Back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, decreased attention, and loss of energy….sound familiar? If the answer if yes, do these symptoms seem to flare up when you when sitting at your desk for long hours?
Ergonomics, or the “science of work”, is “intended to provide optimum comfort and to avoid stress or injury while in a certain position”. Within the last few years, ergonomics has become a hot topic. Numerous companies jumped on the band wagon developing ergonomic chairs, desks, back rests, and keyboards. It’s great that these products were developed, but they really won’t help unless you understand how your body position throughout the day affects your joints, muscles, and ligaments and in which way to modify your body to put yourself in proper alignment.
Because a majority of the American population has seated jobs for 8-10hrs/day, I am going to investigate the biomechanics, aka “the study of the mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organisms” , while you are sitting behind your desk.
1st, I’ll explain the proper way to sit. Then I’ll explain how many people sit, and why that causes so much of that achy pain.
*adapted from Occupational Health and Safety Association (see 1st picture on left)
The classic American sitting posture is depicted by the woman with the rounded spine (3rd picture on right). This is not good. Why? When you hunch your back, it causes your head to look down and pushes your neck forward in a protracted neck position. Obviously, you can’t do work if you’re looking at the ground. So how do we fix that? We fix it by looking up. Seems like a safe fix right? No. When you look up with a hunched (flexed) spine, it causes excess pressure on your neck. Excess pressure on your neck is never good. Not only will your neck fatigue quicker, but it will begin to utilize muscles that do not have the endurance to work all day. Your muscles will get mad at you and begin to ache. Another bad thing about extra pressure on your neck joints is that it may cause headaches!
Well, why do we hunch in the 1st place? Usually, not always, people begin to hunch because their upper back stabilizer muscles are weak. These are the muscles located directly between your shoulder blades, or the “wings” on your back. Those muscles work with your shoulder muscles to to pull your shoulders down and back. If you are not used to it, it may feel like you are sticking out your chest.
If you are able to strengthen these upper back stabilizer muscles, you will ultimately be able to pull your chest forward . When your chest is forward, and not facing the ground, you do not need to look up as much in order to see your screen. Another good result of strengthening these muscles is that it may assist with shoulder pain as well. By strengthening these muscles, your shoulder joint will be more properly aligned and will not “pinch” some structures. Weak upper back stabilizer and shoulder muscles may lead to impingement of shoulder tendons causing you pain.
Moving down to your feet and lower back…your feet should be flat on the ground so to best support your lower back, or lumbar spine. By placing your feet flat on the ground, it puts your pelvis, the bone that contains your “hip bones” in the correct sitting position. By keeping your pelvis in a relatively neutral position, your lumbar spine will be happy. Here is where a lumbar support comes in handy. If you’re like me, a tiny person, having your feet on the floor causes your to move away from the back of your chair, leaving you with nothing to lean back on. When you get tired of sitting up straight, you will begin hunching forward. A lumbar support will ultimately bring the back of the chair to you, allowing you to maintain the proper pelvic alignment.
Research Based TidBit:
According to a study conducted in 2014, researches concluded that: “Complaint of pain was associated with no short rest breaks, no use of a chair back, poor quality of life, high head protrusion, and shoulder angle while using the mouse of a computer.” (1)
So what does this mean for you? If you want to try improve your workday, reduce your pain, and improve your mood and focus, try some of these tips! Don’t forget to take rest walking breaks, and set yourself up for success!
(1) Meira Mainenti M, Ramiro Felicio L, De Carvalho Rodrigues Ã, Terrinha Ribeiro Da Silva D, VigÃ¡rio Dos Santos P. Pain,Work-related Characteristics, and Psychosocial Factors among Computer Workers at a University Center. Journal Of Physical Therapy Science [serial online]. April 2014;26(4):567-573. Available from: CINAHL Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 13, 2014.