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bad posture

How to set up your desk if you use a desktop computer in 4 steps

This is a post for people who want to know how to set up their desktop to work on or for longer periods of time in the office or at home.

It is especially good for people worried about or who suffer from tension headaches, neck or low back pain, high or sore shoulders, or other postural issues such as forward head posture.

In the video, Martin (once again using Kieran as an ergonomics model extraordinaire) talks us through the correct ergonomics of how to set up our desktop as a workstation.

Please enjoy the quick video. 

For your convenience, the ergonomics demo has been transcribed below.

Hi, Martin and Kieran and we are here to give you a quick instructional video on how to set up your desktop computer so that it puts you in the best position to look after your precious spine and nervous system that you have, given that we are spending so much of our day working on computers.  

We have got a separate video that shows you how to set up for a laptop. There are some similarities but there are a couple of really key differences when you’re setting up for a desktop, so we'll run through everything here as well. 

Just like with the laptop setup, key thing is we're gonna start from the bottom up.  

Step 1: Seat height and foot position

First thing is, Kieran has his feet absolutely flat on the floor, he’s not crossing his legs which would create a twisting torsion through your lower back then cause tension to build up through the day. 

Next, we set the height of the chair. If you have a gas lift chair, you want the height of a chair so that your hip is either at the same level as his knee, so we've got a horizontal line, or so that the hip is slightly higher than your knee because that allows him to maintain a really good lower back position. 

If you sit with your hips lower than your knees it's really easy of get into a rounded posture, causing horrible loading up of tension in your lower back. 

Step 2: Position your arms, elbows, keyboard and mouse

So once we've got that position we then want to make sure that the height is still okay for his elbow position. 

What we really want is as close to possible as a 90 degree angle at the elbow so that you can have relaxed shoulders while your hands are on the keyboard. 

What we don't want is to be sitting too high, so that you have to reach down or too low, so that you’re scrunching shoulders up to get your fingers onto the keyboard. 

That height looks pretty good.

Then what we want to do is to zoom in or out, so that we've got a nice relaxed position here. 

If Kieran was too far back he'd be reaching and then having to use all those shoulder muscles to hold his hands on the keyboard. 

What we want is that so that his arms are nice and relaxed by his side while he's using the keyboard. 

The same rule applies to the mouse.

A lot of people may have the keyboard set up right but then end up having the mouse right across the desk where it’s causing a peep of pressure through their shoulder that feeds back up into your neck and causes all sorts of problems. 

So once we've got that set up, this is where it's a bit different to the laptop setup. 

3. Screen Position

With a desktop, the screen can be moved to two different positions depending on how often you needing to look at your keyboard. 

If you touch type or you're doing a lot of data entry where you're very rarely looking down at the keyboard, then you really want the screen to be a bit higher than we've got it here. In that case, the landmark that I always use is the absolute dead center of the screen.

If you are the type of person who needs to look down at the keys periodically you don't want the screen too high, otherwise you make yourself dizzy going up and down. 

So the compromise in this instance is to have the centre of the screen at about chin level and that way you're never looking too far up, and you're just working in this range. 

If you're the sort of person who can touch type and you don’t really need to look at your keys, then you can go up higher which has the advantage of having a posture where your head is more balanced over your shoulders. 

What we have here is a set up that is good for Kieran if he can touch type. 

If he doesn't often need to look down at the keys he can spend all of his time just looking straight ahead at the screen. 

So for this setup, what we've done is put a couple of books underneath the screen here, to raise it up, allowing us to have the centre of the screen at the point where it's hitting here, in-between the lip level or the tip of his nose.

That's a really comfortable posture for him to be able to look at the screen and have his head posture really nicely balanced over the shoulder, meaning a nice relaxed position through here. 

When you're in that position, you are not building up so much tension on your neck and shoulders etc. by looking down all the time. 

Remember, this setup is only for people who can touch type but it's a really optimal position that'll mean that he feels nice and comfortable for hours and hours of work. 

Step 4: As always, take micro breaks

Micro breaks are discussed in the Laptop video here.

I hope you found this video helpful please feel free to shoot us a message and let us know what you think.

What is the best way to sit?

"How should I be sitting?"

We often get asked this by our clients and on the surface it sounds like a pretty simple and straight forward question but when you think about it, its a much broader subject than it first appears. 

