How to maintain proper posture while working from home
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s been weeks of working from home through the stay-at-home order, which means it’s been weeks of sitting in front of a screen at a counter, on a couch or even in bed. Believe it or not, those are not ideal places to work on a computer.
An improper sitting position can cause aches and pains and bring on additional stress to the body. Returning to office life with a proper desk and chair is on the horizon, but until then, maintaining healthy posture at home is important.
Posture is not a one-size-fits all. Everyone is built slightly different and what helps one person, may hurt another. That being said, there are some general posture principles that, for the most part, will apply to everyone.
First, find a place to sit, ideally, something resembling a desk and chair. The couch, bed or kitchen stool are not ideal, but obviously, everyone must work with what they’ve got.
“Posture is a formula that allows you to find a state of balance,” said Vicky Johnson, a physical therapist in Steamboat Springs and president of the Institute of Physical Art. “When you’re in good posture, you’re not holding anything. You’re not tightening anything. Your body is properly balanced in relationship to gravity.”
So, posture is specific to an individual. Johnson’s goal through physical therapy and education is to allow each individual to learn what good posture looks like to them.
In order to do that, people have to be mindful and listen to their body. Johnson suggests, when sitting down, taking a minute to assess your body and how it feels. Does anything feel uncomfortable already? Does any part feel unsupported? Are some muscles tensed?
• Listen to your body when first sitting down
• Align spine, adjust seat
• Assess any pain after sitting
• Make changes next time
“Learn your body; notice your body,” Johnson said. “So many people find themselves at home, sitting a lot, and they sit there until they hurt. They don’t think about their body until they hurt.”
Doctor Timothy Rinn of Rinn Chiropractic Center said while sitting, the ears should be directly over the shoulders, which should fall in line with the hips. Feet should be flat on the floor with your behind as far back into the seat as possible with the knees still bending over the front.
If typing, arms should be relaxed and bent at 90 degrees. A computer tray can help if sitting on a couch. Having straight arms and wrists will help prevent carpel tunnel or tendonitis that could be caused by having wrists bent at a harsh angle for prolonged periods of time.
The best position will be one in which you feel like you’re floating and not fighting gravity, according to Johnson.
In order to achieve that feeling, most seats will have to be adjusted to your body. In order to keep your feet on the ground while sitting on a couch, a folded blanket may be needed between the back of the couch and the spine. Additionally, in order to have arm support, a small pillow could be placed on the lap.
After spending a long period of time sitting, Johnson suggests listening to your body again to determine if anything is sore. If so, consider how you were sitting and what could have led to that pain. Take those notes into account when settling into work the next time.
While laptops are extremely convenient, they don’t serve us well when it comes to posture. We already tend to crawl into our screens, regardless of where it’s positioned. A screen below eye level forces the user to look down and leads to rolling in the shoulders and leaning forward. Leaning forward means the weight of the head is not properly distributed along the spine. Having a monitor at eye level with a lower keyboard would help the head from craning forward.
“The analogy would be, if you have a bowling ball in your hand, with your elbow on the table. It’s a whole lot easier to hold that bowling ball upright if it’s over the bone,” Rinn said. “If you’re carrying that bowling ball ahead of the bone, like your arm is leaning forward, after a while, the muscles give out. You won’t be able to hold it as long.”
Sometimes, finding the most comfort while sitting is aided by not sitting. A 2017 study by the Annals of Internal Medicine said getting up and moving every half an hour may reduce health risks brought on by long periods of sitting.
“Get up and move around every 20 to 30 minutes, clear your brain, get your blood going,” Rinn said. “If you sit in one position for a long time, that’s when you start to have issues. Movement is key.”
Movement and physical activity are also ways to help relieve mental stress, which can cause tension and manifest as physical ailments in the body. Finding a comfortable position to sit and work will be harder if the body is under a lot of stress.
“When someone is overwhelmed with stress, everything about their body is worse,” Johnson said. “My biggest word to everyone is, try to find ways in their life to minimize the feeling of stress and anxiety in their life. That’s going to make them feel better more than anything I can teach them about posture.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the percentage of staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center that are vaccinated.