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7 tips for sitting at work (and stopping pain)

Ivy Rehab Sitting Desk Pain Back Neck 7 Tips
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Added on May 22, 2017

Poor posture and long periods of sitting are common in today's workplace. In fact, people spend about 2,000 hours per year sitting with poor posture! And because of modern workplace demands, it's usually difficult to re-adjust once you've become used to a certain position. It's even harder to find time to stand and walk throughout the day. Unfortunately, research shows sitting for long periods of time can increase the risk for obesity, heart disease and overall mortality. However, both proper positioning and taking breaks to move can reduce the risk of developing back pain, neck pain and musculoskeletal disorder.

Musculoskeletal disorders are disorders of the muscles, tendons or nerves, caused by repeated or aggravating body movement – like leaning forward to see your screen. Poor posture and sitting for long periods of time can cause irritation to the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, neck and back. This irritation caused by compressed nerves can cause damage and severe pain, increasing the risk for musculoskeletal disorders. Injuries related to workplace posture are known as "work-related upper limb disorder," "repetitive strain injury," or "occupational overuse syndrome."

Certain sitting alignment guidelines should be followed to reduce neck and back pain while at work. Follow these recommendations to help with posture, neck pain, hip pain and back pain:

  1. Feet should be supported on a flat surface.
  2. Hips and knees should be level and at angles close to 90 degrees.
  3. The spine should be vertical or reclined and the small arch in your back should be maintained.
  4. When sitting at a computer it is important to keep your shoulders down away from your ears, your elbows bent to 90 degrees, your wrists neutral, and your head facing forward.
  5. Computer screens should be an arm-length away and at the same height of your eyes.
  6. It is important to not bend forward to read the screen as this causes more stress on your neck.
  7. Relaxing muscles through proper breathing techniques is also important because tense muscles can be a source of pain.

It's important to get up and move around as much as possible. Our bodies are not meant to sit still in one place, day after day. If your office allows it, research shows that "sit-stand desks" decrease workplace sitting for one to two hours per day. You can also try "active workstations" such as treadmill desks or pedaling workstations, which look like bike pedals on a stand under your desk (to get your legs moving). Check out this article by USA Today for more information about active workstations.

To decrease the risk of musculoskeletal disorders from repetitive strain, it is recommended to get up from your workstation and take multiple breaks per day - even if the break is to just use the copy machine, grab a cup of water or file papers. It's important to stand up, stretch, and walk.

Try these easy tips to help reduce pain caused by sitting for long periods of time. If you're already in pain and want to visit a physical therapist to relieve your pain and teach you techniques for better posture, request an appointment here.

Patricia Bonatakis, SPT
Ivy Rehab in Union, NJ


AIHA Protecting Worker Health. An Ergonomics Approach to Avoiding Office Workplace Injuries and Illnesses. https://www.aiha.org/about-ih/Pages/an-ergonomics-approach-to-avoiding-office-workplace-injuries-and-illnesses.aspx. Accessed May 5, 2017.

Work Station and Posture Tips – The Spine Hospital at The Neurological Institute of New York. The Spine Hospital at The Neurological Institute of New York. http://columbiaspine.org/physical-therapy/work-station-and-posture-tips/. Accessed May 5, 2017.

Shrestha N, Kukkonen-Harjula KT, Verbeek JH, Ijaz S, Hermans V, Bhaumik S. Workplace interventions for reducing sitting at work. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD010912. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010912.pub3

Verhagen AP, Bierma-Zeinstra SMA, Burdorf A, Stynes SM, de Vet HCW, Koes BW. Conservative interventions for treating work-related complaints of the arm, neck or shoulder in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD008742. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008742.pub2




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