For the average working American, it is common to sit a minimum of eight hours a day and a majority of that behind a computer. I frequently see patients with neck and back pain that are not related to a specific injury, but rather from spending many hours at their desk (which usually involves using a computer). Sitting for extended periods of time can lead to a variety of health issues, including fatigue, muscle and joint pain.
Do you spend a lot of time behind a desk? If so, make sure your chair and work station are set up to fit you properly and influence good posture. Here are a few tips to help get you started:
- MONITOR POSITION: You should be able to sit straight in front of your computer and not have to turn from side to side to access it. The top half of the monitor should be in line with your eye height.
- DISTANCE FROM MONITOR: Keep your arms and elbows close to your body and parallel to the floor. You should not have to reach forward to use your keyboard. (Tip: try sitting about 18 inches from your computer screen).
- NECK: People who spend a lot of time on the phone often complain of neck pain. If you find yourself cradling your phone between your shoulder and chin so you can type and talk at the same time, switch to a headset or use a speaker phone. Also, be careful to not protrude your neck forward while looking at the computer screen. (Tip: Try keeping your ear in line with your shoulder)
- SHOULDERS: Keep your shoulders down and relaxed.
- BACK: Sit with your back pushed to the back of the chair with some form of lower back support between you and the chair back.
- ELBOWS and WRISTS: While typing, elbows should be at a 90-degree angle from your body, and your wrists and hands should be in a straight line. Make sure not to place stress on your wrists – keep them in a neutral position, not arched or bent. (Tip: Have the keyboard and mouse near each other and at the same height as your elbows).
- LEGS: When you’re sitting, your hips/thighs should be parallel to the ground or a little higher than your knees. Also, you don’t want the end of chair hitting the back of your knees—make sure to leave a little gap.
- FEET: Feet should touch the ground and lay flat on the floor. Sitting cross-legged or on one leg can lead to slouching. (Tip: if your feet cannot touch the floor, try using a footrest or box.)
Remember to give yourself breaks after you have been sitting for an extended period of time. Get up and move around regularly throughout the day, in fact, for every hour your work at your desk, give yourself several 1-2 minute breaks. Take a quick walk around the office, grab some water, chat with a coworker, or at least stand up and stretch.
I always tell my patients to listen to their body. If you are having pain, your body is trying to send you a message. If you experience neck or back pain that does not improve after trying the tips above, make an appointment with an Emory Spine physiatrist for further evaluation and treatment. To make an appointment, please call 404-778-3350 to speak to a member of our team.
About Diana Sodiq, DO
Diana Sodiq, DO, is an Assistant Professor of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation Medicine. She is Board Certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (Physiatry). As an osteopathic physician, Dr. Sodiq is trained in both traditional medicine as well as osteopathic manipulative treatments (OMT). She started practicing at Emory in 2010.