Working from home has brought a host of new benefits, but it's not without its challenges.
Every day we hear about new health problems related to prolonged sitting, poorly positioned technology and furniture that has been repurposed for the hectic demands of the early days of the pandemic.
Finding the best sitting posture at the computer has never been more important.
Sitting Posture at Your Computer: Habits
According to an article published in JAMA, 1-4 Americans sit more than 8 hours a day (1).
So how do you achieve the best sitting posture at your computer?
Whether you're back at the office or working from home, that's a lot of sitting.
So what techniques can you use at your desk to reduce chronic fatigue and increase productivity during your work week?
Keep Your Elbows at 90 Degrees
When you work at your desk, your elbows should rest comfortably and be bent 90 degrees at the elbow joint.
If you place your hands on the keyboard and your elbows slip under the edge of the desk, the desk is too high.
If your arms are straight out and reaching for the keyboard, the desk is too low.
This 90-degree angle in your elbows prevents you from hunching over when the keyboard is too low or lifting your shoulders to work at a keyboard that is too high.
This relaxed elbow position takes some pressure off your wrists.
If you have more pain in your wrists at the end of your workday or suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, the first thing you should do is check the height of your desk.
Most desks are not adjustable; what you see is what you get.
If you're very tall, you can add a block to the legs of the desk to raise it to the proper height.
If you're short and notice that you're crossing your arms while typing, you need to bring yourself up to desk height.
Since your work surface can't be lowered, we use this as a guide to determine chair height and other desk settings.
Raise your chair until you reach the 90-degree angle at the elbow.
Keep Your Hips and Knees at 90 Degrees
When you sit, the angle of your hips and the angle of your knees should both be 90 degrees.
If the angle is too large, i.e. your chair is too high, you will feel like you are falling out of the chair.
If the angle is too small, i.e. your chair is too low, your hips will probably be pushed down and you will slouch.
Keep Your Feet Flat on the Floor
Almost everyone I see in my office tells me they cross their legs at work or put their feet on part of the desk in front of them.
If that sounds like you at work, you're not alone.
People cross their legs for many different reasons - their chair is too high, it's become a habit, their chair is uncomfortable - the reasons vary.
In addition to the poor posture this creates, crossing the legs can lead to an increase in blood pressure (2).
This sitting posture at the computer causes problems if maintained for a long period of time.
Crossing the legs while sitting can put stress on the hip and sacroiliac joints and cause the pelvis to rotate and tilt (2).
Over time, this can lead to lower back and even hip pain.
It's almost like you're holding a figure 4 or pigeon pose for hours.
Placing your feet flat on the floor provides a stable base and takes some pressure off the lumbar spine.
Most patients I see in my practice sit on chairs that are too high, so their heels hover just above the floor.
At this point, most people start crossing their legs, leaning to the side, or propping their feet up in front of them.
If the chair is too high, the muscles in your lower back will have to work harder to keep you in that sitting position.
Muscles like the psoas and stabilizer muscles in the lower back can become hypertonic (tight) and cause lower back pain if not addressed.
In the first half of this blog, I just discussed how to set up your table and chair to create the 90/90/90 position with your knees, hips and elbows.
If you've been following along, I'm sure your feet are dangling straight.
So how do you get your feet flat?
Find a box or other solid platform to put your feet on.
Remember, we still want that 90-degree knee bend.
Sit Back in Your Chair.
After the chair is adjusted to the right height, the next step is to lean back.
For the tall readers out there, that's no problem, but for short people like me, it might be a little more difficult.
Sitting Posture at Your Computer: Measurements
The seat of the chair should extend to just behind the knee (with about 1 cm of wiggle room) and support your entire hamstring region all the way to your buttocks.
The seat of the chair should blend seamlessly into the back of the seat to support your lumbar spine.
If the seating area is too large or too small, you will become chronically tired and overly stressed over time.
Use lumbar support
Many office chairs have adjustable lumbar support.
If your chair is adjusted to be comfortable for you, that's great!
Adjust the lumbar support so it's comfortable while still meeting the other parameters above.
If your chair is broken or not adjustable, there are a few tricks you can use to support your lower back.
You can find many lumbar supports online that you can attach to the chair if you're looking for a permanent solution.
You can also roll a small towel into a cylinder and place it against your back when you lean back in your chair.
This way you can easily support your lumbar spine while sitting.
Keep your screen at eye level
With many workers using virtual workstations these days, I've noticed more and more people working on their portable laptops.
While laptops can be convenient, they are not ergonomic.
When the laptop is on the desk, the screen area is small and not aligned with the head and eyes.
Sitting Posture at Your Computer: Laptops
The keyboard is usually ergonomically awkward and can be difficult to see (you often have to hunch over to see the keyboard symbols).
For older workers, bifocals add an extra dimension to the ballet of data entry, collaborative conferencing and screens designed for a younger generation.
Over the course of the workday, this can lead to neck pain, headaches and, in some cases, radiating pain and numbness.
This problem can be solved by purchasing a separate keyboard and mouse.
If desired, external monitors with sufficient brightness and visual acuity can also be purchased to improve the ergonomics of your workstation.
Peripherals can be aligned to support our 90/90/90 construct, and the screen can be raised to eye level to relieve cervical strain.
Get up and move around regularly
Your desk and chair are now set up for success, but that doesn't mean you can sit and work for 8 hours straight.
Sitting puts a lot of stress on the lumbar discs, even if we've followed all the tips for system configuration and setup.
To relieve this stress, you should get up and move around frequently during your workday.
I usually advise my patients to stand for 10 minutes every hour.
Use this time to fill up your water bottle to make sure you're hydrated, or to do some of the postural exercises your chiropractor showed you during your last office visit.
If you have a hard time remembering when to get up, you can set a timer on your phone to help you keep track of time.
Dr. Mike Hadbavny
Victoria Sports Chiropractor FRCCSS(C)
If you are interested in learning more about how chiropractic care can be effective for your particular condition or health goals, contact Dr. Mike Hadbavny at 250-881-7881 today to make an appointment and discover the many benefits of seeing a chiropractor in Victoria BC. Contact us today.