Monday, July 6, 2015

The healthiest way to sit at your desk

Many of us spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on sporting gear - be it a bike or running shoes and apparel - but we take very little stock in the chair we sit in all day. Yet you chair could be the cause of your pain; the reason why you are unable to participate in your favorite activities.

The healthiest way to sit at your desk

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This doesn´t look like a comfortable position
This doesn't look like a comfortable position iStock

Many of us spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on sporting gear — be it a bike or running shoes and apparel — but we take very little stock in the chair we sit in all day.  We buy the fist chair we see or just accept what our company hands us. Yet you chair could be the cause of your pain; the reason why you are unable to participate in your favorite activities.

People automatically assume that if they are feeling pain it is due to an activity that they are doing, like running or cycling.  When in fact, the pain could be stemming from the chair where you actually spend most of the day. That’s why selecting the correct chair is imperative to your body recovering correctly and efficiently and being able to stay healthy.

It is worth noting that almost everyone you talk to will have their own opinion on what type of chair works the best for them — but that does not mean that it will work well for you. While it’s important to begin the chair search project with an open mind, you can easily waste a lot of time, money and energy buying chairs that people claim work well, but in the end, may not help you.

In the quest for the perfect chair, the first thing you need to do is evaluate your job. People always ask me what type of chair I use. I use a clearance chair from a big box retailer that has a high back and almost zero adjustable parts. But I do not need a fancy or expensive chair with lots of adjustable parts since I sit at most fifteen minutes consecutively in a day. My body recovers and avoids injury from sitting because I am on my feet for most of the day. Moving is the best solution for many aches and pains and if you have a job that allows you to do that, then investing in a fancy chair is probably not worth it.

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Your second step in the chair search should be to evaluate your budget. Selecting the correct chair can be a very difficult process as there are so many to choose from and the price point ranges can be astronomical. When looking for a chair, finding one that you are able to afford with the most adjustable parts is going to be your best bet. If you have the availability of an unlimited budget, Herman Miller chairs are some of the best on the market but they are also some of the most expensive. The reason that they are among one of the best is that almost every part of them is adjustable — you can set the height, if you want a head support or not, the lumbar support, the chair tilt, the whole nine yards.

However, the one complaint many people have about Herman Miller chairs and their counterparts is that they lack a full back. Some people feel more comfortable having a full padded back on their chair, like the one seen in the photo below. There is nothing wrong with this.  Like the one shown in the picture, there are still plenty of adjustments that can be made to the chair to have you seated in the correct posture. 

Here are some of the things you want to be mindful of when setting up your workstation:

  1. Your feet should be flat on the floor. 
  2. Your hips should be at a 90 degree angle or greater.  This means that your legs should be slightly sloping downward, as seen in the picture.
  3. Your monitor should be at eye level right in front of you. This picture shows two monitors, one set up correctly and one set up incorrectly. The large monitor in front is at eye level with the top of the screen being at the level of the eyes and directly in front of you.  The second monitor to the left is set up incorrectly. Having the correct monitor placement and height will make a big difference in the way your whole spine is positioned.
  4. Your neck should have just a slight curve in it but for a general rule, your ears should be almost in line with your shoulders.
  5. Your low back should have a slight curve in it but nothing to excessive.  If you feel like it is work to sit in the position that you are in then you are probably not sitting in the correct posture.  Sitting up straight should not feel like work.
  6. Your wrists should be in the neutral position and should avoid being bent in one direction or the other.

These six tips are just a small sample as there are many other points that need to be considered when setting up a chair and consulting a physical therapist can help you get positioned correctly.


Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.
Owner of Total Performance Physical Therapy, North Wales and Hatfield, PA
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Whether you are a weekend warrior, an aging baby boomer, a student athlete or just someone who wants to stay active, this blog is for you. Read about our growing list of expert contributors here.

Heather Moore, PT, DPT, CKTP Owner of Total Performance Physical Therapy, North Wales and Hatfield, PA
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