So stop writing that resignation letter! It’s probably your posture that’s the problem not the office job itself. Do you know how bad dodgy posture is for your back? Never mind every other part of your body leading to amongst other things RSI and chronic knee pain. Did you know that sitting in bad posture can even have a negative affect on your mood?
Your mood will be reflected in your posture and your posture will be affected in your mood. But fear not. Being a harbinger of doom just isn’t the way we roll. This article is to tell you what to do about and how to avoid many of the pit falls of office work. Let us begin…
How Good Is Your Posture?
So who thinks they have perfect posture at their desk? Probably none of us. But most people don’t realise just how bad their posture is. And certainly don’t understand why it can cause the problems we mention.
We discuss why this is in our previous office job post here. The focus of this post however is to firstly identify the habits that have lead us to these problems and secondly give us options to avoid them.
I’d love to tell you that I’m a shining beacon of posture perfection. But of course that would be a lie. Perfection by its very definition is not possible. However, improvement very much is.
Read People’s Minds By Looking How They Sit
Have you ever thought you could read someone’s mind by looking at their body language? I regularly do having been working with people’s bodies for 13 years. It’s probably not too difficult for you either. Particularly observing those who wear their heart on their sleeve.
As you walk into the office tomorrow have a look around. You’ll quickly see those who are pretty laid back. Those who are uptight and stressed and those who are looking down trodden and beaten by the world.
You see our mood is reflected in our posture. When are in tune with this it can become very easy to see how other peoples mood is. It’s harder to recognise it in ourselves and change it for the better. It’s this we need to work on to improve our posture and in so doing ease any posture related pain like low back issues and RSI.
If our mood is consistently, shall we say, non-optimal, then this affects our muscle length and contributes to pain and dysfunction. If you put a muscle in a short tight position it thinks it should stay there.
An Exercise To Get You To Sit Better
So how should you sit? There is a huge variance from person to person but here’s an exercise that should help us all. One word of warning before we start. If you end up in a painful position probably best not to hold this one. Sounds obvious but many people have done it. If you’re in too much pain doing this simple exercise you definitely need help. You know where we are.
To start go into a really bad slouchy posture. Most people find this quite easy. Gentlemen generally more so than ladies but not exclusively. Then from here go bolt upright into what I call finishing school posture. Now this is too upright. You may even feel some pain or discomfort getting to this point. I certainly do.
You may or may not have noticed that moving between these two extremes was all pelvic movement. You almost want to think pelvis thrusting as in the Timewarp dance! These are the 2 positions we’re trying to move between. Don’t worry if you can’t quite get this. Any of you with a stiff low back will most likely struggle with this but if you just get a rough approximation that will ok for the purposes of this exercise.
Now rock between these 2 positions and make it a smaller and smaller movement each time you do it until eventually you get the nirvana that is pelvic neutral. This is what you should be aiming for at your desk. ‘They,’ whoever ‘they’ are, say that you should feel your ‘core’ muscles holding you in place in this position working about at about 30% of effort. This makes sense to me.
If you can feel the muscles in your back working hard to keep you in this position then you may want to soften the pose slightly. Most likely you’ve gone too upright. Or you’re unable to switch these muscles off. If this is you, chances are you suffer with low back pain already.
Whatever neutral position you find yourself in now go back to your normal posture. This should demonstrate just how far out you are day to day.
You may initially struggle to hold yourself in this position for any length of time. If so get up walk around for a couple minutes go and get a glass of water or herbal tea (no caffeinated drinks!) and reset that pelvis. As things progress it will get easier to hold yourself in good posture for longer.
Bonus Tip For Drivers
For those of you that drive here’s a nice easy trick to encourage good posture. Do the exercise to find pelvic neutral while sat in your car seat. Now look in the rear view mirror. You will probably find that you can’t see anything out of the rear view mirror. Adjust the mirror so you can see out the back again. Then if you lose you good posture as you drive you have a reminder to get ‘tall’ again. You may need to adjust the back rest position when you do this.
