When it comes to posture, there’s a lot more at stake than comfort. As a physiotherapist, I often see people stuck in cycles of work-related body issues, such as headaches, back pain, neurological issues, and arm tingling.
And since working from home just became the new norm, many people are readjusting to life without their office’s fancy standing desk and deliciously contoured chair.
The good news is, practicing good posture habits and maybe making a few slight modifications to your work from home set-up can make all the difference.
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“Most of my clients complain of new low back pains since they’ve started working from home more,” says NYC-based Physiotherapist Charlotte Sayers. “This is due to increased time sitting and being less active. Our backs don’t like to be held in the same postures for long periods of time, especially sitting.”
The following tips for body position can make sitting at a desk for 8 hours much easier on your body.
1. Maintain a gentle sway in your lower back
Four out of five adults experience lower back pain. To help with this, sit with your butt all the way up against the back of the seat and place a small, firm cushion in the hollow area of your lower spine where your back naturally sways.
2. Bend your elbows 90 degrees
Your desk should be at whatever height allows your elbows to bend at 90 degrees while typing. If your chair has adjustable arms, make sure they’re at this height as well.
3. Position your chin parallel to the ground
Neck pain and (cervicogenic) headaches can occur if you’re spending long hours staring at a screen that’s either too is too high or too low. To avoid this, position your screen directly in front of your natural eye level.
4. Drawn your chin back and tuck slightly
Most of us jut our chin out slightly when we’re looking at a screen, which causes pain in the cervical spine. Draw your chin back so it’s right behind your collarbones. Then, tuck your chin slightly as if you’re holding a tennis ball with your chin.
5. Open your shoulders
Most people slouch to some degree but the truth is, it’s super hard on your spine and back. To avoid slouching, gently roll your shoulders down and back, feeling muscles in your upper back engage.
6. Bend your knees 90 degrees, feet flat on the ground
Good posture starts in your feet — think of them as the foundation of your posture. It’s pretty much impossible to maintain a straight spine if your feet aren’t pressed flatly against the floor, especially for hours at a time.
You should also avoid propping legs up on anything as that can tighten your hamstrings and even irritate your sciatic nerve if you have existing spinal stiffness.
“It’s very important to make sure you are well set up at home to reduce posture related injuries, especially ‘tech neck,’ which might last long past our extended time inside,” says Sayers.
Here are some products you might consider investing in if you’re experiencing regular body pain.
- A sit to stand desk. One study showed a 32 percent improvement in lower back pain when people stood intermittently through the workday.
- A lumbar roll. If your chair doesn’t have low back support, it’s crucial to support your lumbar spine with a cushion.
- External mouse and keyboard. If you work with a laptop, it’s virtually impossible to maintain proper sitting posture without these essential accessories.
- Laptop stand. Remember, your screen needs to be positioned at eye level.
1. Use a posture app
Knowing what good posture looks like won’t do any good unless you actually remember to correct your posture throughout the day, which for most of us is a pretty big ask. Luckily there are many apps for that.
MacBreakz prompts you to do stretches (most of which you can do from your chair) targeted for good posture and to release any built-up tension. It does cost $24.99 but you can try it out first with a 14-day free trial.
Another app, Posture Man Pat, uses your laptop’s webcam to remind you when you’re slouching. While this feature may strike some as intrusive — if not creepy — it’s completely free.
2. Try a posture corrector
There are lots of wearable products out there designed to encourage better posture. While these products aren’t perfect (common complaints are the bulkiness and unnatural feeling of wearing them), they may provide the reminder you need to keep your shoulders back and your spine straight.
Check out the posture correctors in this article. They’ve been vetted by experts.
3. Stand up every hour
Even if you have trained yourself to sit with perfect posture all day long, the truth is, humans weren’t built to sit for 8 hours a day. Standing up pulls you out of your static position, and gets your muscles firing and joints moving again.
Research shows you can help alleviate pain by regularly stretching the affected muscles and building strength in key areas.
Try doing the following four stretches for at least 1 minute each, twice a day.
1. Child’s Pose
Child’s Pose is a great stretch to lengthen your spine and relieve back tension in the moment.
2. Standing Forward Fold
This move gives a deep stretch to the hamstrings while also releasing tension in the upper back and shoulders. The point with this stretch is to maintain a straight back, which for most of us will mean bending our knees.
Cat-Cow is a spinal awareness stretch you can use to releases tension along your whole spine. When you’re doing Cat-Cow, inhale through the cow portion (when you arch your back) and exhale as you round you spine.
4. Chest stretch
If you’re a sloucher, this stretch is bound to feel great. You can also deepen the stretch by bending at the waist and bringing your hands over your head behind you.
It’s normal to feel some soreness and aching after a long day, even if your posture is pretty good. Chronic pain is more intense and can have a serious impact on your day to day life.
Back pain that’s sharp, shooting, intense, and that has lasted for more than 3 months is considered chronic. In this case, postural changes alone probably won’t suffice.
For chronic back pain, in addition to reaching out to a doctor, some of the following interventions might be worth exploring:
- physical therapy to improve mobility and function
- chiropractic treatments
- mindfulness training
And make sure to see a doctor if your back pain is happening with the following symptoms:
- numbness, tingling, or weakness in your legs
- sharp, persistent pain, especially if it worsens at night
- sudden weight loss
- throbbing in the abdomen
- loss of bowel or bladder control
Caitlin Reid is a Physiotherapist, Clinical Pilates instructor and wellness retreat creator. She works with private patients, groups and hotel brands in her mission to help everyone move and feel better.