the rest of your torso to sit up tall as opposed to slumping over. You can start by taking any pillow from home and trying it out, putting it on your low back region. You might want a stiffer pillow which you can easily purchase.
If your chair has poor support or padding, you can add a cushion or wedge to it. Some wedges are angled, so that you butt is higher than your knees, which can help you sit up straighter and take pressure off your low back. There are also chairs that are already on an angle that tilt your pelvis forward.
Having a wrist pad for your keyboard and mouse can really minimize fatigue and strain from long periods of typing. It allows your wrists to be in a neutral alignment. If you don’t have one, you are either holding your wrists up the whole time or you are leaning them below on the desk. That can be very straining. Wrist guards are an easy and simple fix.
Instead of leaning your head to the side and crunching your shoulder to talk on the phone without hands, get an ear piece. There are pieces that connect to your landline phone easily. The other option is using speaker phone. It will save you the aggravation of neck and shoulder pain and headaches.
Adjustments to your keyboard, monitor and desk can be major helpers in getting you feeling better at your workspace. Sometimes desks are too low or too high. If you are unable to change that, then hopefully your chair can adjust your height to get you in the best position. If your desk, keyboard and monitor are too low, you might find yourself slumping forward and looking down a lot during you day. If is they are too high, than your hands, wrists and shoulders could get strained from being raised up from neutral.
The distance between yourself and your monitor can change how you sit. Your monitor should feel like you can sit tall without leaning forward to read the text on the screen. Of course you could always adjust your text size too but try moving the monitor first!
Here are some easy stretches you can do at work. Getting up every hour or so for a minute can really help stiffness that occurs from prolonged sitting.
Stretch your arms towards the ceiling and reach up.
Take some deep breaths into your rib cage and stomach.
Now reach one arm up one at a time alternating back and forth.
Clasp your hands together and bring your hands towards the back of your head for a nice chest stretch.
Lean forward laying your torso on your legs, or resting your forearms on your legs to stretch your back.
Sit up and lean your neck to one side and the other, down and up
Gently rotate your upper body by placing both hands on your legs and slowly twisting to one direction, then the other. Refrain from hold the back of the chair and forcefully twisting. Think about stretching your whole torso and not just looking for a “crack.”
When you are sitting tall in comfortable alignment, your body is more at REST. Your muscles don’t have to fight to keep you in a position. You can breathe fuller, because your chest and stomach areas aren’t compressed like when you are slumped over. Fuller deep breaths equal more oxygen, energy, and mental focus!
Less or no strain means a happier, healthier work day and life!