Welcome to the ultimate workplace guide to the 6 essential techniques to improve your posture and your work productivity at the same time.
Your mother was right!
Growing up your mother and your teachers, no doubt, continuously told you to “Sit up straight”. As children, we are usually told to stand up straight, sit properly, and not to slouch as it does not look attractive, but what no one told you was how important good posture in the workplace is to your productivity.
If you were a fly on the wall in virtually any office around the country, you would see workers hunched over their computers. Next time you are on the train or the bus, look at your fellow passengers. How do they sit? Are they slumped over their cell phones?
How important is good posture during your work day?
The question is: how important is your posture during the work day and how does it impact on your health, well-being and productivity? The answer is good posture is critical! In fact, no matter what type of work you do, in terms of preventing workplace injuries, poor posture is a contributing factor in many musculoskeletal injuries. These include back pain, sprains, strains as well as various overuse and repetitive stress injuries; all of which are common in all kinds of workplaces, from offices to construction sites, health care facilities and more.
Poor posture becomes second nature
Over time, poor posture may be caused by habits from everyday activities such as sitting in office chairs, staring at the computer, cradling a cell phone, carrying a bag over the same shoulder, driving and prolonged standing. It can easily become second nature, causing and aggravating episodes of back and neck pain and damaging spinal structures. Fortunately, it is possible to correct and improve the main factors which negatively impact upon posture. [Photo is by bruce mars from Pexels]
Sitting and ergonomics
Sitting down is part of nearly everyone’s workday today. Unfortunately for many of us, sitting incorrectly is causing stress and pain in our bodies. By improving the way you sit, whether at a desk or in a car, your workday can be improved and your body will thank you.
Sitting correctly involves not only your ability to align your body, but is also dependent on the workspace around you. You need a workspace that is ergonomically designed and tailored to your back, neck and spine health. Adjusting your seat or rearranging your desk may be the key to your comfort in the workplace and car. Correcting your sitting posture may be instrumental in keeping you pain-free and able to enjoy more activities in your life.
The warning signs of poor ergonomics
What are the warning signs of back pain caused by poor ergonomics and incorrect posture and how can we identify them? Back pain that becomes worse at certain times of day or week, such as after a long day of sitting in an office chair in front of a computer is a sure sign of poor ergonomics. Pain that starts in the neck and moves downwards into the upper back, lower back, and extremities; pain that goes away after switching positions; sudden back pain that is experienced with a new job, a new office chair, or a new car; or back pain that comes and goes for months can all point to unsuitable ergonomics as well as poor posture.
[Photo is by bruce mars from Pexels]
1. Create a back-friendly work-space
Your office chair
Start by adjusting your office chair. If at all possible, try to ensure that your desk chair is ergonomically correct and gives you sufficient support. It should have an adjustable seat height, tilt and armrests. If your chair has armrests, adjust them to be low enough so your forearm is parallel to the armrest and your shoulders remain relaxed. If the armrests are too high, it will push the shoulders up and create tension. Ideally, armrests should only be used when you are pausing to type or reading.
Keep your shoulders and back relaxed: Rest your wrist on your desk and keep your feet flat on the floor and try to avoid placing your feet under your chair. Sit in a way that feels comfortable and also professional.
Your office desk
If at all possible, choose the surface height for the desk (standing, sitting or semi-seated) best suited for the task to be performed; for example architects and draftsman may want a higher surface for drawing while computer entry work could be seated or standing, depending on the need to use other tools or references. The specific height of the work surface will also need to vary based on the height of the individual worker.
Your computer and desk should be positioned in a way that you feel comfortable. Check the position of your screen; make sure your chair is at the right height so your eyes are level with your computer monitor and that you are not craning or turning your neck to look at documents and papers for long periods of time. Adjust the height of your monitor so you are not craning your neck up or down.
When you use the mouse or keypad, allow your wrists to be relaxed and use your entire arm to move the mouse rather than just your hand and wrist as this will cut down on strain and possible carpel tunnel syndrome.