I would love to come up with something that can monitor such a thing at your desk and give some sort of reminder when you’ve got lazy. Perhaps a buzzer or mild electric shock or something. Or perhaps more practically we could get a height measure which should be in contact with the top of your head at all times. If everyone had this at their desk you’d actually be able to measure who was having the worst day by the distance they are away from their measure.
Laptops Are Evil!
Desktop machines are far from perfect but we see so many problems caused by excess laptop usage. The Curse of The Laptop we call it. Don’t even start me on tablet devices.
Rather than talk technical let me give you a real life example from an old client. We’ll call him Dave. I’ll set the scene. We’d done 2 or 3 treatments on a long standing neck problem and were making good progress. I was expecting to sign Dave off as fixed at that session. An abridged version of the conversation was as follows:
Me: “How’s things Dave? That neck pretty much sorted?”
Dave: “Nope it’s been awful.”
Me: “Oh. It was pretty good last I saw you what happened?”
Dave: “I don’t know it just came on with a vengeance one day”
Me: “Anything you were doing that day?”
Dave: “Oh nothing much. Just sat down for about 6 hours on the sofa writing reports for work on the laptop.”
Me: “We need to talk!”
This is quite typical. We see it frequently at our clinics. It’s because we tend to look down more to laptops. That and because they are so mobile and portable we tend to use them in places that encourage a good slouch. Hence the double whammy and Dave being in considerable pain. You’ll be pleased to here Dave is now fine and has a desktop machine at home to work on.
A desktop machine is a much better option for prolonged computer use. Alternatively a docking station for your laptop to which you can attach a monitor and a mouse. As a very minimum if you do have to use a laptop please please please sit on a proper chair at a table. Sermon over.
Workstation Set Up
Here’s our take on an ergonomic assessment. Your employer should provide you with one at work but this is often overlooked as it costs money to provide. Here’s 4 really useful pieces of advice. If you think you already do this just get a colleague to check. You may be surprised.
- Monitor Straight In Front – Not off to the side. You need head facing front. Not rotated round. Not even a little bit.
- Arms Supported – As you reach for the keyboard support the weight of your arms from the elbow forward.
- Wrists – Like the Grand Old Duke Of York they should neither be up nor down. To the keyboard that is. They should be neutral as you address the keyboard. Foam pads in front of the keyboard can be useful to achieve this.
- Don’t Reach For The Mouse – Place blockers of your mobile phone and / or wallet in front of the mouse as a reminder to stop you going too far forwards.
This last piece of advice is a real gem and has helped countless people with whole manner of neck, shoulder and RSI type symptoms. If you really want an explanation I’ll happily give one. Instead for now let’s use another real life example of how this piece of advice has ended up costing me thousands of pounds.
A few years ago I was explaining this principle to an accountant I met over a beer at a networking meeting. We were both touting for each other’s business. He had explained he was getting RSI issues in his wrist. Whilst I was explaining that my current accountant had just gone to prison.
I explained the principle above to him and he said he’d implement it and that was that. He then contacted me to tout for my business again a couple of months later. He also told me that his wrist pain had gone completely. He is now my accountant. I have paid him thousands of pounds for the privilege and yet he has still yet to pay for any treatment. This was a very costly beer!
The insight here can seem incredibly obvious. But there’s what you think you do and then there’s what you actually do. If you can get an ergonomic assessment then do. If you can’t get a colleague to check you out on each of the points above.
For the majority of us it will be an easy change to make and will look after our body for later years. For anyone who struggles to adopt any of the changes hopefully it will be a catalyst to do something about it.
This post is part of our ongoing ‘How To Stop Your Office Job affecting Your Health Series‘ here’s our previous Blog on the subject explaining why previous physiotherapy you might had wouldn’t work based on new insight into how the body is connected.