It’s a common myth that all of our posture problems will be resolved by simply replacing the chair we sit on. It’s true, a high quality ergonomic chair can help with postural problems, but how you sit in your ergonomic chair is just as important as the chair itself.
Even the most expensive ergonomic chair can’t fix a bad posture if you don’t receive the right advice about sitting in it correctly. If you aren’t sitting properly at your desk, and you aren’t taking regular breaks there’s every chance your posture will suffer. There’s an art to sitting correctly, and that combined with a good ergonomic chair, good workstation set up, and regular breaks from sitting, will all contribute to promote good posture and keep you out of pain.
If your work involves sitting at a desk all day and working on a computer, you’ll want to read this guide on the art of sitting in ergonomic harmony.
Why an ergonomic chair is important
No two bodies are the same. Even those of us that are the same height will have different length thighs and shins, different length spines and different lumbar curves. Some of us may also already have postural problems that need to be addressed.
An ergonomic chair is important simply because it offers a wide variety of adjustments to ensure the chair can be fitted to suit your body shape, any injuries you have, and how you work at your desk. A correctly adjusted chair will help to reduce any strain on your back and keep you seated in the optimum position to support good posture. Ergonomic chair adjustments include:
• Chair recline tilt
• Seat angle tilt
• The seat height
• Seat depth
• Backrest angle
• Armrest height
• Armrest width
How to sit in your chair correctly
It’s a common misconception that you must sit up rigidly straight. The art of sitting at your computer is actually centred around having the right support. Your chair needs to be adjustable and fitted to suit you at your workstation.
To ensure you are in the best position:
• Push your hips as far back as they can go in the chair (there should be a 2-3 finger gap between the back of the knee and the seat of the chair).
• Adjust the seat height, so feet are flat on the floor and your knees are slightly lower than your hips. Sitting cross-legged is a big no-no.
• Adjust the back of the chair so it supports your upper and lower back, is comfortable and promotes an active, erect posture.
• Adjust your armrests so that your arms rest comfortably and your shoulders are relaxed. The elbows and lower arms should rest lightly, and the forearm shouldn’t be on the desk while typing.
How to set up your workstation correctly
As well as your chair, you’ll want to make sure your workstation is set up to support good posture. Here are some tips:
• Positioning your computer screen: place your screen at eye level at about an arms’ length away. Your eyes should look very slightly downwards when viewing the middle of your screen. You may need a monitor stand.
• Positioning and using your keyboard: place your keyboard in front of you when typing. Leave a gap of four to six inches at the front of the desk to rest your wrists between bouts of typing.
• Positioning and using your mouse: position your mouse and use it as close to you as possible. You may want to invest in a mouse mat with a wrist pad, or an ergonomically designed mouse.
• Avoid screen glare: position your computer screen so it doesn’t reflect overhead light. Pull blinds over windows to protect from sunlight. Also, adjust the screen’s brightness and contrast.
• Avoid reaching or twisting: place objects you need within easy reach. Repeatedly stretching or twisting to reach telephones, staplers etc. will put unnecessary strain on your back.
• Avoid phone strain: if you spend a lot of your day on the phone, switch to a headset.
• Take regular breaks: don’t sit in the same position for prolonged periods. Take frequent short breaks to move around and change your posture.
Common posture problems caused by sitting incorrectly at work
• Computer back (posterior cervical dorsal syndrome). Essentially it’s excessive curving of the back and rounded shoulders from slouching over a keyboard.
• Mouse shoulder. Severe pain and spasm in the shoulder from inappropriate positioning and use of a computer mouse.
• Carpal tunnel syndrome. Compression of the median nerve in the wrist causing tingling and numbness in the hands and fingers.
• Tennis elbow. Tendonitis in the outside area of the elbow.
• Lumbar sprains and strains. Lower back and hip pain as a result of the high loads placed on the spine during sitting.
• Disc injuries. Sprain of the fibres of the intervertebral discs (the cushions between the spinal joints)
How to avoid postural problems
The three steps to avoiding postural problems are:
1. Invest in a good ergonomic chair, and have it set up for you by an ergonomics expert.
2. Have a workstation assessment to ensure you are set up to work in the optimum position.
3. Take regular breaks.