Have you ever had a sore or stiff neck and shoulders after a long day of work, but were just sitting at your desk all day?
Long sustained postures are stressful on the body and do not allow the muscles that hold your body upright a chance to rest, even in a sitting position. Many work-related injuries every year come from poor posture, long hours, and few breaks.
Muscles of Posture
The common postural muscles that provide good posture are mostly extensors in the body. For example, the muscles that run parallel to your spine, the muscles that surround and stabilize your shoulder (trapezius muscles, rhomboids, serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi), are all located on one side of the body, and are balanced by muscles on the other side of the body. These are your lower abdominal muscles (transversus abdominus and oblique muscles), your chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor).
Common Sitting Postures
When most people are sitting, they allow their muscles to relax and sink into the chair. If they are reading or using a computer, most likely they are leaning forward slightly and displaying forward head posture. The natural “S” curvature of the spine is lost and most people look more like “C’s”. Men and women both cross their legs in different ways either at the knee or at the ankles. Doing this shifts body weight onto one ischial tuberosity (your sitting bones) more than the other. People of different heights may also notice that their feet either do not touch the floor (chair is too tall) while sitting or that their knees and thighs are not supported (chair is too short).
In examining arm, wrist and hand postures of the average person, you are likely to see a variety of problems. People who spend time answering the phone or have multiple computer screens or deal with charts, folders or paperwork located on shelves at their desk may spend a significant amount of time reaching or putting their upper extremities at risk for overuse injuries. The same is true for people who work strictly with one computer and spend all their time mousing and typing.
Now that we’ve identified a few poor postures that may occur in sitting, let’s take a look at how to easily adjust your work environment to decrease your risk of a work-related overuse injury.
Proper Sitting Posture
A picture is worth a thousand words, and it is a good idea to assess each feature and compare your own posture and desk set up.
How to Organize Your Workspace
Is your workspace cluttered? Are you constantly reaching or digging through papers?
First, think about what you spend the most time with at your desk, either the computer, paperwork, phone etc. and put that in the center, directly in front of your chair. If you use multiple resources, prioritize. For someone who is right handed, place the telephone slightly offset to the right, but well within a comfortable arms distance.
Other things to consider are: appropriate lighting for your workspace, having a water bottle in plain view on your desk, using an “L” shaped desk with swivel chair to maximize space and ability to pivot instead of reach or lean. Try to take breaks to reduce eye strain and muscle fatigue. Also, stretch and walk around for at least 3 minutes out of every hour at the least.