Don’t ignore the warning signals if you feel stiff or sore, advises leading UK back-pain expert and ergonomist Nichola Adams, who offers you her 6 Top Tips on how to sit with the correct posture, wherever you are working.
As an ergonomist, my consultancy work takes me all over the country. I’ve spent the past 14 years travelling the UK, advising around 3,000 individuals and hundreds of British businesses on how they can minimise their risk of back injury in the workplace.
My role in the corporate sector, supporting both companies and individual employees, often involves me assessing people’s posture at work and I’m usually asked to conduct a formal Ergonomic Workstation Assessment to check whether someone’s workstation and chair are set up to support a healthy posture. This is so important when we are sitting down for hours at a time at our computers, to avoid tension and pain build-up and to keep our backs healthy.
As you may imagine, I’ve witness some pretty harrowing set-ups, meeting people who are blissfully unaware that their posture, seating arrangements and furniture are pretty much ‘an injury waiting to happen’.
Whether you are working from home or at your office, it is very important to maintain a healthy posture, especially if you are working for more than an hour or two.
The same rules and guidance apply whether you are working at your computer or your laptop: and the buzz words of the moment are “Motion is Lotion!”
My work involves advising employers on the risks of back injury in the workforce and how this can affect a company’s performance. I often say to people I meet: “Your next posture is the best posture!”. In other words, just keep moving.
When you have a sensitive back or a back injury, you also need to reduce the amount of time that you are adopting a bad posture and increase the amount of time that you are adopting a healthy posture.
This is because assuming the correct posture supports recovery from any back issues you may have, allowing oxygen and nutrients to reach your tissues and muscles.
So, here are my 6 Top Tips on How to Improve your Posture at your Workstation…
1. Avoid slouching by moving your screen up: The main cause of back tension build-up that I witness is people being slouched over their screens or laptops. Don’t be a ‘Slouched Potato’. When you are using your laptop, always try to raise the screen so that it’s closer to your eye height. Avoid slouching down over it. Instead, raise your screen up on something and use a separate keyboard and mouse. With a laptop, in essence you are trying to adapt it so that it is similar to a desktop computer set-up. With a desktop screen, you should raise it up to eye-level height and bring your keyboard and mouse close up to the front of your desk so that you are not having to extend your arms forward when using them.
2. Adapt your desk to suit you, never vice versa: Take a fresh look at the whole of your desk set-up. The rules are that screens should be about arm-distance away, that your keyboard and mouse should be close to the front of your desk and that your chair should be nice and close to the front of the desk, too. What we are trying to achieve is that everything is close to you and you are not reaching or leaning forward to use them. You should adapt your desk to suit you, and not adapt to suit it.
3. Re-examine your chair set-up: First of all, you should raise the height of your seat so that your arms are level with the desk and that you are not reaching up or reaching down to use your keyboard. If that means that your feet are raised off the floor, then use a footrest. The second most important thing is that your lower back curve is properly supported at the right height and depth to suit your body, so adjust the lumbar support of your chair accordingly or use a cushion. Once you have made this important adjustment, this will also discourage you from slouching and will make you feel like you are properly supported.
4. Take a break at the water cooler or stand up for phone calls: Listen to your body when you feel uncomfortable because it’s your body telling you that it is time to move. At the very least, you should be moving once an hour. Even just standing up is good as the physical act of standing gets everything moving through your body. The flow of blood and nutrients will nourish your discs and muscles. Optimally, I would try to take a breather every 20 minutes. But even if you’re just taking a standing break for a minute or two, just the act of standing is beneficial. Some clever tricks for remembering to do this include standing up whenever you are on the phone; or remembering to drink lots of water, which means having to wander over to the water cooler or bathroom. Then rest breaks will also help your hydration. Even better, take your laptop or papers over to a higher surface so that you can stand while you are looking at your screen. Just try and break things up.
5. Stroll on! Take regular exercise: Always try to build in some regular exercise into your working day. Get off one stop early if you are commuting to work and walk the last section to your office. The same on the journey home. Take a lunchtime stroll. If you can’t get out, you could even take a short stroll around your office. When you’re working from home, unfortunately the temptation is just to sit down and start working, then to work all day and forget to exercise. So be extra-strict with yourself and make sure that you take a break, for example at lunchtime. Just get up and go for a walk around your home or, better still, get outside for a bit and soak in some valuable Vitamin D, too.
6. Breathe deeply to lower your stress levels: Don’t forget to breathe as breathing can really help us to reduce our stress levels. It can also help us to re-focus. So, take a few moments out of your busy day to remember to take some deep breaths. It’s not always easy to remember, so set your watch on a timer. Then do some deep breathing. The routine that works for me is to take a deep breath IN, for a count of four beats, and then exhale that deep breath OUT slowly for a count of eight beats. That helps me to re-energise my brain and body. I recommend it to you, it is quite invigorating!
In summary, if you stay static, adopting a poor posture for too long, your body will tell you what’s wrong immediately.
Your body will start to feel sore and stuff. This amounts to an oxygen depletion in your body, which is sending signals to your brain that you need to move.
So, take note of these signs: watch your posture and move whenever you can. Listen to your body, stretch up and upright as often as you can and keep moving.
And above all, don’t ignore the warning signals.
Combining the Greek words ‘ergon’ (meaning ‘work’) and ‘nomoi’ (meaning ‘natural laws’), ergonomics is the science of making products and tasks comfortable and efficient for human use.
· Nichola Adams, MSc Health Ergonomics, Tech CIEHF (Technical Member of The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors), Reg Member ACPOHE (The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics), is one of the UK’s leading back-pain experts and the Founder of Inspired Ergonomics (inspiredergonomics.com)