Over the years we’ve helped countless people with office related problems. We a combination of our hands on work and exercise and postural advice to help people recover from RSI, knee and back issues caused by the strains of office work. There’s lots you can be doing to help yourself if you are struggling with such conditions.
Advice that is useful in avoiding these issues in the first place. Most desk injuries are fairly easy for us to fix but it’s the advice that follows that will help you stay in a good state. Here we give away our secrets that have been helping people recover from office repeated injuries. Individually helpful but combined a powerful antidote to general office malaise.
1. The Hips Don’t Lie
As Shakira rightly told us. It all starts from the hips. Well pelvis technically but I wanted to shoehorn in the Shakira reference! If we have a stable base from where we sit it’s harder for other things to go wrong / get lazy. The key thing is to understand where we should be. We have a little trick to show you where you should be on this video here:
In case you’re not able to access the video we’ll describe this process. Start sitting completely slumped. Most people find this very easy. Now move to the opposite position where you are bolt upright. Move between these two positions a couple of times. You should notice that you are just moving your pelvis. Keep moving the pelvis between these two positions and make it a smaller movement each time. You will eventually settle in what we call pelvic neutral. From here go to your normal posture. This will give you an idea of how far away from ideal you usually are.
Be sure to have a ‘feeling’ that you are using your core muscles to hold yourself in this position. Try not to form a rigid brace. We normally say an awareness – about a 30% contraction. It is important that you are not aware of the muscles in your back when holding this position. If it is painful or you feel some discomfort try going a touch more slouched. If you can’t find a position that is comfortable you probably need to come and see us!
This exercise is very much front to back. We also need to consider side to side. Many people sit with more weight on one cheek rather than the other. Or worse still sit with legs crossed or sitting on one of their feet. This creates or maintains imbalance. Sit with your feet flat on the ground. Wiggle your weight from one cheek to the other until you can feel your weight evenly between your two cheeks. Again, go to where you normally sit to get an idea of how far away from ideal you are.
You may find it useful to imagine a piece of string pulling up from the top of your head to help maintain this neutral pelvis.
2. Use A Standing Desk
I’m not normally one for gimmicks but many of our clients have found benefit from standing desks. I wouldn’t say it’s the panacea that the manufacturers make out them to be but it can help. If nothing else it gets you to do something different.
If you are getting a stand up desk I would recommend getting a sliding adjustable one (as shown) that you can use standing up and also sitting down. Standing up is great as a variation but I have seen many clients who can stand in just as bad a position as they sit in! If you have the option try one out before you invest in one to make sure it will work for you.
If you do use one it is also important to understand how to stand correctly. It is very similar to how we found the neutral pelvis for sitting. In fact you should try to find pelvic neutral in standing before you start the following exercise. If your pelvis is in a good position it’s harder for other things to go wrong.
Now you have your pelvis set rock or sway gently from side to side moving your weight from outside of one foot to the inside of the other and back the other way. Repeat this swaying motion making smaller and smaller adjustments until you can ‘feel’ your weight evenly distributed between both feet. Repeat this process moving your weight from front to back. In other words moving your weight from toes to heels.
Once you have found neutral go to where you would naturally stand. You might be quite surprised as to how for you moved. Now granted this is all a bit of a faff! But after a few attempts you quickly get a better sense of where neutral is and it becomes more instinctive to go straight to it.
3. Don’t Reach For The Mouse
This next tip is absolute gold. I actually helped ‘cure’ my accountants RSI with this tip alone. I’m still waiting for him to actually book a session and recoup some of his annual fees!
Many people, especially when stressed or tired, reach forwards for the mouse. This puts the shoulder in an internally rotated position. A physio concept called adaptive shortening means if you put muscles in a position for a length of time they think they should stay there.
These shortened muscles then have an impact of the main nerve (brachial plexus) which gives sensation in the whole arm. This can in turn exacerbate or even cause issues in the arm, especially in the wrist and elbow. A secondary compensation to this posture causes tight muscles in top of the shoulder and / or a round the shoulder blade (scapula).
The solution? Your mobile phone and your wallet / purse. Simply start the day paying attention and ensure the mouse is in line with the natural position of your hand with your elbow at 90 degrees and your body square on to the monitor i.e. not rotated forward. Then place your ‘blockers’ – your mobile phone and wallet / purse – in the way so you have a reminder when you start encroaching forwards.
Initially this is hugely annoying! But it gives you a good indication of how often your creep forwards. With the ‘blockers’ in place you will soon learn a new better habit.
4. Make Sure The Monitor Is In-line With Your Eyes
Head position is hugely important. If we keep our head tipped downwards all the time the muscles that do this think they should stay there. This then limits our ability to extend the neck in the opposite direction. It also impacts the nerves which go down the arm and increases the likelihood of RSI type conditions.
The optimal position for the monitor is in line with your eyes so you can look straight ahead. Most modern monitors are adjustable so you can choose the height. If this is not an option, or you are particularly tall, as a quick fix you can raid the stationary cupboard for a couple of reams of A4 to prop the monitor up.
For the same reasons as above try to keep your laptop usage to a minimum. If you have to use them try to use a docking station that hooks into a monitor at the correct height. We see lots of people whose conditions get worse after a prolonged bought of laptop work.
