Become Pain Free Now

Sitting At The Desk Too Much?

By Tami Coleman, PT, OCS, COMT, FAAOMPT

Does your job require you to spend the majority of your work day at a desk, on a computer or on the phone?  Does your passion for searching the internet, playing on-line games or reading tie you to your computer or iPad?  If so, your posture may be affecting the way that you feel.  I like to say that Bill Gates has changed the world in more ways than one as we all have become more dependent upon computers and PDA’s.  I spent several years of my career working in Seattle during Microsoft’s rise to fortune.  During that time I treated hundreds of software engineers who presented with multiple issues related to spending too much time on the computer, so I speak from experience!

The body part generally most affected by prolonged computer usage is the upper extremity, typically on the side that we use the mouse.  Symptoms may range from wrist and hand pain (carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis of the wrist and/or hand), elbow pain (usually called tennis or golfer’s elbow), shoulder pain (shoulder impingement, rotator cuff syndrome), neck and upper back pain (thoracic outlet syndrome) are just a few disorders that can manifest in the neck, upper back and arm from too much computer use.  Fortunately, most of these don’t come on quickly and one usually has many warning signs that something is not right before the symptoms peak.  Being aware of some signs and symptoms and becoming proactive if/when you become aware of them is very helpful in preventing a full course of pain and dysfunction that may ensue if the symptoms are ignored.  In other words, my advice is to consult your doctor and physical therapist before the symptoms peak.

Some important tips to help with sitting at the computer:

  1. PROPER DESK ERGONOMICS.  It is vitally important that one has the proper desk, chair, keyboard, computer and mouse alignment.  (CAN PUT A PICTURE HERE).  Ideally, the computer should be placed on the desk so that the user can look directly at the screen.  A pull out keyboard is helpful so that the elbows can rest comfortably at the side and you don’t have to reach forward for the mouse.  An additional mouse tray may also be used.  The chair should support the natural curves of the spine and one should sit firmly on their “sit bones” – not too erect or too slouched.  A lumbar cushion  placed in the small of the back or a small towel roll placed at the bra line may also be helpful.  If you wear bifocals, make sure that you don’t have to “pivot” your head up and down to properly use your glasses to see the screen.
  2. FREQUENT POSTURE CHECKS.  The two that I like to use are the breastbone lift and the pelvic rock.  With the breastbone lift, you inhale deeply feeling your ribs and breastbone lift upward.  Upon exhalation, you allow the shoulders to relax but keep the breastbone elevated upward.  A good way to double check this is to not allow your breastbone to drop towards your belly button.  The pelvic rock is also simple.  Allow your pelvis to rock all the way forward as you come to rest forward on your pubic bone.  Now allow your pelvis to rock all the way backward as you come to rest backwards on your tail bone.  Now find the middle between the two at the “sit bones” and maintain this neutral spine position for your prolonged sitting.  In either of these posturally correct positions it is challenging to “slump” down in your chair.
  3. GET UP OFTEN.  Don’t allow the computer to suck you in, as they have a tendency to do.  We get so engrossed in the activity that we are doing that the time goes by and proper posturing tends to go right along with it.  I encourage my patients to get up hourly for a little stretch.  That should include a little walk around the office or to the rest room.  Do some shoulder rolls, some corner stretches, some forearm stretches – anything to move and stretch tight tissues.
  4. TAKE A SMALL BREAK AT LUNCH.  I strongly encourage a small, brisk walk during the lunch break.  Please do not eat your lunch at your desk!  You need to pump some blood and get out of the seated position even if for a few minutes.  Get moving!
  5. START EXERCISING.  If you sit for a living the long term effects of that can be potentially devastating.  One can gain weight, become diabetic, develop heart disease, become arthritic…..the list goes on and on.  The best way to deal with the sedentary work day is to exercise outside of the job for at least 30 minutes per day.  To put it simply, when one sits at a desk for prolonged periods of time their hips get tight, their spine gets stiff and their chest muscles outperform their upper back muscles.  Exercise that moves the stiff joints and develops the strength in the upper back muscles are very important to combat the sedentary work style.

In Motion OC is here to help you.  Our staff of physical therapists is educated in the disorders that can result from too much computer work and can help you recover from pain that you may be experiencing.  If you are looking for ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, the fitness staff can help you with that.  We offer Fitness Camps to coordinate with your busy work schedule or Personal Training for more individualized workouts.  We also have an incredibly effective Postural Program, which can be done in our clinic or remotely from anywhere via Skype.  It’s time to get In Motion!

In Motion O.C.