Desk workers who work eight-hour days spend an average of 50 percent of that time sitting, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And if you have improper sitting posture, you may be contributing to neck and back pain, muscle tension, decreased mobility, and a weakened core. Paying attention to your desk posture can be crucial to preventing or easing these symptoms and maintaining spinal health.
What are the Side Effects of Poor Sitting Posture?
Back, Neck, and Shoulder Pain
Improper posture can hurt your neck, shoulders, upper back, and lower back. When slouching, the shoulders tend to rotate inward, and the head shifts forward. This position puts more stress on your joints and tension on the muscles in your neck and shoulders, resulting in pain and discomfort over time that can span all the way down through the length of your back.
When your head shifts forward too far for too long while sitting, it puts pressure on the surrounding nerves in your neck. If this nerve irritation persists, it can become painful and even result in a pinched nerve.
An aligned spine is vital for your musculoskeletal system and joint health — the body likes symmetry. If you are consistently rounding your shoulders and spine while sitting, it can cause misalignment and lead to pain or muscle tension.
Change in Spine Curvature
The spine has natural curves in the neck and upper and lower back — and poor desk posture can alter them over time. Changes in the spinal column puts more stress and irritation on certain points of your vertebrae. If this happens over an extended period, it can lead to degenerative spine conditions which result in loss of spinal structure and mobility.
Headaches and Jaw Pain
Leaning forward, protruding the chin, and clenching the jaw are all common tendencies for desk workers. These positions can cause you to contract your facial muscles for longer periods of time and cause headaches, jaw pain, and even dental issues.
How Can I Improve My Desk Posture?
1. Know the Symptoms
Being aware of the warning signs of poor posture can help you identify if a change is necessary. You may be struggling with pain resulting from poor desk posture if:
- It worsens at certain times of the day or week, such as in the afternoon or after working long hours.
- You feel neck pain that occasionally leads to headaches.
- You experience pain that spreads to your upper and lower back and extremities.
- You can decrease your discomfort when you change your sitting position.
- Standing up and taking a break from sitting decreases your pain.
- You noticed pain after starting new job, getting a new chair, or sitting in the car for a prolonged period.
2. Choose an Ergonomic Chair
Your chair’s features are key to an aligned posture while sitting at your desk. Ergonomic chairs are built to support your body, promote better posture, and prevent discomfort. They are also highly adjustable, meaning you can change its height and adjust the back rest to fit your body.
When sitting, you want your feet to rest on the ground with your thighs parallel to the floor. Your chair may need to be lowered or raised to accommodate this.
When choosing a chair, I recommend looking for:
- Comfort: Make sure the base of the chair is wide enough to accommodate your hips and that all parts of the seat feel comfortable for you.
- The ability to change seat height: Everyone’s body is different, so an adjustable chair is key. It can also be more comfortable to keep the chair lower or higher depending on how you are sitting.
- Elbow rests: When you’re able to rest your elbows it promotes a more relaxed posture by keeping your shoulders away from your ears. Elbow rests can also be helpful for leaning side to side to switch up your sitting position throughout the day.
3. Find an Aligned Position
Sitting in the same position all day can tire out your muscles, so I recommend alternating between these two positions throughout the day:
- Sit with your spine straight and align your ears, shoulders, and hips in a vertical line. Rest your forearms on your desk parallel to the floor. Keep your keyboard and mouse close enough to your body to prevent overreaching and rounding your shoulders.
- Sit at the edge of your seat with a straight back, then lean back against the back rest. This puts less pressure on your back muscles. Continue to keep your keyboard and mouse close to your body.
Avoid sitting with your legs crossed, leaning to one side, hunching your shoulders, and tilting your head as these are all considered improper postures.
4. Keep Your Head Up
The muscles in the back of your neck function like a pulley system, so when your head shifts forward, the muscles need to work a lot harder to support the weight of your head. This is the most common cause of tension headaches.
Bending toward your computer screen for too long and crouching over your laptop or smartphone are all common causes of forward head posture (FHP). Experts refer to this condition as “text neck.” When this happens, the muscles of the chest and anterior shoulders get tight, causing the upper back muscles to weaken.
To avoid these concerns, try to keep your head aligned vertically with your spine — and adjust your computer screen so it is at or just below eye level.
5. Get Up From Your Desk Throughout the Day
When your back and core muscles get fatigued, you tend to slouch, slump, or show other signs of poor posture. These positions can lead to a tense neck and back or even worse posture. I recommend standing up at least once every hour. Stand for a brief period, stretch, or take a quick walk before you sit back down.
6. Strengthen Your Back and Core
Frequent exercise can be an effective way to improve your desk posture. Strength exercises for your back and core muscles can help you stay in an aligned and upright position longer without discomfort. These exercises can also help correct your sitting posture by developing stronger muscles that are conditioned to support your body throughout the workday.
7. Use Other Ergonomic Accessories
If you want to ease the pressure on your spine, consider getting supportive ergonomic accessories for your workstation. A portable lumbar support, towel, or small pillow for your lower back is also great for supporting the natural curvature of your spine.
Some accessories I recommend include:
Foot rest: This can helpful to help offload your hips and back by using it to reposition yourself every so often on the chair.
An ergonomic keyboard and mouse: These work by changing the resting position of your hands to something more “neutral” which means your wrists are less extended. The slant of the keyboard helps to keep your elbows a bit wider so your shoulders can feel more relaxed as well. This can be helpful for those who experience neck tension because of their elbow and hand position as they type.
8. Consult a Chiropractor
Chiropractic adjustments can also help improve your desk posture. A chiropractor can evaluate your posture and examine your spine and joints for possible dysfunction. They can then address any ailments through spinal adjustment to help restore balance and symmetry and more optimal function.
Learn more: “9 Common Reasons to See a Chiropractor”