At the Practice at 322 we are often asked for advice about the right way to sit at a desk. So many of our patients spend the majority of their day in front of a computer, and yet there is so little reliable advice available on how to achieve this without discomfort. In this blog post I’m going to explain what to do and what not to do. Are you sitting comfortably?

Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that part of what goes wrong is that children are told to “sit up straight”, which seems to be interpreted as sitting with a pronounced arch in the lower back. This is essentially Victorian morality sitting posture, and physiologically it is woeful. It results in the lumbar muscles being strained and shortened, the abdominal muscles relaxing, and the arched back causing the posterior parts of the lumbar vertebrae to come into contact with each other. It’s basically the exact opposite of what you’d want if you were designing a sitting position with anatomy in mind.

sitting at a desk

So how should I sit?

First off, we have to lose our Victorian sitting habits. I teach the following simple exercise:

  1. Sit up straight as described above
  2. Now tuck your tummy in and you should feel your pelvis roll back a bit (try pulling your belly button towards your spine)
  3. You should suddenly realise that all this time you have been sitting on the backs of your thighs instead of your sitting bones (can you feel them now?)
  4. Also notice that when you sit on your sitting bones your shoulders feel more relaxed

It’s a question of design

Just keep moving. There is no one correct sitting posture. We just weren’t designed to sit all day, nor indeed to stand all day. The right way to sit is not to sit all the time, to sit without sitting. If you keep making small adjustments as your body dictates, you will be more comfortable, including getting up and walking around from time to time. If you spend a lot of time on the phone you might want to get a headset so you can talk and walk. Your ability to think and make decisions will benefit from the improved circulation too.

Sit to stand desks – are they any good?

Yes, they are excellent. They allow for flexibility of working posture, whereas ordinary computer desks force the user to adapt to the needs of the computer, mouse and keyboard. If you can encourage your office manager to invest in them, they result in improved health, improved productivity and fewer days off work. They are well worth it for people who spend at least six hours a day at a desk, and that’s many people.

No ’arm done

Why do most office chairs have arms? Because executive chairs have always had arms, and when you are sitting in a boardroom it’s nice to have arms to lean on. When people started to spend more time in offices in front of desks, the first office chairs didn’t have arms, but managers quickly realised that their employees felt more like executives if their chairs had arms, and, hey presto, almost all office chairs now have arms. But it’s fascinating to note that the best office chairs have arms that can be lowered, like one of my favourites, the Aeron Chair (we have no relationship with Herman Miller whatsever, they just make excellent chairs).

Resting on an arm while using a keyboard and a mouse is not the best idea in the world. There’s a little nerve that runs under your elbow (the funny bone area) and that can get pinched if you lean on it all day.

Top tips for when you have to sit

  • Keep feet flat on the floor or on a footrest: this supports your back.
  • Your elbows should be slightly above your desk
  • Sit directly facing your monitor and keyboard, not at an angle
  • If you can’t remove your armrests, only use them when you’re not using the computer
  • Position your monitor at a good distance from your eyes but not too far away, to avoid having to lean forwards
  • If you’re working at a laptop for an extended period, raise it on books or a dedicated riser and use an external keyboard and mouse

If you are working from home, especially for extended periods

  • Strongly consider a proper office chair, even an inexpensive one, but one that swivels and has height adjustment
  • Allow yourself the regular short breaks that you would take in the office environment
  • Walk around when on longer calls, if this is possible
  • Ensure that lighting is adequate

Ergonomic assessment

All workstations – be they in the office or at home – benefit from expert input. If you’d like to know more about how to use laptop risers or whether to get a vertical mouse, drop in and talk to one of our osteopaths about your working configuration.