This is a guest post by Kathryn Woodall, DC of deskjockeyfit.com.
If you’re like me, you probably spend a lot of your work day sitting in front of a computer. Some of our time there entertains us and keeps us in touch with friends, but much of the day is spent working to pay the bills, invest in the future, and have a little fun as we make our way through life.
Unfortunately, no matter how fulfilling your job might be, there are hidden hazards to office work that we seldom consider. Sitting all day takes an enormous toll on your physique. Do nothing about it over the course of your career, and you could end up chair-shaped.
I’m serious. Take a look around your office. How many of your coworkers are slouched with their heads jutting forward toward their monitors?
It’s just poor posture, and almost everyone in the office looks that way. It’s not really a big deal, right?
Why Are Slumping Shoulders Bad?
Spending a lot of time in that posture can contribute to:
- Shoulder tension and pain: The average head weighs 8 to 12 lbs (or 3.6 to 5.4 kg). Forcing your shoulder and neck muscles to hold the weight of a large bowling ball in front of them is a tremendously difficult task. It’s no wonder they can’t keep up!
- Headaches: In addition to the tension being spread beyond your neck and shoulders, you can actually cause irritation to the joints in your neck, and ultimately to your nerves. If this occurs at a site close to your head, it can result in a nasty headache.
- Fatigue: When you hunch over your desk, your lungs have less room to move, and you get less air. Less air slows down everything, including your metabolism, focus, and productivity.
- Impingement syndromes: This is just a fancy name for your nerves being compressed. Carpal Tunnel is an impingement syndrome. While slouched shoulders don’t cause carpal tunnel syndrome directly, sometimes the nerves at the base of your neck can become compressed, and the pain you feel is a lot like it. Occasionally the pain even runs from your neck all the way down to your fingertips.
- Permanent hunch: Years of slouching can result in early spinal degeneration. It can actually leave you hunched like that for the rest of your life. We’ve all seen older people who can no longer stand or sit straight. They drive by peering through their steering wheel because they can’t lift their head to see over it. These folks weren’t always that way. Remember: Your actions today shape the person you’ll be in the future.
- Less visual appeal: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best. Standing and sitting tall is physically attractive. It’s the sort of posture that commands a room. The simple act of sitting tall will also make you look thinner.
Poor work posture doesn’t sound so harmless anymore, does it?
But don’t worry, we can fix it before you end up chair-shaped for life.
Three Exercises To Fix That Desk Jockey Hunch—And Make You Feel Great!
Yes, some or all of the bad stuff above could happen to you if you slouch. But it doesn’t mean it has to happen…
Here are three quick exercises to help relieve the tension and restore healthy function.
It’s easier to do this one if you’re standing, but you might be able to do it at your desk depending on the shape of your chair.
- Stand tall, reach both hands behind you and clasp them together at the base of your low back. Then gently push your hands toward the floor. Your shoulders will automatically “square” and your chest will expand as you do so.
- Take five slow, deep breaths and push your hands a bit further down with each inhale. Even if you can’t actually reach further down or move only the tiniest amount, try to push your hands toward the floor anyway. It’ll deepen the stretch.
- After five breaths, relax and release your hands.
- Repeat this sequence at least twice a day. Keeners can do it as often as once an hour.
This Is a Stick Up:
Remember making snow angels as a kid? This exercise looks like a combination snow angles and someone getting robbed in a Western. Stick ‘em up!
- Find a bare wall. It has to be a wall and not the floor. If you use the floor, gravity will add too much of a stretch for some people.
- Stand with your back and head touching the wall. If you can’t hold your head against the wall, move it as close as you can and keep working to get it there over the next several days to months. Get as close as you can for now.
- Bring your feet back so your heels are also touching the wall.
- With your hands hanging at your sides, touch the wall with the backs of your hands and your elbows.
- Pull your shoulders down away from your ears, and keep them down throughout the entire sequence.
- Bring your hands up toward your shoulders into that stick up position, and then continue until they’re straight overhead, or as high as you can get them without removing your heels, back and head from the wall.
- Lower your arms until your elbows are at your sides. Your hands are still pointing up, and you’re in that “stick ‘em up” position again.
- Squeeze your elbows into your sides. Hold the contraction for 20-30 seconds.
- Relax to the beginning position, rest for up to a minute between reps, and repeat this entire sequence 5 times.
- Remember to keep your shoulders pulled down away from your ears throughout the exercise.
This sequence can be also done while seated at your desk. But you should do it against the wall at least some of the time to gauge your progress. If you’re doing it at your desk, look where your hands are going before you start, and to sit as tall as you can.
You’re going to slouch at your desk. It’s inevitable. You’ll get caught up in work or mentally tired and your “perfect” posture will silently slip away, along with your good intentions.
Don’t sweat it, and don’t beat yourself up over it. Just notice it and return to good posture every chance you get.
So what exactly is good seated posture?
- Feet flat on the floor.
- Knees bent to 90 degrees or slightly more.
- Weight resting on your “sits bones.”
- An imaginary line drawn up the side of your body runs perpendicular to the floor and through your hips, shoulder, and the hole in your ear.
- Elbows are at your sides and bent to slightly more than 90 degrees. Keep them at your sides even while using your keyboard or mouse. Nothing irritates a shoulder faster than sitting with your arms too far forward all day.
- Hands rest on your keyboard with little to no bend at the wrist. The same is true when using a mouse.
- The monitor sits directly in front of you, and the top of the screen lines up with your forehead.
Pretending to stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling helps you maintain good seated posture. So does taking a picture of yourself to see how you stack up.
One last tip…
Get a phone app with an alarm and reminder, or program Outlook to go off exactly one hour after you sit down. When the reminder goes off, sit tall again. And snooze it for an hour. Do this for the rest of your work day.
How Long Will It Take To See Improvement?
Depending on how long you’ve been slouching and the changes this has caused in your body, it could take days to months to see a lasting change. That being said, most desk jockeys will feel some immediate relief after performing these exercises. The shoulder release will be a quick change, and the “stick up” will be noticeable both immediately and in the long term. Sitting straight might feel awkward at first, but it’s the key to long term benefit.
The sooner you start improving your posture, the sooner you’ll see results. Stop what you’re doing right now and perform a set of these exercises. Then come back and let us know how you did by leaving a comment below.
And if you’d like to learn how to turn yourself into an indestructible desk jockey, please visit me at www.deskjockeyfit.com.