Think about it, aside from sleeping where else do you spend six to ten hours a day? Getting your office set up ergonomically is a great start to working in a physically healthy environment. This article explores what is the often overlooked -the importance of body posture while using your ergonomic set up.
Having your work station ergonomically fit to to your body is a great start; unfortunately, many people end at this starting point. Your fancy new office makeover is only as healthy as how you use it; especially during those extra long work days when its hard to find a comfortable position to be productive.
Ironically, your ergonomic setup relies on healthy habits that many have not learned, or had ample practice with. These habits are all centered on a powerful word: Posture.
Please don't just default to the cop-out: "I'll just remember next time to sit up straight, and I've got that covered." Posture is less one specific position, and more a dynamic collection of good habits.
Having good postural habits is a bit like learning how to position your body for an optimal golf swing, or noticing when playing tennis how your swing is affected by your leg stance. Except posture habits in the office can cross over to sports, housework, business meetings, and every part of life. Learning good postural habits helps to remove vulnerable positions from your lifestyle; in the ways you walk, squat, stand, sit, and lounge (yes, lounging on the couch can actually be done with good posture).
Now, getting to the point, because your posture reading this article has already probably started to deteriorate; your chin may be jutting forward, and you may have started to begin the very habitual flexing forward of your low back. In this article I am covering central topic of back posture (spinal posture).
Spinal posture is at the center of our body, and it affects the position of all our joints. The spine is a moveable system of bones protecting the vital communication highway of the body: the spinal cord. Our spines develop with natural curves that help disperse the load of the body, as well as give aesthetic appeal to the body. The neck and low-back have a forward curve (lordotic curve), and the mid-back has a backward bending curve (kyphotic curve). There are natural variances in sizes of the these curves in humans.
Commonly today hi-tech workers, executives, marketers, and sales staff, have have had some ergonomic training or evaluations. Often these programs neglect to educate the employee why and how to sit in positions that respect these natural curves in our spine.
Many people begin with common habits such as slumping forward in the chair (thinking it feels more comfortable, and puts you closer to the computer). This slumping forward often creates an unnatural flexed position in the lumbar spine and can actually increase pressure on the vertebral discs. A better more natural position would be to move your rear to the back of your seat and use the lumbar support of your chair letting your low back rest on.
Now shrug your shoulders up, backward, and downward; as you breathe in a deep breath expanding your chest upward, and out. Let your arms relax in this general position of back and down. Next, bring your heck and head backwards slightly so they are centered over your spine. This may feel uncomfortable at first but with time and mastery you should be able to use this position to relax in, while using the chair as a supportive tool for your good posture. This position, using the lumbar support, I call the "Relaxed Stance". It is most useful for more relaxed work activities such as reading, talking, and doing things that don't involve lots of active computer work and arm and torso movements.
Any single position head for long enough can actually start to have negative affects on the body, even good postures. Using multiple variations of seated positions while keeping your spine in a neutral posture can help to add activity, and variation, while maintaining healthy posture.
In the next article we will explore using the front of your chair for more active engagement with your computer, paperwork, or other desk dominant activities.
-Isaac Borowiec D.C.
-disclaimer this is not medical advice, and not intended to replace any consult with a chiropractor, medical doctor, or other medical professional.