Deskbound at Work? Tips to Improve Your Posture
- Posture tips
- Exercises and stretches for desk bound workers
Are you stuck in an office based 9-5 routine? When you’re not at work do you spend most of your day looking down at your smart phone? Do you spend hours on your laptop binge watching Netflix? No judgement here, we all find ourselves guilty of these things. The key is what we do to combat these bad habits. Holding any posture for hours, whether it be good or bad, can take a toll on your body. Like moms always say, “Everything is good in moderation.”
Not being conscious of your posture during desk bound work can result in muscle imbalances that affect the position of the head, shoulders, and spine. When we are sitting in front of a computer or smartphone what tends to happen over time is:
- Our head pokes forward to view the screen,
- Our shoulders round down,
- And our spine begins to bend forward and round out.
If we stay there for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, eventually certain muscles are going to get tight and some joints are going to get stiff. This can quite literally lead to giving you a huge “pain in the neck”. This postural phenomenon is known as upper crossed syndrome (UCS). The muscular imbalances associated with UCS include: the tightness and hyperactivity of the upper trapezius, levator scapula, and pectoralis muscles, followed by the reciprocal weakness and underactivity of deep cervical flexors, rhomboids, lower trapezius and serratus anterior. UCS has been shown to be linked with tension headaches, neck pain, nerve impingement/ compression, rotator cuff injury and shoulder impingement.
Let’s face it, you might be in a career that requires you to work at a desk for 8 hours a day, but there are things you can do to help combat the effects of sitting by incorporating certain activities into your 9-5 routine.
- Set yourself up well! Start by sitting with your hips all the way back in your chair. Having your hips against the backrest will help to support your lumbar spine and create a neutral pelvis for your shoulders and head to sit on. Ensure your monitor is at the correct height. When you are sitting in a neutral spine position, the top of your screen should be at eye level. This will make sure you’re not flexing your neck too far up or down to view the screen. If your employer offers ergonomics assessments, have them provide an assessment of your workstation.
- Get up to your feet! Stand up to take phone calls. Place your garbage bin far from your desk forcing you to get up every time you need to throw something away. Get a standing desk and alternate between sitting and standing every hour.
- Keep moving! Set an alarm/reminder in your phone or Microsoft Outlook every 45 minutes to move/change positions. Drink lots of water to ensure you are getting up to use the bathroom often. Use a small water bottle that will require you to get up and refill every couple of hours. Walk to your colleague’s desk to give them a message rather than sending them an email.
- Exercise! Going to the gym after a long day at work can be great to not only let off some steam from a stressful day but also give you the opportunity to correct muscle imbalances you have created from sitting all day. Some exercises, like the ones below, can even be done while you’re at the office.
Exercises and Stretches:
- Deep Neck Flexor Engagement (Chin Tucks): This will help counteract forward head posture. Stand upright with your back against wall. Begin by tucking your chin down towards your chest and gently pressing the back of your head into the wall. You should feel a stretch at the base of your head and a gentle activation of the muscles in the front of your neck. Hold and repeat.
- Retraction Rows: This will help strengthen the muscles in between your shoulder blades. Sit upright, gently squeeze your shoulder blades down and together (not too much where you get a pinch). Once shoulder blades are “set” pull the band with bent elbows. Hold and repeat.
- Chest Stretch/ Wall Angel: This works to improve the flexibility of the chest. Unless you improve the length of the chest muscles, you are going to be playing tug of war every time you try and correct your posture. Stand with your back flat against the wall, chin gently tucked down. Start with elbows bent, slowly slide your arms up the wall (maintaining back and wrists against the wall). Hold and repeat.
What else can I do about my posture?
Seeking out a physiotherapist can be of great benefit when addressing postural related pain and discomfort. A physiotherapist will be able to properly assess your posture and point out any specific muscles imbalances you might have. Your physiotherapist will then be able to outline a treatment program specifically designed for you, incorporating a combination of:
- Manual therapy to assist in the mobility of stiff joints
- Soft tissue release to reduce tension areas and trigger points
- Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS)/Dry Needling to reset dysfunctional muscles
- Movement retraining and exercise prescription to ensure proper form and strength of postural muscles
Ultimately, the best exercises, stretches or movements for you requires a Physiotherapy assessment but these tips and tricks are a great starting point to help you become more aware of your posture and how you can improve it.
Falla,D., Jull, G., Russel, T., Vicenzino, B. & Hodges, P. (2007). Effect of neck exercise on sitting posture in patients with chronic neck pain. Journal or Physical Therapy, 87(4):408-417.
Muscolino, J. (2015). Upper crossed syndrome. Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society, 21(2):80-85.
Written by Autumn Crisafulli