Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin….
On average, UK adults spend more than 7 hours a day sitting. For many of us, the majority of this time is at a desk. Not only is this detrimental to your general health*, but long periods of sitting with poor desk posture, are a common cause of back, neck and shoulder pain. These tips will give you your best chance of staying pain-free.
1. Take Regular Breaks
This is probably the singular most important thing you can do. Movement is vital for healthy joints, muscles and maintaining good circulation. Find an excuse: make a cup of tea or walk over to a colleague instead of emailing or texting.
2. Optimise Desk Posture and Set-up to Prevent Neck & Back Pain
- The key thing to remember is to maintain the natural ‘S’ curves of your back when sitting. Don’t slump into a ‘C’ shape.
- If you are using a laptop or tablet, raise your screen to help keep a more upright open posture. You can either buy a laptop stand or go for the free option: stack a few books and put your laptop on top. Plug in a USB keyboard and mouse, or use a wireless keyboard/mouse on the desk below.
- The screen should be raised so your eye level is roughly in line with the top third.
- Try to sit square-on at your desk without your legs crossed.
3. Adjust Your Chair
- Adjust your seat so your hips are slightly higher than your knees.
- Your chair arms should support your elbows so that your forearm, wrist and fingers are positioned in a straight line. This can also help prevent Repetitive Strain Injury.
- If you have a lumbar support, make sure it sits within the curve of your back. If you don’t have one, try using a rolled up towel to support your lumbar curve.
4. Stick Your Bottom Out When You Sit Down!
Stick your bottom right out over your seat, before sitting down. Roll back onto your sitting bones to create a curve in your low back. This will provide a firm foundation and help to maintain your natural spinal curves and improve your desk posture.
5. Stretch at Your Desk
For all stretches, follow these simple guidelines:
- Stretch at any time of the day, as often as you want. Learn to stretch spontaneously whenever you feel tense.
- Stretch to the point where you feel a pull in the muscle but no pain.
- If any stretch is painful – listen to your body and stop.
- Hold each stretch for around 30 seconds (unless otherwise specified). If the tension in your muscles eases, gently push slightly deeper into the stretch. Never bounce or force a stretch.
- For seated stretches, make sure you start with good sitting posture (see tips 2-4 above).
- Remember to relax and breathe during stretching.
Rotation stretch: Turn your upper body so that your hand is reaching towards the opposite side of the chair back. Let your head follow through with this movement.
Piriformis stretch: Cross your legs with your ankle resting on your opposite knee. Bend forwards from your pelvis, without slumping forwards. Keep your chest open and head facing forwards. You should feel a stretch deep into your buttock. Push down on your upper knee to focus or increase the stretch.
Side stretch: Bend sideways from your waist. Enhance the stretch by breathing deeply, and/or using your opposite hand to pull on the the stretch-side hand.
Neck stretch: Hold onto the side of your chair seat with one hand. Bend your neck sideways and feel the stretch into your neck muscles on the opposite side. Use the other hand on top of your head to gently enhance the stretch. Relax. Experiment by adding slight rotation of the neck to the original side-bending stretch. You will feel this stretching the different muscle groups in your neck and shoulders.
6. Find a Good Osteopath
Remember, the advice above is generic. If you do get reoccurring back, shoulder or neck pain, an osteopath can help. They will do hands-on treatment and also provide individually-tailored advice and exercises, depending on what the underlying problem is. Many patients also find that once their current symptoms are resolved, regular ‘preventative’ treatments every few months keep them pain-free for longer. This approach keeps your body functioning at its best and better able to cope with the stresses and strains life inevitably throws at you.
*How is sitting bad for your health generally?
Several large scale studies have linked excessive sitting with being overweight, obesity, diabetes (type II) and poor cardiovascular health. This however is another huge topic which I will cover in a future blog. So watch this space.
Emma Lipson is Principal Osteopath at Feel Better Osteopathy in Warwick, Warwickshire.