Our bodies are not designed for sustained posture; movement encourages healthy blood flow that brings nutrients and oxygen to an area, and drains waste products of muscle metabolism away. So whatever position you work in, it is important not to stay in the same position for too long. Move around every 30-40 minutes if you can.
Tip: A ‘static posture’ is not limited to office environments; any sustained position such as overhead work or holding something for long periods (tools or children!) increases the risk of injury. This is why you feel sore the day after painting the house or gardening.
Sustained posture over time may cause:
- Postural Fatigue – constant muscle tension and reduced blood flow leads to tired, weak muscles that ache.
- Fibrotic Adhesions – ‘knots’ appear in the muscle tissue, almost like scar tissue due to chronic shortening or misuse of the muscle.
- Overuse Injuries – muscle strain due to repetitive stress and insufficient time to recover. Overloading of the tissues causes inflammation and swelling that may reduce joint movement or irritate nerves.
Did you know…
the intervertebral discs in our spine have no direct blood supply and depend upon movement to pump nutrients into them? One third of all work-related disability is attributed to low back pain in the United Kingdom. Other examples of work-related injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome, disc injury, sciatica, rotator cuff syndrome, repetitive strain injury, De Quervain’s tenosynovitis and neck pain.
Improve your office set up
To reduce your risk of injury, make sure you set up your workspace efficiently and take regular breaks. Stretching at your desk or getting up to make a cup of tea or lap of the office improves blood supply and metabolite drainage. Note that some exercises may aggravate certain conditions so be sure to consult your osteopath/physical therapist to ensure they are suitable for a specific condition.
- Make sure you sit all the way back in your chair and not in the middle of the seat. You may find it more comfortable to place a pillow in the small of your back to support your low back, or if the chair is adjustable make sure the lumbar support is aligned with your natural arch.
- The seat height and tilt is important too; use a pillow or adjust your seat using the appropriate toggle so that your pelvis is higher than your knees, preventing lumbar flexion. Your feet should just be flat on the floor (remember your knees must be lower than your hips).
- The back of the chair should be upright so that if someone stands to your side, your spine is in a straight line.
- Finally adjust the armrest of the chair if you can so that it slides under the table. This means you can move your body closer to your desk and computer and won’t have to lean forwards.
If your chair is very uncomfortable, or you are pregnant, you may find it helps to swap it for a Swiss Ball every hour or so. It’s not a good idea to sit on the ball all day because it may increase the risk of overuse injury.
- Your computer and keyboard should be directly in front of you so that you can comfortably reach and see the screen without straining your eyes. If you regularly take calls, ensure you aren’t repeatedly twisting to one side or bending your neck to hold the phone. You may find a headset useful.
- When using a keyboard your wrists should be flat, not bent up or down. Keyboard wrist supports can be found online and are a cheap way of preventing repetitive strain injuries! If you have particularly broad shoulders you might also try a split keyboard that allows you to separate your hands more.
- Take care using a laptop! Laptops carry a higher risk of injury because the screen and keyboard are in the same place. This means your risk straining either your eyes and neck, or your wrists. One solution is to raise your laptop to eye level using books, and connect a keyboard that allows neutral wrist position.
Easy office exercises
These exercises can be added to your daily routine, or used as needed during work. They should be performed 5-10 times each.
- Neck rolls – slowly roll your neck clockwise and anticlockwise focusing on any area of tension
- Shoulder shrugs – raise your shoulders up towards your ears and then drop them down as far as they will go.
- Thoracic rotations – stand with your arms out to the side and twist round to the right and left, to rotate the torso.
- Chest openers – stand with your arms out to the side and bring them in towards each other and back out again to open the chest.
- Lateral reach – raise one hand up and reach over your head to bend to one side and then the other. This should stretch the side of your body.
- Hip openers – Perform alternate lunges on both sides to stretch the hip flexors that shorten when sitting for long periods.