Chances are, if you are sitting down at your computer reading this, you're hunching a bit. When was the last time you thought about ways to improve posture while working at your desk?
Poor Posture Can Cause Pain
Posture is an important player in overall health and appearance. Poor posture can lead to pain in your back and neck, and "can affect the position and function of your abdominal organs, inhibit breathing and oxygen intake and cause headaches," according to Harvard Medical School.
Back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health. Typically, a healthy spine runs straight for its entire length with three curvatures — a slight forward curve in the neck called the cervical curve; a backward curve on the upper portion called the thoracic curve or thoracic kyphosis; and a forward curve on the lower part of the spine called the lumbar curve or lordosis. If any of these curves are out of whack due to poor posture, this can cause pain and rounding of your back, which can lead to serious medical issues down the road.
Neck muscles can also become strained by poor posture. Think about it, if you are hunched over at your computer all day or sitting at your desk with your shoulders slouched while on conference calls, or your neck is crooked while talking on the phone, this can cause neck pain. Common symptoms of neck strain are pain that worsens when holding your neck in one place for too long, such as during computer work; neck muscle tightness or spasms; the inability to move your neck easily; and/or headaches.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may need to find ways to improve posture.
How To Assess Your Posture
Consider these ways to evaluate your posture:
Stand Up Against a Wall: Harvard Medical School advises you to stand "with your back to the wall and your heels three inches from the wall; place one hand flat against the back of your neck with the back of it against the wall. Place your other hand against your lower back, palm facing the wall." Are you able to move your hands forward and backward easily more than an inch or two? If so, then you may need to adjust your posture.
Look in a Mirror: In front of a full-length mirror, stand with your head straight and your ears level. If your shoulders, hips and the spaces between your arms and sides are even, then your posture is good. Your kneecaps should point straight ahead, relaxed — if they are locked in place they can hyperextend, which can cause injury. Are your ankles straight? If they roll in, your weight will fall on the inside of your feet, which can cause ankle pain and poor alignment that can affect your knees, hips and back.
While Working at Your Desk: If you've made the smart move to a standing desk, there are few key things to think about to keep your posture in check. Keep your whole body, head, neck, torso, and legs, in a vertical line. Put your monitor at a healthy distance — it should be an arm's length away (about 20 inches) and at or just below eye level. According the Mayo Foundation for Education and Research, the height of your desk should allow your wrists to be straight, and your hands should be at or below elbow level with your arms close to your body when typing. Use a headset or speaker for phone calls to avoid cricking your head and neck.
Stand Up More for Your Health
Periods of extended sitting can be harmful to both your posture and your health. Research has shown that sitting without any physical activity throughout the day posed just as great a mortality risk as obesity and smoking. However, moderate physical activity — to the tune of 60 to 75 minutes a day — can lower health risks, according to Mayo Clinic.
Mayo Clinic also recommends standing more while working. One way to accomplish this is with a standing desk, which allows you to be on conference calls, schedule appointments and answer emails while upright. A standing desk also allows you to stretch your back, neck and shoulders. Standing and moving your legs will help your focus and mental health throughout the day, too.
Taking breaks from sitting has shown to benefit metabolic profiles among adults, including lower waist circumference, body mass index (BMI), triglyceride and blood sugar levels.
These are all things worth standing up for.