By: Dr. Dennis Nguyen, DPT
During this pandemic many of us are asked to work from home. This provides unique challenges that we must adjust and adapt to. One of those challenges is making sure we have the correct posture while working. Many offices provide a fairly good ergonomic set up that makes it easier to maintain correct posture while working. Many places even offer standing desks that allow us to switch from sitting to standing allowing us a break from a sustained sitting position. However when working from home and trying to adapt to a new work environment you may not be thinking about proper posture. This post is to help explain the importance of proper sitting posture and how to achieve that while working from home.
Why proper sitting posture is important
When sitting for a sustained period of time we naturally like to lean our heads forward, roll our shoulders forward, and round out our back. Basically, we tend to slouch while we sit. The reason we do this is because instead of engaging and activating our postural muscles we instead rest at the end ranges of our joints and rely on our ligaments for support. This type of posture leads to compressive forces on our joints. In time this causes strain on our joints and weakness of our postural muscles. Over time this can cause neck and back pain, headaches, muscle tension, and even radicular symptoms (such as pins and needles down our arms). So it is important to maintain proper sitting posture while working from home (or back in the office) in order to decrease the chance of future injuries and maintain good overall health.
What is proper sitting posture
Proper sitting posture is having our feet flat on the ground, our knees even with our hips (a hip angle of 90 degrees), hands about the same levels as our elbows, and our shoulders and head retracted back keeping our neck and back relatively straight or neutral.
In order to achieve all this it is important to first look at the set up of your home office. It is best to use a desk and chair when working rather than sitting on a soft couch or bed. Although comfortable to relax on a soft surface makes it more difficult to maintain an upright posture and we will naturally slouch forward. So if you know you might be working from home for an extended period of time it is wise to invest in a good chair and desk. Make sure to adjust the height of the chair so your feet can remain flat on the ground and your knees are about even with your hips. You may need to use a footrest or stool in order to achieve this. The keyboards should be set up in a way that keeps our elbows at 90 degrees. The monitor should be high enough at eye level so that way it keeps us from looking down and slouching. However when working from home a lot of us are using laptops meaning the monitor and keyboard are attached. By placing the laptop on top of something such as a stack of books we can make sure the monitor is high enough to avoid looking down. However keeping the laptop too elevated can lead to our hands being too high and overextending our wrist which can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Luckily there are laptop stands that will raise the laptop higher allowing the monitor to be raised and the keyboard to be angled down in order to keep our hands at the optimal position. This may be a wise investment if you know you need to work from home.
However even with a good set up as humans we will naturally fall into that forward slouching position. There are ways to combat this. First is postural awareness. By being aware of our posture at all times we can avoid improper posture. If you feel like your head is leaning forward or your back rounding then reset your position to proper alignment by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Also it is important to take rest breaks. Set an alarm on your phone for every 30-40 minutes to stand up and walk around. This will help you avoid sitting in a sustained position for too long and avoid that forward head posture. Humans were not designed to sit for 8 hours straight even though a lot of our jobs demand that. So by standing up even for just a few seconds we can offload our joints and avoid excessive strain. There are also a few stretches and exercises we can do during our standing breaks that will further relieve tension.
As you can see that slouching position can lead to tight neck and chest muscles and weakness of our back muscles. So during those standing breaks we should stretch the tight muscles and activate our weak muscles in order to help maintain good posture.
Upper trapezius stretch
Levator scapula stretch
Doorway pectoralis stretch
These stretches will help lengthen the tight muscles that typically happen with poor posture. Make sure you hold these stretches for at least 30 seconds in order to actually induce physiological change (it may be helpful to put a timer on since 30 seconds is longer than you would think.
By doing these exercises it will help activate the typically weakened muscles and help with your postural awareness. Perform these periodically throughout the day (sitting or standing) with about a 3-second hold and 10 repetitions.
During these uncertain times many things are out of our control. However what we can control is how we adjust to the “new normal” of working from home. By making sure we have correct sitting posture we can avoid many possible future injuries and issues. By keeping in mind all these tips we can make sure we are doing the most we can to ensure our long term health. Thank you for reading and I hope you are all staying safe through this.