How do you sit at your desk and computer? Here are a few awesome tips to help save your back!
How should you sit at your computer?
Most shoulder and back pain comes from sitting improperly at the computer. Here are a few general rules of thumb.
- Your keyboard should be in your lap.
We evolved working with our hands in our lap. At a desk you should have a slight downward slope from your elbow to your wrists with your shoulders fully relaxed. If not, your shoulders will be lifting up all day to take the strain off of your wrists, or just make room for your arms to reach your computer. Most desks are made way too high, so you will probably have to lift up your chair quite a bit to be at the right height. Which means you will have to put something under your feet in order to:
- Have your knees slightly higher than your hips
When the knees are lower than the hips it pulls the lower back forward into an arch. As a quick foot rest you can grab a couple reams of copy paper and put them under your desk, or most of the big office supply stores sell sloped metal foot rests, which are easy to put your feet on and off of. I have a friend who freelances at different offices. She has a collapsable cardboard foot rest that she made that fits in her back pack and goes every where with her. Try to resist tucking your feet under your chair on it’s rungs – this will not solve the problem. The feet should be as close to under the knees as possible, with the legs even – not crossed and the feet flat on the floor.
- The screen should be in front of your eyes.
This is a hard one in the day of laptops where the screen is connected to the keyboard. Once you get up high enough above your desk you will be tempted to hunch back down to be in front of your screen. A temporary fix is to tilt your screen way back so you can at least look down at a comfortable angle. If you work on your laptop all day I suggest getting either an external keyboard or an external monitor so you can prop up the screen and have the keyboard lower.
- Get rid of your armrests
They will only tempt you to lean on them in weird and awkward positions. Change chairs, unscrew them, saw them off, whatever you have to do – they are not your friend.
- Change position
Even the most ergonomically correct position will overstrain some muscles if held too long. Have a balance ball or two in your office that you and your coworkers can use instead of your chair during parts of the day. The bouncing up and down this always induces also helps bring more blood flow to the brain. Or have a desk you can raise way up – or something you can prop your computer up on to stand periodically. If you can’t do either of these things, get up and walk and do a couple stretches every hour. I recommend drinking a glass of water every time you go to the bathroom. this will keep you going to the bathroom fairly regularly – giving you a chance to walk around, and keep you hydrated. Or set a timer on your computer or phone to go off every hour. Take an opportunity to get up and walk over to a coworker you need to talk to, instead of just emailing. Whatever you can do to give your muscles a chance to change position and get some blood flowing to them!
- Working from home is not an excuse
Freelances often have the worst habits, finding some odd corner of their house to cramp themselves into. Set up a few different spaces for yourself. And if you work on the couch (which can be great for having the keyboard in your lap) make sure you prop up your lower back so that your back is nice and straight, not rounded back into the couch. And tilt your screen back.
- Use a trackball mouse
If you use the mouse a lot this can put strain on the muscles behind the shoulder blade that have to work to move the mouse. Using a trackball mouse controlled by your thumb will eliminate this pain. Switch back and forth now and then to avoid overworking your thumb.
- Get massage regularly
Any repetitive position or movements puts strain on the muscles. Regular massage will help eliminate this stress, can cure and prevent carpal tunnel syndrome and chronic tendonitis, and help ease away all of the tension of that last big deadline.