Whether you are now an armchair traveler, a new remote worker, or ZOOM addict, many of us are suddenly spending hours and hours in the sitting position. According to the Federal Reserve, even before the pandemic struck distance working had tripled in the past 15 years. Now, it is certainly here to stay. So may be lumbago, sagging posture, and lasting aches and pains. Let me share my ergonomic tips and tricks that will keep you comfortable and performing at your best. Here are the best proper sitting mechanics for your home office future.
Musculoskeletal strain in the workplace is a real consideration. And a preventable one. According to the United States Department of Labor,”ergonomics- fitting a job to a person- helps lessen muscle fatigue, increases productivity, and reduces the number and severity of work-related musculoskeletal disorders” (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, n.d.).
One of my favorite positions during my forty-year career as a physical therapist was teaching “Back School” in San Diego. It was so rewarding to see even the smallest “fix” to posture yield such vast improvements in pain and function. My hope is that they do the same for you today!
The Healthy Spine
In a normal resting spine there are three curves; at the neck, upper back, and lower back. With optimum posture, there is little use of spinal muscles and ligaments. Stress on the vertebral discs is minimal. Think of the spine as a spring- and any downward forces are absorbed through those natural curves. So how do we achieve that position of rest?
- Your ear sits over shoulders
- Shoulder blades are gently pinched together
- Pelvis is tucked underxxxxx(not swayed or flat back)
Avoid seeing your local physical therapist. Go for that Ideal posture and avoid the dreaded “tech neck!”
Now, you may easily master your standing posture. But how do you maintain that lumbar lordosis in sitting?? First off, resist the temptation to lie in bed with your laptop balanced on pillows. (Yes, YOU.) Your body might tolerate that for a few hours or even days. BUT, over time, your soft tissues will become overused and rebel!
Just think, your head alone weighs at least 10 pounds. With your body in the slouched position above, how long will it be before your upper traps start screaming? Have you ever experienced painful trigger points in your shoulders? This is what causes those! When your muscles are constantly in a state of contraction, there is insufficient blood flow infiltrating the area. As a result, a form of scarring occurs. It can literally turn into a knot. And a real headache!
The ligaments (tough cord-like tissues that provide stability for the spine) also can become irritated with improper posture, resulting in backaches and stiffness.
Proper Sitting Mechanics
As you can see from the green check above, the proper and most efficient sitting posture is (Medical News Today, n.d.):
- Feet flat on the floor
- Hips, knees, and ankles at a 90-degree angle (If you find your chair is too high and you are overarching, you can add a small book under your feet.)
- Keep your ears over your shoulders
- Support the natural curve in your lower back If your chair does not offer a built-in lumbar support- or even if it does-
- You can easily purchase a lumbar support (though I warn you- one size does NOT fit all.) Or you can fabricate your own with a simple adjustable towel roll. (Which may become a pain to readjust over time.)
Additionally, it is imperative to observe the height of your computer. You will want your eyes to line up with the middle of your computer screen. Here are some “fixes” to do so:
- A standing desk! (See below.)
- Prop your device on books or a shoebox
Be cognisant of the tension in your shoulders and the position of your arms. If you need to reach to type on your keyboard, your shoulders elevate, and your elbows are not in a 90-degree position of rest. The remedy?
- Invest in a wireless keyboard and mouse for your home office!
Likewise, if you need to do some old-fashioned paperwork, you still need to maintain that proper sitting mechanics. To accommodate. just angle your papers on a large three-ring binder.
Women In Travel Summit
it was an honor to present at this year’s first-ever virtual summit. You can watch my entire Women in Travel presentation here:
Workspace Ergonomics for the Remote Worker #WITSOnline
Lastly, build BODY BREAKS into your home work/school routine. Simple stretches, a walk to the fridge, or simply a change of position can make all the difference. Allow bloodflow and the oxygen it brings with it to infiltrate those tired spinal muscles.
In short, always remember the science of ergonomics. Bring your work TO you, not the other way around (Fernandez, 1995). Don’t let Coronavirus become a bonafide pain in the neck. Take some time right now to create your own home office ergonomic workspace. In the long run, with the use of proper sitting mechanics, your work will become more efficient. I guarantee, your boss AND your body will thank you for it!!
Department of Labor UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2020, from https://www.osha.gov/ergonomics
Fernandez, J.E. (1995), “Ergonomics in the workplace”, Facilities, Vol. 13 No. 4, pp. 20-27. https://doi.org/10.1108/02632779510083359
Sitting positions: Posture and back health. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321863