If you do use one try to always be sat at a desk. Not on the sofa. Not in bed. Not cramped on a train. It’s your choice but all of these things promote terrible posture. If your commuting just read something instead. Ideally not work related. You’ll be in the office for plenty of hours anyway. You’ll be fresher when you arrive and more efficient.
5. Support Your Arms
This may sound a bit odd but your arms are quite heavy. I mean they’re perfectly weighted for what you need. But if you’re ‘holding’ them for 8 plus hours a day then this will take its toll.
Solution? Simply make sure you majority of your arms are rested on your desk to take the weight. This means that your keyboard and mouse should be far enough forwards on your desk for your forearms to rest on the desk. All of this is summarised nicely in the previous picture.
6. Reach Down To The Keyboard And Mouse
You know these keyboard pads and mouse pads you always wondered what they were for? The idea is so that you reach down to the keyboard and mouse.
Why would this be important? Gravity. If the muscles of your forearms are constantly holding your wrists in a ‘cocked’ position they’ve got more work to do. If they can just chill and rest they don’t have do anything. RSI is after all an overuse issue. Anything we can do to make muscles work less can only be a good thing.
If you don’t have keyboard and mouse rests simply ensure your keyboard is on a nice low profile and be aware if you’re holding your wrists in a cocked position a lot. In the picture above there is not keyboard rest but the keyboard is nice and slim and the wrists are in a reasonably neutral position.
7. Relax The Shoulders
I’ve heard so many people say ‘I hold my tension on my shoulders.’ Choose not to. Be more aware of what they are doing. If you can’t control them no one else can!
The difficulty is that we don’t tend to notice when we do tense the shoulders. A simple exercise is to shrug your shoulders up and down a few times at regular intervals. It will get blood pumping to the muscles and also make you aware that shoulders, like share prices, can go down as well as up!
If you would like some specific exercises to align the shoulders better then you can do a lot worse than pretending you’re a swimmer. The posture that many office workers adopt is very similar to that of people who swim a lot. For that reason check out our page on injury avoidance for swimmers if you would like to tailor your exercise regime to make those shoulders feel better.
Interestingly there are muscles in the neck which help with breathing which can give a sensation of tension in the shoulders when over worked. If you’re interested they’re called scalene muscles. We often find that these are at fault for a lot of neck pain and shoulder tension. In which case read the next section about breathing…
Not obviously posture related but it really is. If we’re breathing well in a relaxed manner all of our muscles are more relaxed and not held tense.
Take a couple of nice big deep belly breaths every now and again and just feel the relaxation pour in. When you’re more relaxed you think clearer and make better decisions. For a more detailed account check our previous Blog: Does Relaxation Breathing Really Ease Pain And Improve Your Mood?
9. Get up and walk around
The human body was designed to move. It wasn’t designed to sit on its derrière for 8 hours a day. Sadly many jobs require this. But what’s wrong with lots of breaks? I know people say they get in a flow of concentration. But you can’t possibly concentrate for hours on end. If you try you’ll simply get to the point where you’re sitting at your desk in a vegetative state having pushed yourself too hard.
Research varies on what is the optimum amount of concentration time. 40 minutes to an hour I’ve read a few times. Get up have a little walk around, reset all that lovely advice about posture and away you go again.
You can set reminders on your phone if you need to. I prefer more natural reminder. Have a small cup of water that needs regularly refilling. Make lots of cups of herbal tea. Caffeinated is bad as it is a stimulant. Slowly winding you up into a frenzy as the day goes on and increasing the sensitivity of your nerves and so making you feel more pain.
10. Move In The Opposite Direction To Sitting
Now I am a realist. I don’t expect perfection. I’m not the posture Nazi you may think having read the above. There is very little point to striving for perfection as you’ll always be disappointed. But was can more realistically strive for better.
With the best will in the world you posture and your set up will not always be perfect. That’s ok. There’s lots we can do to counteract this. Firstly exercise. Do some. Lots in fact. Ideally something nice and high intensity and get the blood pumping and the ticker going. But if that’s not your bag just a nice walk and lunchtime is the next best thing.
Yoga is a great way to unwind the stressed and strains, physical and emotional, of having a desk job.
We can get more specific too. We can work at stretching out the muscles to pull us inward into bad posture. Making it easier to hold good posture. My favourite one is shown in the picture. I’m doing it here over a Swiss ball but start off just leaning back over the bed with your arms and head supported. Work up for doing the full version shown here and don’t push to pain.
11. Take A Lunch break!
I really shouldn’t need to tell you this. But I will. So many people work through their lunch break or just scoff a sandwich at their desk and plow on through. This is so bad on so many levels. You know this! You get to 3pm and you may as well not be there. In trying to get more done you’ve simply worn yourself into the ground and you’ve got nothing left to give. Maybe adrenaline will get you through but that’s not a great system to rely on over a prolonged period. It will simply run you down, mess up your immune system which means you will feel more pain.
Take a lunch break every day. A whole hour! I know, I said it. If you really can’t do an hour do at least half an hour. And make it as much outdoors as possible. You’ll reduce your overall sense of being wound up, improve your sense of well being and reduce your sensitivity to pain.
There you have it. We hope you find all these points useful. Many of our clients have found many of these tips helpful in helping them get over long standing issues with the added bonus of feeling more relaxed.
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