Headaches, back pain, “text neck” (yup, it’s a thing) — we asked a physical therapist how to avoid the common stresses our body endures while we’re working. Turns out, it’s pretty easy.
Shifts in where, when and how we’ve passed workday hours have taken a noticeable toll on many of our bodies. As we slide back into more consistency and routine, it seems a smart time to reassess how our set-up (and posture!) can be improved, before we’ve done irrevocable damage.
Alli Powers, a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) specializing in vestibular rehab at Infinity Physiotherapy in Rossland, British Columbia, has been practicing for nine years. She’s witnessed firsthand how sitting with poor posture for eight hours a day can cause clients neck pain, shoulder pain and upper back pain — and aggravate lower back pain, too. It can also cause or exacerbate tension headaches, which we often attribute to other factors.
Powers suggests taking the time to set up an ergonomic work station, no matter where you’re getting down to business. “Don’t just sit on the couch with a laptop on your knees,” she says. It is always preferable to sit at a table or desk with your computer screen directly in front of you, and situated just below eye level. Be sure to sit in a chair that promotes upright posture, and try to stack your head over your shoulders, over your hips, with your feet supported by either the floor or a footstep.
Your keyboard position should be set at approximately elbow height — at a distance where you can comfortably reach your mouse. “It is often difficult to change your desk height,” she says, “but changing your chair height is often easier to either bring you up or down to the right level. If you are working on a laptop, stack the laptop on risers or books to bring it to eye height so you aren’t having to hunch over your computer.”
While at your computer, it’s also recommended to place a sticky note to the side of your screen to remind yourself to move or change positions every 30 minutes. Powers offers a few suggestions for easy, gentle movements that won’t interrupt your work flow:
- Backward Shoulder Rolls — Easy and pain-free, backward shoulder rolls pull you out of that hunched forward position and keep blood flowing in your postural muscles.
- Shoulder Blade Squeezes — Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down to open up your chest and to promote better posture.
- Chin Tucks — Sit upright with your ears over your shoulders, looking straight ahead. Keeping your eyes at the same level, pull your chin and head straight back (as if making a double chin). You will feel a stretch at the base of your skull. Start with holding for two seconds, and slowly work up to holding for 10 seconds. Do this five to 10 times for every hour you are at the computer.
“Text neck” is another modern-day ailment to look out for. “Be aware of how much you are staring down at your phone all day, and try to do less,” Powers advises. “Look down at your phone only when you really need to. There is a whole world out there you don’t want to miss!”