Stop the “Smartphone Slump”
Your cell phone can also be detrimental to your posture and the well being of your back. Mobility and posture experts have started calling the slumped and crouched over position we put ourselves in while looking at our phones the “Smartphone Slump”. Counteracting “Smartphone Slump is easy. Stop looking down at your phone; instead, bring it up to eye level. This will keep your head balanced on top of your spine and will relieve the muscles in your back, shoulders and neck.
2. Follows these 9 easy tips to achieve a correct sitting position:
1. Keep your back straight and your shoulders back.
2. Your buttocks should touch the back of your chair.
3. All three normal back curves should be present while sitting. If necessary, bring in a pillow or roll up a jacket and place it between your chair and lower back where it is most comfortable. This encourages the lordotic curve which is essential to a natural resting position.
4. Both hips should have your body weight evenly distributed on them.
5. Knees should be bent at 90 degrees.
6. Knees should be even or higher than your hips.
7. Feet should be flat on the floor.
8. Avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes.
9. Be aware of and avoid unbalanced postures such as crossing legs unevenly while sitting, leaning to one side, hunching the shoulders forward, or tilting the head.
3. Our best posture is our NEXT posture
It may be uncomfortable and, indeed, detrimental to maintain perfectly straight backs one-hundred percent of the time. The best advice is to adjust your posture every half an hour in order to avoid aches, pains and stiffness.
Some people benefit from a naturally balanced posture that is achieved by sitting on a balance ball; in this posture the pelvis is rocked gently forward increasing the lumbar curve which naturally shifts the shoulders back (similar to sitting on the edge of a chair seat).
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels
4. Take a break from sitting
Take a break from sitting in an office chair every half hour for two minutes in order to stretch, stand, or walk. As muscles get stiff, slouching, slumping, and other poor postures become more likely; this in turn puts extra pressure on the neck and back. Change positions frequently in order to maintain a relaxed yet supported posture.
5. Standing at work
If your work requires your standing on a concrete floor for long periods, it is best to wear shoes with good support and cushioning. A rubber mat placed on the concrete floor will ease pressure on the back and improve ergonomic conditions. Use a railing or box to prop one foot up while standing to help take pressure off the back and remember to change feet and positions every 20 minutes.
6. Driving posture to and from work
We spend a lot of time driving to and from work and sitting in our cars. Your seated posture while driving can either contribute to or alleviate back discomfort, just as how you sit at your desk. Once you are sitting in your car, lean forward to shift all the way back into the back of the seat. A rolled up towel or a commercial back support placed between the lower back and the back of the seat could make you more comfortable and will support the natural inward curve of the low back.
Drivers should always sit at a comfortable distance from the steering wheel. Sitting too far from the steering wheel increases the pressure on the lumbar spine (lower back) and can also cause stress on the neck, shoulder and wrist. However, sitting too close to the steering wheel can increase the risk of injury should the car’s airbag inflate. Keep a relaxed grip on the wheel and avoid clenching or gripping it too tightly as this can create tension all the way up the arms.
Good workplace posture has both physical and mental benefits
Minimizes fatigue and pain from aching joints and reduces chances of aches and pains in the neck, back, and eventually the knees and hips. Sitting correctly prevents improper spinal alignment, which can lead to headaches and discomfort.
Provides ample space for the diaphragm and lungs to expand, which ensures better breathing. Slouching provides less room for our lungs to expand.
Proper posture also helps you focus better and be more productive. Maintaining a good stance and correct spine alignment also affects your productivity image at work and helps reduce stress. It may also improve memory, since a good sitting posture increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
It aids digestion since proper posture tones the muscles of your core, which support your digestive organs.
Follow our guide to better workplace posture and increase productivity, decrease stress levels, and help make you look and feel more confident. And just think – it all began with your mom telling you to stop slouching. Well, mother always knew best!
Miriam Lipshitz is the Back into Shape team IDD technician, clinical receptionist and blogger. She is a South African qualified and experienced teacher by profession with wide ranging experience in research and writing.