Phil’s Note: Over the last few months, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking how our body is not designed to spend all this time in a sitting position everyday, so when Adam sent me this post, I thought it’d be a great idea to share these practical tips with you.
Many of us spend our days at a desk or in front of a computer. Sure, that desk jockey lifestyle generates an income, but unfortunately it also generates a wide range of aches and pains.
If you’ve got lower back, neck, or hand and wrist pain, you’re not alone. These have become the badge of our profession.
It’s easy to write those pains off as “normal”, but they have a nasty way of accumulating over the course of a career, until they finally bloom into problems that are more than just minor irritations.
No one wants to end up with chronic pain. Fortunately, there’s something you can do about it—starting now.
Setting Up Your Workspace
Setting up your work space to minimize repetitive stress is a great place to start. This arrangement will also minimize eye strain.
Let’s start with a little dose of honesty, because wishful thinking never helped anyone…
You’re going to slouch. You’ll get caught up in your work, mentally tired, or any number of other things and your good posture will slip away along with your good intentions. But you should still strive for good posture and return to it every chance you get.
What is good seated posture?
- Feet flat on the floor.
- Knees bent at a 90 degree angle, or slightly more.
- The majority of your weight rests on your “sits bones.”
- An imaginary line drawn up the side of your body runs perpendicular to the floor, through your hip, shoulder, and the hole in your ear. Take a picture to see how close you are to this ideal. Pretending to stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling will also help.
- Sit tall in your chair with your shoulders back. Your head sits directly between your shoulders rather than sliding forward to sit over your lap. Mutant ninja turtles are cool, but desk jockey turtles are just geeks with bad posture.
- Elbows rest close to your sides, bent at or slightly greater than 90 degrees.
- Hands rest comfortably on your keyboard, similar to the angle they’d be in if you were resting them on your legs.
- Wrists are held neutral or bent back 15 to 20 degrees. The same advice holds true when using a mouse. Avoid reaching far to the front or off to the side for a mouse—it puts needless stress on your shoulder and neck.
- The top of your computer monitor is level with your eyebrows, and the screen sits directly in front of you.
- Set your chair at a height that allows all of the above to line up.
Hands and Wrists
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the desk jockey issue most people have heard of, and you probably know someone who struggles with it. Repetitive Stress Syndrome is another issue. Regardless of the condition that develops or the label that’s attached to it, hand and wrist pain is… well… a pain. And we’ve gotta do something about it.
Most wrist and hand pain happens when something goes wrong in the shoulder or neck. Stress generated in that area simply gets passed lower down the chain.
You’re likely to get the most relief by adopting good posture and addressing neck and shoulder problems, but here are some other things you can do to get some relief while working on those larger issues.
If you’re having problems with your wrists, ice them for 10-15 minutes. Put something between your skin and the icepack so you don’t get frostbite, and wait at least an hour between applications. If you experience discomfort with repetitive work, you’re probably creating inflammation. Icing is a simple and effective way to decrease that inflammation. And this brings me to the next point…
If you wear a wrist brace on your doctor’s recommendation and you’re using it when he or she instructed you to do so, ignore this paragraph. The rest of you, read closely. Almost all wrist braces are made to be worn at night, and only then. They’re rigid to prevent you from curling your hand under as you sleep (the curled hand can irritate your wrist by compressing the nerve and decreasing blood flow to the hand). Soft braces are typically designed for those with arthritis who might benefit from increased heat. Any other use of a wrist brace is most likely causing increased inflammation from the brace itself, and from your muscles fighting to move your wrist against that brace.
Neck and Shoulders
Neck and shoulder issues can range from tightness and tension to nerve compression and early degeneration. Here’s a simple exercise you can do for some quick relief.
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.
It might surprise you to learn that desk jockeys are athletes—or at least their bodies adapt to conditioning in the same way an athlete’s does. Don’t start cheering just yet… This isn’t exactly good news. All the sitting you do as a desk jockey trains your body to become very good at sitting. But being good at something doesn’t make it good for us. The following exercises will help loosen your back and free your body of its current chair-shape.
Shift to the front of your chair, slide your right foot back until your knee is pointing at the floor, contract your right glute to open your hip, and hold for 20-60 seconds. Repeat with the left leg.
Figure 8’s (best done at home or out of sight of others)
Trace figure-8’s with your rear end, and do a few 8’s in each direction. The 8 can be performed front to back, back to front, left to right, and right to left. Sure, this might cause anyone who sees you to giggle, but you’ll be impressed by how much it helps decrease low back stiffness.
So When Will You Start Feeling Better?
You can start performing these exercises right now, and repeat the ones that hit your specific trouble spots at least a couple times each day. Two to ten times is plenty for most people.
With most of the exercises, you will start feeling benefits rapidly and the benefits will only become greater as you keep doing them.