Back Care at the Office

A large majority of us spend considerable amounts of time sat down behind a desk looking at a computer screen, tapping on a keyboard or tablet and using a smartphone. Whilst sitting down is not bad for us, prolongued sitting can be detrimental if the workstation is not set up well and if we start to slouch and slump as time goes by.

Here are 10 simple things to check with regard working at a desk.

1)  Both feet should be planted firmly on the floor. Avoid cross-legged sitting or sitting with a leg under your buttocks. If your feet cannot comfortably reach the floor, you may need to purchase a foot rest and in the interim, use a telephone directory or book under your feet.

2)  The computer should be directly in front of you when you are working on it. Avoid slightly twisting, even if it is a small amount as this creates tension in joints and muscles and with time this can lead to shortenend muscles, altered posture and eventually pain.

3)  The top of the computer screen should be at eye level height. If you are working from a laptop, then you can purchase a separate keyboard which attaches to the laptop so that you can have the laptop screen at the correct level by placing it on some books. The head, due to the bony cranium and large brain is a heavy structure and even a few degrees of forward pull due to looking down at a screen can lead to increased tension in the neck muscles and this in itself can lead to discomfort and pain.

4)  If you are working from documents that you need to refer to, it is a good idea, if possible, to use a document holder which can be placed at the same height as the computer screen rather than papers on the desk. This will help to avoid too much bending forward (flexion) with rotation of the neck. This combination of movement with the relatively heavy head can increase strain through the muscles of the neck and shoulders, again leading to pain.

5)  Ensure your back is supported by the chair. Ideally your lower and mid back would be pressed up against the back of the chair. Your knees should be slightly lower than the level of the hips. If this is not possible by the shape of the chair or the functionality of the chair, use a pillow or better still a wedged shaped cushion. Avoid slumping in the chair.

Shoulder Shrugshoulder shrug (2)6)  Ensure your shoulders are relaxed downwards. Avoid allowing the shoulders to raise up towards your neck and ears. This creates tension in the muscles around the shoulder girdle and into the neck musculature and with time this can cause shortening of the muscle that can lead to a permanent change in posture.

Tension can be reduced be performing the shoulder rolls or shoulder shrug exercise regularly throughout the day.

7)  Ensure your forearm, wrist and hands are relaxed and wrists supported. A wrist rest may be of benefit to you if it helps to reduce any angle between the forearm, wrist and hand.  If you use a mouse, you should avoid repetitive clicking through the index finger as this is a common cause of repetitive strain injury. A wrist rest may be useful and also a mouse that can be used on both hands so that each hand does some of the work.

8)  Take regular breaks from your desk. After about 20 to 30 minutes of one position the ligaments of the joints start to stretch. This is called ‘creep’. If the static position is maintained, over time the ligaments remain overstretched and this allows the change in posture commonly seen in desk workers. That is, an increased curve in the mid back (thoracic spine) and a forward positioned head, known as anterior head carriage. This combination will lead to an increased likelihood of wear and tear in the joints and this can lead to pain and discomfort.

9)  If your eyesight is deteriorating, as can happen with age, then this can make you feel fatigued as your eye muscles strive to maintain focus. Some people find that they move their head forward to ‘get a better look’ at the screen. This can cause tension to build in the shoulders, neck and upper back that over time can lead to pain. If possible, regularly change the distance of your eye focus as you work to medium and longer distance focus so that the muscles of the eye are exercised throughout the day. Get your eyes checked by a qualified optician who will be able to let you know if you require glasses for close work.

10)  Finally, check the office workers exercise section of the website for simple and effective exercises to help prevent tension building in the muscles and joints whilst at work.

Any persistent aches and pains, stress and strains may require some hands on treatment by a qualified professional.  If you need an appointment for treatment or to get checked, call 0117 244 3344 to book an appointment.