How To Reduce Pain From Sitting At Work & Improve Posture

Modern activities such as using smart phones, tablets and laptops in the office make us more vulnerable to developing poor posture. Consistent poor posture can eventually result in physical health problems such as back and neck pain.

Research has shown that poor posture interferes with a number of the body’s postural mechanisms including muscle fibres, strength and length. Over time, the deeper supporting muscles waste away from lack of use, resulting in unused muscles tightening. The shortening of muscle length can then compact the bones of the spine, which results in a worsening posture.

The long term effects of sedentary behaviour do not look favourable either. An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than 8 hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying from obesity and smoking. Another study found that people who are inactive and sit for long periods have a 147% higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

When a person adopts poor posture (e.g. chin is poked forward, shoulders held in a rounded position and back being slouched in a chair and is held for more than 30-45minutes) areas like our neck, shoulder region, upper back and lower back can build up stiffness and pain. Sitting in a chair, in a rounded/slouched or hunched position can also cause stiffness. Stiffness can build up as you sit for more than 45 minutes in a chair.

Therefore, it is important to prevent poor posture as it helps reduce pain from muscle or joint stiffness and can also prevent more serious health issues in the long run. Neurosurgeon and Spinal Surgeon, Dr Michael Wong shares three ways to help improve your posture.

1. Correct sitting posture

Make sure the screen is adjusted to eye level to minimise neck strain. Your elbow should be at a right angle to the table to reduce shoulder, arm and wrist pain. Place your thighs parallel to the floor and support your feet adequately with or without a footrest. Utilise good lumbar support by using a back rest to support the lumbar curve.

2. Regular exercise or movement

It is essential to move or do exercises frequently throughout the work day. It has been proven to reduce muscle discomfort and eye strain. It is highly recommended to take intermittent, regular breaks. You should get up, walk around and do exercises at your desk every 30-45 minutes. Below are some simple stretching exercises for your upper and lower back.

3. Modify activities and reorganise your office space.

By reorganising office space, this will reduce sedentary behaviour and encourage better ergonomics in the workplace. Some recommendations include utilising a standing table when typing and alternating between sitting and standing while on the phone. Staying mobile will reduce the risk of muscle fibres being wasted away and contributing to poor posture. It is important to pace your daily activities so as not to remain in one position all the time. For example, schedule phone calls/meetings (when you can stand) in between long typing sessions (when you have to be in a sitting posture).

It is important to be mindful of your body during the day. Maintaining good posture can easily be done by tucking in your chin, standing up tall without slouching, aligning shoulders with hips, and relaxing your back to prevent excessive back arching. Good posture, alongside ideal office working conditions and regular stretching exercise, can significantly decrease the likelihood of pain occurring while sitting at work. For more serious cases with pain, consult physiotherapists to assist with posture training.

It is important to be conscious of your body for good posture in the long-term. Simple ways to maintain good posture include tucking in your chin, standing up tall without slouching, ensuring your shoulders are aligned with your hips and having a relaxed back to prevent excessive back arching. Remember to adopt good, daily office habits.


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