Back pain, neck, shoulder and hip pain as well as RSI injuries are all very common amongst those who are seated throughout the working day as the sitting position encourages us to adopt poor posture. Furthermore, maintaining the same position for hours at a time is not good for the health of your back or body. Here are Precision Movement’s top 10 must have adjustments to your workspace to minimise the risk of discomfort, pain and injury at work.
1. Awareness of alignment
Slouching and poor sitting habits will contribute to back pain. The longer you sit badly and pay no attention to your posture the more likely you are to incur discomfort, pain and injury. Awareness and reminders throughout the day are a great start. Set your computer screen saver to say SIT UP STRAIGHT or POSTURE PERFECT. If you are on your phone throughout the day set your home screen with a similar message.
2. Chair & Sit to Stand Desks
Source a good chair for your work-space that supports your spine and deters you from slouching at work. I like the range at www.back2.co.uk. There is a fantastic product on the market that really helps with long periods of sitting – the Sit to Stand Desk. You can adjust the desk height easily throughout the day to alternate between sitting and standing. I highly recommend this.
3. Hand height
If you work at a computer then your forearms should be held at a 75-90 degree angle in relation to your upper arm. The elbows and wrist can rest on the work surface if you regularly use telephones, calculators and write as this reduces strain through the shoulder and neck area. For those that are drawing or designing at a drafting table, angle the table up so you do not have to lean over your work. A general rule of thumb is the closer your hands and eyes have to work together for a task the higher the desk height should be.
4. Height of chair
Your chair height is determined by the height of your desk. Ideally your knees should be at an angle of 90 degrees or slightly less and the feet should rest comfortably on the ground. The backrest of your chair should sit right in the middle of your low back area. The placement of the chair should be such that you do not have to lean over your desk to work or that you feel too cramped.
5. Seat pan
You should be able to adjust the angle of the seat pan on your chair. As a general rule if you read and write a lot then tilt your seat pan forwards which helps to maintain healthy spinal curves. If you mostly sit in front of a computer screen then tilt your seat pan back (up to 5 degrees). However, if you have a specific injury like a disc prolapse your seat pan position will be unique to you, and I would advise taking expert advice – see the end of the article for more advice on this.
6. Foot position
Allow your feet to rest evenly on the ground ideally with a 90 degree bend at the knee. If your feet do not touch the ground when you are sitting in your chair then use a footrest and this should ideally be angled up at 15 degrees. If you wear high heels I would advise that you work in flats when seated at your desk. The increased angle through the ankle can lead to injury even when you are not weight bearing. You can always quickly change into your heels to walk to a meeting though, of course, flat shoes are better for you whether you are walking or sitting!
7. Computer screen height
Set your computer screen height so that it is horizontal with your eyeline. You definitely do not want to be looking down as this will encourage slumping forwards which strains the shoulder and neck area.
8. Computer screen distance
The ideal distance between your eyes and the screen is 14-30 inches or 35-75cm. If your screen is too close it will strain your eyes and if it is too far away it will encourage you to lean forwards thus pulling you out of alignment.
Use a headset or a hands free kit if you are on the phone for much of the day. If you are seated at a desk in front of a computer or need to hold documents while you are speaking you are more likely to hold the phone between your ear and shoulder which over time will most certainly lead to discomfort and potential injury. A headset will enable you to work effectively without compromising your alignment.
10. Getting up through the day
The most important advice I can give you is to get up out of your chair throughout the day. Not only will your back and body thank you for this but it will allow your mind to rest briefly before returning to the work you are doing. Make a cup of tea, walk to the water cooler, walk to another floor for a meeting, definitely get out of the office for lunch. If you can frame your work day with exercise such as cycling to work or hitting the gym, even better.