What are some physical issues you might experience when you sit all day and how do you solve them?
Even if you love your job, sitting for eight-plus hours a day, five days a week, is bound to wreak havoc with your body. Add the fact that many of us are now working from home – at the kitchen table, on the floor, on the couch. We definitely miss our comfortable ergonomic office chairs.
Not surprisingly, living the “desk jockey” life can be highly detrimental to our health and wellness.
Work-related musculoskeletal problems – from muscle strains to carpal tunnel syndrome – make up a large percentage (a number commonly used is 32%) of all worker injury and illness cases. Many of the people suffering these injuries do more physical jobs. But those of us who sit at a computer all day, staring at screens while typing away are also at risk.
There is good news though. Doing simple stretches, changing a few lifestyle habits and making ergonomic adjustments to your work environment can significantly reduce your discomfort.
And the benefits go beyond the physical. According to an Ontario government ergonomics website, “applying ergonomics principles to the workplace can reduce fatalities, injuries and health disorders, as well as improve productivity and quality of work.” Studies have found that creating ergonomic workstations not only reduced musculoskeletal and vision problems, but also boosted employees’ happiness and job satisfaction.
Of course, if you’re experiencing pain, consult your doctor to deal with any underlying problems or concerns before they become chronic. Here are the top five daily discomforts our modern desk-bound life brings. And a few strategies to apply for lessening their effect.
#1: Lower Back Pain
Whether it’s an occasional twinge or an ongoing soreness, back pain can keep you preoccupied from doing your best work. Sitting unsupported in an uncomfortable office chair, for hours at a time can lead to lower back pain. Slumping or slouching means your spine is out of alignment, which puts a strain on the ligaments and muscles in your back.
Rock it out
Abdominal exercises (like crunches) several times a week strengthen your core. To loosen your back muscles:
- Rock your pelvis back and forth while seated.
- Tilt your hips up and round your back, and then tilt your hips back.
- You should sit back in your chair to help you create the proper “S” curve in your spine.
- If you’re sitting on a hard chair or the floor, a lumbar cushion also helps take the pressure off your tailbone.
- Your feet should also be resting flat on the floor or on a footrest, with your thighs parallel to the ground. Support the weight of your legs to reduce the strain on your back. This also reduces tension on your lower body pressure points.
#2: Wrist Strain
Activities like typing on your keyboard or using your mouse can eventually lead to serious repetitive strain injuries (RSI). The cause? A combination of overuse and the improper positioning of your wrists.
Whenever you operate a keyboard or mouse, the tendons in your wrists go back and forth, creating friction. That causes fatigue, and the tendons may become inflamed. Poor posture can also decrease the blood flow to your hands, causing soreness, a tingling sensation or numbness.
Give yourself a hand
Exercises can improve the health of your hands.
- Pull gently on each finger individually.
- Open and close your fists.
- Press the base of your hands up against the wall in front of you or on your desk and hold for five seconds.
There are ergonomic equipment options which can reduce the strain on your wrists, making you more comfortable for longer periods of time.
- An ergonomic keyboard allows your hand to be more natural and makes typing more comfortable.
- The same goes for an ergonomic mouse; it will fit your hand better when scrolling and clicking.
- A chair with adjustable armrests (standard on all LIFEFORM® Chairs) and also memory foam arm pads support your forearms, reducing strain.
#3: Neck and Shoulder Pain
We tend to take neck and shoulder movement for granted. Until they’re injured – and then every single action and twist hurts. These aches and pains may come from bad posture while sitting, causing you to thrust your neck and shoulders forward. Being in this position for hours at a time, day-after-day can gradually cause the bones in the neck and upper back to change from their natural position to this abnormal forward position.
Stretch it out
To relieve tension in your neck and shoulders simultaneously:
- Face forward
- Tilt your right ear down towards the right shoulder, leaving your left arm hanging straight down to increase the stretch.
- Hold for 20 to 60 seconds.
- Investing in a chair with a built-in headrest, which helps support your neck.
- Fully adjustable (in both width and height, depending on your size) armrests allow your elbows to form a 90-degree angle to help take tension off the shoulders.
- Position your computer monitor in front of you, not angled to the side.
- Use a headset if you use the phone a lot. Never cradle the phone between your ear and shoulder.
#4: Eye Strain
Staring at your computer for hours at a time can cause digital eye fatigue; people tend to blink less often. Having a computer monitor that’s too far away or too close also creates issues. Symptoms range from soreness and heavy eyelids to burning and itching eyes, as well as blurred vision and headaches.
Take a break
Do eye exercises throughout the day to improve the flexibility of your eyesight and improve your focus.
- Look at something in the distance, or out a window, for 20 seconds to give your eyes a break.
- Better yet, move around or grab a drink of water —anything that gives your eyes a break from the screen.
- The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recommends your computer monitor is 20 to 40 inches away from you (an easy way to judge? Keep your monitor approximately an arm’s length away).
- The top of the computer monitor should be roughly at eye level.
- You can also place a filter over your monitor to reduce glare, which contributes to eye strain.
- If you wear glasses for computer work, do a ballpark measurement of the space between your eyes and the computer monitor (remember 20 to 40 inches is optimal). Then check with your optometrist to make sure you have the right prescription for that distance.
#5: Tight Hips
Sitting for hours at a time – and then only moving from your desk at work to your couch at home – shortens your hip flexors, a group of muscles located at the front of your hips, causing pain. Tight hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings all trigger lower back soreness.
Release tight muscles
Try stretching throughout the day. An easy standing “lunge” is a nice stretch to do a couple of times a day…
- Stand behind your desk chair or kitchen chair.
- Hold onto the back of the chair and take a normal step forward with your left leg.
- Tuck your tailbone under (clench your butt muscles) while also engaging your abdominal muscles. You should feel the stretch in your right hip.
- Hold for a few breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Stand up from your desk at regular intervals (every 20 to 30 minutes is best) to give your muscles a break and increase circulation.
- An ergonomic chair with a split seat allows you to move your legs while seated to increase circulation
- Schedule breaks or try using a free app, such as Stand Up! or Break Reminder to remind you to get up at certain intervals over the course of the day.
Alleviating pain and discomfort starts with understanding what’s causing it and how we can keep moving to avoid having it in the first place. Whether it’s trying these exercises, using better equipment or investing in the right ergonomic office chair (or a combination of all three), you can feel good at work—or at least make your body more comfortable – to remain focused and productive.