This blog post discusses your work posture and its effects on your spine and I am mostly talking about those with an office job. Those jobs where you spend the majority of your day sitting at a desk, trying to make deadlines. With days like those, it is difficult to ensure you are doing your work with your body in mind.
Over time, you begin to develop a certain postural pattern, mainly involving a forward head posture and rounded shoulders, often considered to be *gasp* SLOUCHING. The chiropractor in me is weeping for your spine as I describe what is commonly known as Upper-Crossed Syndrome.
Upper-Crossed Syndrome is defined as tightness and shortening of the lower neck/upper back and chest muscles with associated weakness of the muscles that stabilize your shoulder blades as well as your neck flexors and mid-back muscles. The photograph below provides a nice visualization of this.
Other consequences of repeated sedentary desk work include: lower back pain and eye discomfort, which could lead to headaches. Repetitive keyboard use can cause tingling into the wrists and hands. Lower limb discomfort has also been a result of less than ideal desk posture.
One study looked at providing ergonomic training to office workers and followed up 6 months later. The results showed that providing ergonomic training improved workstation habits at 2 weeks after the intervention, with the largest improvements found in the workers’ body posture in the back region, thighs, knees and feet while sitting. There was a large reduction in pain and discomfort in the neck.
Most of us can figure out how to straighten ourselves out on our own while trying to be mindful of our desk posture. However, sometimes our workstations are not ergonomically friendly and can prevent us from achieving a desirable posture for your spine. In order to determine if your workstation is ideal for you, here is a checklist to follow:
-Ensure it is at arm’s length away
-Top of the monitor is at eye level or slightly below
-Centre of monitor is placed directed in line with the middle of your body, spacebar and keyboard
-Minimize glare, due to lights or windows
-Keep your head in a neutral position without straining or forward or backward
-Should be at elbow height and positioned in front of you
-Elbow positioned at your side at an angle 90⁰-100⁰, with forearms parallel to the floor
-Straight wrists (no flexing up or down) and flat
-Keep upper hands and elbows close to your body when your hands are on the keyboard (think of squeezing elbows inward)
-Shoulders should be relaxed when your hands are on the keyboard
-Placed close to keyboard and within reach (at elbow height)
-Wrist in a straight or neutral position when using mouse
-Provides proper back support
-Back posture should be 90⁰-100⁰
-Feet should feel supported on the floor or a footrest, with thighs parallel with the floor
-Upper body remains straight
-Knees are about the same height as the hip with the feet slightly forward
-Adequate space for the legs to comfortably fit under the desk or table
-Items used most often are within arm’s length of reach
It is also wise to consider taking breaks every 15-20 minutes, even to just get up and stretch. That deadline can wait, sometimes your body cannot and repeated stress (such as prolonged sitting up to 8 hours a day) can take a toll on your body. Think about setting a timer on your computer to remind you to get up and walk around a bit. This will also help your brain recharge in order to stay focused on your tasks.
Your chiropractor can also help manage Upper-Crossed Syndrome with spinal adjustments and soft tissue therapy to the affected muscles. Consulting a professional and keeping your workspace ergonomically fit will allow you to feel better by the time the weekend rolls around!
Mahmud, N et al. Ergonomic Training Reduces Musculoskeletal Disorders among Office Workers: Results from the 6-Month Follow-Up. Malaysian J Med Sci. 2011; 18(2): 16-26.
Yoo, W et al. Effects of a ball-backrest chair on the muscles associated with upper crossed syndrome when working at a VDT. Work. 2007: 239-244.