8 Tips for Desk Sitters

How to prevent back pain from sitting too long by Treloar Physiotherapy Vancouverby Stacy Benmore

Over the past few months, ‘sitting’ has been in the news – and for all the wrong reasons. Research studies are suggesting that periods of uninterrupted sitting (this can be anywhere from 2-7 hours) can increase blood sugar levels and decrease the good cholesterol levels in our bodies. These are two factors that are associated with chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. In terms of spinal health, prolonged sitting concerns me as a health care provider for a number of reasons. In the lumbar spine, sitting increases compression forces that are transmitted through the discs, joints and ligaments. If the stabilizing muscles in your lower abdomen and back are not conditioned enough to counteract the compression forces; over time this will result in damage to the discs, joints and soft tissues in the spine. This can lead to pain and possible injury. To put it bluntly – too much sitting is slowly killing us!

So what do we do with all this discouraging information? Is there any ‘good news’ out there with regard to sitting? I’m happy to tell you it is not all doom and gloom, there is some light on the horizon! Research also tells us that the human body responds very well to small interruptions in sitting that happen on a regular basis. This means there is good reason to get up from your desk frequently throughout the day! I often encourage my clients to take the long way around the office to get to the photocopier or fax machine, walk across the office to deliver a message to a colleague instead of sending an email, and above all else, try to get up from your desk for even 90 seconds at least twice per hour.

Listed below are a few tips I often give to my ‘desk jockey’ clients who are sitting for 5 or more hours per day:

1.  Examine your sitting posture – common faults we see include legs crossed, slumping in chair, perched on the front of the chair, feet not touching the ground, computer monitor not sitting directly in front of you.

2. Don’t be afraid to change your office set up. People often try to fit themselves to the desks/chairs they are provided with – it should really be the other way around. Find office furniture that is comfortable and supportive. 

3. Sit your bottom as far back in the chair as it will go.

4. Your knees should be at or just below the height of the hips.

5. Feet should be on the ground – if they don’t reach get a small stool or a phone book/text book to help.

6. Use the back support in the chair – if your back can’t reach then fill the space with a small cushion or a rolled up towel.

7. Hands should rest on the keyboard just below the height of your elbows so that when you are typing or mousing your shoulders remain relaxed.

8. The height of the computer monitor should be such that your eye gaze is level with the top 1/3 of the screen.

With a few small changes you can help your back and your overall health. Keep in mind that no one has ever become more fit by sitting at a desk! If pain or problems persist, make an appointment with a physiotherapist for a detailed physical assessment to design a treatment plan to help get you ‘back on track’!