Quick Guide to Sitting Posture for Working a Desk Job

Pulsating headaches. Constant shoulder tightness. Stiff lower back.

These are all prevalent problems for those who sit for long periods. And what gets the blame for the most part?

Sitting posture.

“You have to sit up straight” or “stop slouching!” – surely someone has said this to you before.

Is resolving your pain as easy as changing the way you sit? Not necessarily. With the emergence of recent research, perhaps there’s more to it than just your posture.

However, improving your posture is a good place to start.

Sitting Posture Recommendations

Sitting posture is not the be-all or end-all. There has yet to be any definitive evidence to link posture with muscular pain and conditions. However, as a physical therapist, there have been situations where my patients have benefited from posture and ergonomic modifications.

Despite the lack of research linking posture and pain, making simple postural corrections can easily be implemented without great effort. To help you manage your pains and aches, below will be several beneficial and straightforward modifications that you can adopt immediately.

1. Upper back/neck

Headaches and neck pain can be extremely annoying. If you’ve been at work with a pulsating migraine, you would understand how excruciating your day can become. Unfortunately, being crammed in front of the screen does not help. Especially if you’ve been slumped in the same position for 8 hours a day.

Upper back posture
Protruding chin and rounded shoulders are common postural mistakes when sitting.

Rounded shoulders. Protruding chin. Slouching upper back. Very common positions that you adopt over the course of the day while in the office or working on the laptop. By assuming these postures for extended periods, your muscles can become extremely stiff, tight, and sensitive. These muscles can include your pectorals, upper trapezius, and those that run along your neck.

To help adjust your posture to your laptop or your monitor, you may consider changing your screen height to eye-level by lowering your office chair or investing in a monitor stand. Alternatively, you can invest in a sit-stand converter to elevate your office to a more optimal posture. Although these can cost a few hundred dollars, prevention is always better than cure.

adjustable monitor arm
You can clearly see here how an adjustable monitor arm promotes better upper back posture by raising the monitor height.

2. Wrist and elbow positions

Awkward forearm positioning and repetitive wrist movements can create excessive stress and strain through various structures in the arm. As the wrist and elbow contain nerves, bones, and tendons, these areas are susceptible to specific conditions. These disorders are debilitating and can even necessitate surgery if not managed appropriately. Some examples of such conditions include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tennis elbow
  • Trigger finger
  • Wrist pain

Having a neutral elbow and wrist position would be recommended in these circumstances. Some simple cue is to keep your elbows locked in 90 degrees or supported on your arms rests. Alternatively, you can make simple modifications to your desk setup by utilizing a keyboard tray or an ergonomic mouse.

3. Back positioning

Physical inactivity is not only detrimental to your overall health but can be associated with lower back pain. Sitting for long durations can lead to general weakness and compression of the spine. Additionally, the surrounding muscles can become taut and very sensitive.

Regularly changing positions is a simple way of resetting the stress accumulating through the back. Whether it’s going for a short walk or even using a sit-to-stand desk as you work. Disrupting your time spent sitting can be very beneficial and should be incorporated throughout the day. Additionally, either purchasing a chair with lumbar support can also relieve the stiffness through your lower back.

If you don’t have a chair with sufficient lumbar support then you can just use a pillow or a rolled up towel. Check ou this video to learn about the correct placement of this support.

Other Recommendations

Although it can be easy to villainize bad posture, there might be other reasons why you’re experiencing discomfort from prolonged sitting. Making postural corrections alone, may not be enough to eradicate your aches. As an adjunct to posture, there are other strategies that you can implement immediately.

Regular breaks

Even the world’s best-sitting posture won’t help you if you’re sitting in front of your screen for 8 hours a day. In fact, it could be a lack of movement rather than your posture, which could be leading to aches and pain. Remaining still for long periods causes tension to build up in your muscles.

Subsequently, one effective strategy is to regularly change positions and take breaks. Even performing simple tasks, such as standing or stretching, can relieve muscle tightness. To ensure that you are consistent, you may consider setting a schedule on your phone or computer.

Exercise

Having a sedentary lifestyle can lead to many different issues, such as weakness and reduced flexibility. Regular and specific exercises can restore movement and build strength. Below are three simple exercises that you can perform anytime and anywhere.

1. Sit to Stand

The sit to stand a convenient exercise that can be performed on a chair or a bench. This exercise helps build strength in the legs, glutes, and back, which can often deteriorate with a lack of movement.

2. Scapula Retraction

If you experience neck pain or headaches, the scapula retractions rebuild the stabilizing muscles around the neck and shoulder girdle. By regularly performing these movements, these can act as a prompt to adopt better postures.

3. Prayer Stretch

While typing or using the mouse; we tend to curl our wrists forward. As discussed, these positions can strain the structures in our forearm and lead to uncomfortable conditions. The prayer stretch is excellent for easing the tension through these regions.

Seeing a Physical Therapist

If you are still experiencing any pain or aches, you may need to seek professional guidance to prevent worsening symptoms. A physical therapist will conduct a thorough assessment, hands-on treatment, and guide you through a specific rehabilitation program. Those with persisting symptoms who delay proper guidance will likely prolong the time taken to recover.

Disclaimer: The content written on this page was created for educational purposes. Information on this page should not be used as medical advice or a substitution for seeking the services of a health professional. Anyone suffering from sitting-related pain should book in a consultation with their primary healthcare practitioner (e.g., physical therapist, family doctor, etc.).

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Leon Mao
Leon Mao

Leon is an Australian physiotherapist who specializes in working with musculoskeletal conditions. He graduated from the University of Melbourne with his Doctorate in Physiotherapy before entering the workforce. He is now consulting from Top to Toe Health as a clinical and telehealth physiotherapist and primarily works with office-based workers and athletes. For any inquiries or further information, please visit Digital Physio.

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