If you subscribe to the theory that the researchers at QI are correct about pretty much everything (and let's face it, who doesn't?) then this video will explain to you a little about the *ideal* way to sit, but what do they mean by the BEST way to sit?

For instance, it could be argued that what you are sitting FOR might actually dictate how you could best attempt to sit. Then again, there are some people who argue that we shouldn't be sitting for more than just short periods at all! 

In this post I wanted to discuss a few different types of sitting and when you might want to use them.

But Kieran, what do you mean by different types of sitting?

I'm glad you asked! there are a few different ways in which we position our bodies when we sit and each has its own set of pros and cons. 

In the video above, they make reference to sitting with an angle between your low back and your hips of roughly 30 degrees. They don't specify this in the video but sitting with an angle like that refers to research for the best sitting position to ease pressure on your lower lumbar vertebrae and disks, hopefully reducing the risk of low back pain or injury including disk bulges. 

When I was studying biomechanics as part of my Bachelor of Applied Science (Chiropractic) at RMIT, (back then, the course was an undergraduate degree and a Masters by course work instead of the 5 year Bachelor degree Chiropractors currently undertake...also Youtube was only 1 year old...thats not relevant to that last point other than it gives you an indication of how old I must be) we learned that the ideal angle to sit was indeed NOT sitting up straight but between 100-110 degrees. Definitely within the ball park of what this episode of QI suggests.

So why are we always trying to sit up straight?

It seems strange doesn't it that despite scientific evidence to the contrary, that we should still be obsessed with sitting up straight. 

I can't find any rational reasoning for this but I posit that it's due to our societal awareness of posture in reference to our shoulders and head forward positions, rather than any awareness of our spinal health at large. 

Well then...which is it? Posture or low back health?

To be completely honest, I do not believe that there is one answer to this question. 

Firstly, if you know you have, or at risk of a low back injury, then it is reasonable for you to, as much as possible while sitting, attempt to have an appropriate angle of between 10 and 30 degrees beyond sitting up straight. I would also add, if you have or believe you are at risk of a low back injury, please contact us at Align Chiropractic to see what ELSE you can do to get on track beyond remembering how to sit. 

Secondly, if you don't have a specific reason or concern in reference to your low back, then as stated earlier, perhaps it is best to remember the context in which you find yourself sitting. 

If you are going to be at a computer for most of the day, then a focus on correct sitting posture. 

A couple of quick reminders are:

  • Key board - Positioned more directly in front of you, so you aren't reaching for it or turning your     wrists to get the correct angle.
  • Screen - Directly in front of you,at a height where your eyes are aimed directly in the middle just about the centre of the screen.
  • Chair - Adjusted to a height where your feet can easily touch the floor with your hips at or just past 90 degrees to your torso.
  • Mouse - Just to the side of the keyboard, easy to reach in a way that keeps your arm bent, not reaching for it.
  • Alignment - Sitting up straight, don't slouch and don't let your head and shoulders slump forward. 

Always remember to keep what you need to use IN FRONT OF YOU in an easy position to use.

Computers and equipment was designed to fit US, not the other way around!

Your other best line of defence is to try utilise a standing desk for at least some part of the day!

However, the above video raises an interesting point, If sitting more casually, i.e. watching a movie etc, then sitting up straight as if you are using a computer doesn't really feel like it makes much sense. Lets face it, it doesn't matter who you are, no one can sit up straight for extended periods of time. 

It makes sense to do it while working, where we can get up from the desk to stretch, get water or to stop our body from fatiguing, but if you're planning to sit and enjoy Casino Royal, re watch the Back to the future trilogy or binge The Sinner, then you can hardly annoy everyone you're watching with and interrupt the show with incessant stretching. 

This is where finding that 10 to 30 degree angle for your low back really comes to the fore.

Similarly while driving, I do not expect you to stop every 20-40 minutes on your daily commute for a walk, so keep that position in mind when you set up your car seat (I will post about correct driving position in the near future, but as a general rule, give yourself that slight angle, position the steering wheel so you aren't leaning forward to reach for it and make sure your head isn't being pushed forward by the headrest).

Another question we get asked frequently is should you sit on a gym ball instead? 

My answer is always the same...if your living room or office aesthetics suit the presence of a gym ball as a permanent piece of furniture, then perhaps posture and sitting is NOT the biggest issue you are currently experiencing. 

