Sitting Better at Work
Our physiotherapist in London at the Angel Wellbeing Clinic looks at the most common cause of back pain : poor posture. Here are some simple tips on improving your posture. It may seem like a lot of effort to change, but that is because you have developed some bad habits which now feel familiar and normal. But they are probably WRONG! Give this a go when you are sitting in front of your computer.
Seated Postural Check
• Feet hip distance, knees always BELOW the level of the hips.
• SIT on 1-2 folded towels (not push into the small of your back as many people so often do) to lift the pelvic height above the knees or if you have a low chair or are particularly tall. Tehn lean to a side, pull a butt cheeks out and sit on it, repeat with the other butt cheak, which will give you a wider base of support.
• Roll forward and backward from the sit bones, tilting and tucking the pelvis - think of your pelvis as a mixing bowl full of water, spilling water from the front and the back, then settle into the neutral pelvic position.
• Hinge forward and backward from the hips to find the position of least muscle tension in the crease at the front of the hips and along the back of the spine / small of your back. Don't forget anout maintaining the neurtral position between the tilt/tuck extremes of the pelvic bowl.
• Soften around the sternum to give you the slightly convex curve that your thoracic spine should naturally have. To do this, imagine you have a ray of light from the centre of the sternum, and imitate this by extending the thumb and finger in a horizontal formation from the sternum (see pics).
Slop down into your crumby posture and your ray of light kwill drop and shine down, then over correct (which is what MANY people do in an effort to sit up tall) and you will see your sternum ray of light shine upwards. From here, drop into neutral, to allow your ray of light to shine directly forward.
• Think of a ship on either shoulder facing outward, sailing away from each other, to broaden across the front of the shoulders without squeezing across the upper back. Or imagine a cut rubber band, with an end attached to the front of each shoulder. Broaden shoulders to take up the slack on the band, without putting tension on it or squeezing the upper back otherwise you will develop a tight thoracic spine.
• Visit the seated posture cues for the correct chin, head and neck position. A common mistake people make when trying to have their head 'upright' is to extend the neck and tilt head backward. (pic 2 below). Remember to think of the draw analogy from the seated cues.
A brilliant quick check of your head position is to give yourself the finger. Put your fist on your chest just below the neck, then suck your finger straight up (pic 3 below). Your chin should clear the finger tip. If it doesn't, you need to think of drawing the head backward to straighten out the back of the neck slightly and get yourself out of a 'poke chin' posture.
Attach your helium ballons to the base of the skull and away you go (this will make sense if you read the standing cues!).
• By now, you should have noticed all the tension across the lower back, upper back shoulders and neck should have dropped away – if it hasn't, start from the beginning and reset again because if this is done properly, your spine essentially will maintain its happy posture perfect position without any excess muscle activity. So if you are feeling tension then chances are you've not set up right.
• Breathe wide into the sides of the ribs, underneath the arm pits. Imagine the base of the lungs (not the upper chest and shoulders) filling with air on each breath.
• When you are at your computer, ensure you are not leaning toward the screen from your hips, nor poking the chin forward.
Think about ergonomics and repeated office activities
Your keyboard should be as close to the front of you as possible, do not lean for the keyboard or have a set of notes between you and the keyboard. The mouse pad should be directly next to the key board so you aren’t reaching for this either.
If you use the phone a lot, keep the phone close to the keyboard on the opposite side to the mouse. Minimise holding the phone between your shoulder and ear – use your hand or a head set.
Elbows should ideally hang next to your side, not too far forward of the shoulders. Wrists should be straight when typing on keys – if you are arching the wrists up you need to increase the height of your chair or lower the table.
Set a reminder on the computer / phone etc to periodically reboot your posture, until it becomes automatic. The reminder will mean that you will regularly be correcting your posture so you DON'T get that tightness / achey-ness in your back. If you get that feeling, then you've probably left it too long in between rebooting your posture.
If you are having or have had repeated back or neck pain at work it is time to do something about it. To make an appointment with Jo Knock the physiotherapist in London at the Angel Wellbeing Clinic in Islington click below. The clinic will provide a thorough assessment of your posture as well as looking at the ergonomics in the workplace.