How to sit comfortably at your desk

If you sit in front of your computer most of the day, you probably sometimes experience some back, neck or shoulder pain (this list could go on much longer, but you get the idea).Osteopathy and low back pain and computer

We could spend hours explaining exactly how your workstation should be set up (like this picture tries to do) but I believe this would be a mistake. There are some basic rules and the rest is more about MOVING. Some of you may not be able to take a break and go for a walk in the forest, so this post is about how to move while sitting at your computer.

 

The basic rules for sitting at a computer:

  1. If you work on a laptop, most of the time from the same place, I can’t stress enough how beneficial it could be to buy a separate monitor to raise your eye-line. But wait! this does not mean spending a lot of money. As some of you know I’m doing a PhD while also working in my practice and teaching. I have one study day per week when I work from home on my little laptop. I decided to look for external monitors and I found some second hand on eBay for £20 (including postage). No need to break the bank to help your back!
  2. If you work from home, do not work from your bed or sofa, even for a couple of hours per day. The slumped position you’ll get into is not good for your lower back or your sciatica nerves.
  3. When sitting at your desk, you need to have your feet touching the floor (or a footrest), your arms resting on your chair’s armrests or on the desk, the keyboard and mouse not too close to the edge of the desk to allow your arms to rest (to avoid tension in your shoulders) and the top of the screen at eye-level and at arm’s length.
  4. For more info, you can download a nice, simple PDF with advice on how to set up your workstation, click here.

 

Once that is done, you may still experience pain. Why is this? The simple answer is that we love moving. Staying still is not something we are very good at. If you stand still while visiting a museum or during a concert you are most probably going to experience back pain. This is very common and when it happens we feel the need to move, bend and walk. The same happens when we sit at a computer. For those of you who can’t go for a walk during work, movement remains very important and you can do it from your desk.

  • sit with your both feet touching the floor/footrest, sitting on the edge of your chair
  • take a moment to think about your breathing. Is it easy? Is it shallow? Try to breathe in slowly and deeply, allowing your tummy to move out when breathing in.
  • try to relax your neck and shoulders – I know it’s easier to say than to do but getting a sense of how the body is when it is relaxed will help you to get used to it and hopefully adopt it, with time.
  • feel the contact of your sitting bones with the chair. Do you feel more pressure on one side than the other? If so, don’t worry too much but see if by trying to relax even more it has an impact on this imbalance. If not, do not try to force your pelvis to be ‘even’.
  • the next steps have to be done in a pain free range of movement. This is very important. You can gradually increase the movement but don’t force it.
  • gently tilt your pelvis forward, hold it for a couple of seconds and come back to the initial position.
  • gently tilt your pelvis backwards, hold it for a couple of seconds and come back to the initial position.
  • if these movements are easy and non painful, gradually increase them and see what happens to the rest of your back. It may follow the movement. Keep breathing slowly and gently when doing this.

Once you have done it a few times, re-assess your sitting. Do your sitting bones feel more even? Do your shoulders and neck feel more relaxed? If so, you can repeat this exercise a few times per day or whenever you feel tension building up in your body.

 

If you still experience pain or discomfort after that:

  • you may consider having a workstation assessment so a professional can guide you on how to improve your current set up.
  • you could consult an osteopath: a combination of manual therapy and exercises can relieve most neck and back pains. More information about back pain here.