More seriously though, in my experience, sitting on a gym ball doesn't provide you with a better sitting technique for an extended period. Like anything, our body will fatigue if we ask it to hold a more rigid position for a long time and eventually we all end up slumping. Personally, I believe that a gym ball can actually help you to slump your shoulders forward as it offers you no form of support to relax into a better position. 

If you DO insist on sitting long term on gym ball, always be mindful of when your head slumps forward and your low back has started to curve in the opposite direction. 

Yep, just like any product sold on late night infomercials, the sad reality is, sitting on a gym ball will NOT automatically give you abs. 

The same can be said of ergonomic chairs or those kneeling 'chairs', not only are they usually more of an eyesore than you would hope them to be, they are really about trying to make the most of a crummy situation. They will try place you in a better posture but without adjusting your position, mindfulness of your body and remembering to get up and move frequently, your body will always try to reduce energy expenditure and slack off as soon as you aren't looking. 

So what SHOULD I be sitting on?

For a hint at the type of chairs we at Align DO actually like people to sit in, look at the furniture in our practice. 

The Eames chairs we have in the practice weren't just chosen for how beautiful they are, or how well they stand up to being sat on by hundreds of people, they also allow you to be comfortable in a relatively good position for a reasonable period of time. 

At the end of the day, there really is no substitute for body awareness. 

Listen to your body. Stand up when you need to stand up, move when you have to move, and re-position yourself when your body tells you it needs re-positioning. 

To discuss the best ways to combat bad posture, exercises to improve your ability to sit better, or discuss your concerns about your posture, contact us at Align on (03) 9696 1057, or bring it up during your next visit so that we can discuss your issues specifically and tailor an approach to your and your needs. 

In a slump...Is it time to stand tall and stop your mum from nagging you?

Good Posture...I know, I can feel how bored you are already. I don't blame you. Can you even count how many times you have been nit picked about slouching? 

And why the hell should you care right? I mean, who cares that you slump a little? Plus, its so hard to stop doing! You try so hard to be upright when you first get to your computer but sure enough, 2 hours later you find yourself leaning into the screen of your computer with your shoulders hanging from your ears and a back hunch that would make Mr. Burns envious. 

A man displaying woeful posture...in need of nagging

A man displaying woeful posture...in need of nagging

As a Chiropractor, 2 things happen often in my life. 

The first is that at almost every time I am introduced to a person or group, most people instinctively straighten their backs and sit or stand taller, as if they all instinctively know that 'Good Posture' is important (even if we don't know why) and that its something we only think about when prompted to (even though we know deep down that our posture isn't great in the first place)

The second is that poor posture is one of the leading causes the issues that we see in our practice every day!  

Low back, neck pain, jaw pain, shoulder injury, predisposition to spinal degeneration, carpal tunnel type symptoms, migraines and tension headaches are some of the most common symptoms we see day in and day out and it doesn't take much Googling to find that a lot of these problems are either caused by, or at the least made worse by, poor posture. 

So, how does having bad posture lead to these issues? 

The answer is actually really simple and its actually a major part of understanding what we do as chiropractors:

Nervous system feedback and the body’s position in space

"The deeper layers of muscle are concerned with ‘sensing’ our position in space and relaying this information to the brain. If this function is taken over by muscles... (As a result) the brain gets an incomplete picture. The brain assumes that the body needs to be propped up to counteract the effects of gravity, so it triggers further muscle contraction. This adds to the general fatigue and pain felt by the person with poor posture." - The Victorian Government's better health website 

The issues with poor posture appear to go beyond just the physical mechanics as well! 

If I told you to imitate a person who is stressed out, anxious or depressed, I bet you would tighten and slightly raise your shoulders, pushing your head forward and making you shorter. Sound familiar? 

Some authors discuss that consistently being in this position might actually lead to deepened depression, increases in perceived stress, circulation issues, as well as negatively affecting digestion, breathing mechanics and the we way we are perceived by ourselves and others!

So what can we do about it? Well I'm here to tell you that dealing with posture is both simple AND challenging. 

Simple in that there are very basic ways that we can start to work on and improve how our body holds itself, yet challenging in that as Australian's, we are sitting or lying down for an average of 23 hours and 47 minutes, so we have a lot practice at bad posture to try and work against!

Over the space of a few more blog posts, I am hoping to talk you through some strategies to start tackling this problem, but until then, if you have any questions, or if yourself or someone close to you needs help getting out of their slump, please do not hesitate to contact us at Align on (03) 9696 1057.

 

Kieran