Are your legs crossed? Is one hip forward or back of the other? Shoulders slumped forward? Upper back hunched? Head jutting forward to read the screen?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, chances are good that you don't feel great sitting the way you're sitting right now. You may not feel particularly bad, but the effects of poor posture are cumulative.
Our culture is more sedentary than ever before. The increase in computer use for work and play has contributed to our sedentary ways. Repetitive use injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or neck strain are on the rise. Ergonomic office and computer furniture, not to mention specialists who come to your office to fit you for the furniture – are becoming more common.
Can you lower your risk of becoming injured at your desk?
You bet you can.
First make sure that your work area fits you correctly. Your chair should give you proper lumbar support and promote a comfortable up-right posture. Your feet should comfortably reach the floor directly in front of you. The height of your chair is relative to your work area and what you are doing, but as a general rule your elbows should be slightly below or up to level with your wrists, not above.
If you have an injury or condition that mandates correct posture in order for you to work without pain, have your work area checked over by someone who specializes in ergonomics to give you a recommendation on what would work best for you.
When your mother told you to stand up straight, little did you know she was actually doing you a favor. Proper posture can help relieve fatigue and prevent strains in the neck, shoulders and lower back.
When standing, divide your weight equally between your feet. Your legs should be about hip-width apart with knees slightly soft. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled gently in toward your spine to help support your back. Your shoulders should be gently pressed down away from your ears and your shoulder blades drawn slightly towards each other. Your head aligns with your body and should not be craning forward.
Sitting is often more of a problem for people in regards to posture than standing. It's so easy to slouch in a chair. The computer screen is too far away so you crane your neck forward. You think that slouching is actually saving you energy but in reality it adds to your fatigue. Your lungs have less room to take a full breath. The muscles in your upper back are tired from holding that forward-rounded posture. Your low back is complaining because there's nothing to support it.
When you're sitting, the same postural guidelines as standing apply. Keep your shoulders down away from your ears and shoulder blades drawn back. Your head should align with your body. Your hips should be even, underneath you on the chair, with legs forward and feet on the floor in front of you aligned under your hips.
Crossing your legs at the knee will throw your posture off. Tightly crossed legs can also hinder circulation. Throw out everything you've heard about politeness and leg crossing (this mainly applies to women) and know that you'll be much healthier if you keep them uncrossed with the weight equally divided on both legs.
Mini exercise sessions
Sure, the ideal scenario would be if you could get up and go for a walk every hour. There aren't too many people who have that luxury, but getting in a little movement during the workday could help save you from strain or pain.
Many computers now have programs that alert you every hour with a message to get up and move. Even though it sounds silly, there are lots of people who become so engrossed in what they're working on that they wouldn't get up without some sort of cue.
Every hour you're working get up for three to five minutes and stretch. Take a few deep breaths and if you can, take a walk of at least a few steps. Gently roll your head around and stretch out your wrists. Make some circles with your arms. When you sit back down, sit down in a proper postural position.
The ideas mentioned here don't replace a fitness routine, but thinking about it and taking small steps to improve your posture can save you possible pain and discomfort in the big picture. Believe it or not, it will probably increase the amount of energy you feel on a regular basis, and make you feel better as you go about your day.