by Lisa Mulligan, DPT
While working from home may have its benefits, it can take a heavy toll on your posture. Among the many major adjustments we’ve all had to make during this time of COVID-19, there has been a big shift in daily routines to an at-home work climate. More active jobs have turned into stationary hours in front of the computer, frequent video conference calls, cramped work space, and “breaks” to check your phone and the onslaught of news that we just can’t stop reading.
How is your posture doing with all of this extra sitting and screen time?
Our guess is not so good. Poor posture can cause muscular imbalances and increased stress on the spine, leading to pain and musculoskeletal dysfunction. Neck pain, back pain, headaches, shoulder pain are just a few manifestations of poor posture that we see and treat in the clinic. But your posture can also affect how your vital organs are functioning as well as your stress levels. As your shoulders are rounded forward and your head shifts in front of the spine, the rib cage becomes tight and does not expand appropriately, decreasing your body’s oxygen intake. Prolonged poor posture may also cause heartburn, slowed digestion, constipation, poor circulation, fatigue to name a few.
So here are a few helpful tips to get started on the road to better posture and alignment:
1. Check your home work station ergonomics!
While your work situation may not be permanent, do yourself a favor and make your current workspace as ergonomic as possible. A few guidelines:
- The height of your monitor should be even with your eyes to reduce the incidence of forward head posture. Be creative, find something in the house that can lift up your laptop to eye level.
- Your arms should be parallel with the floor, and your keyboard at the same height as elbows and arms.
- If sitting, hips should be at 90 degrees with your feet flat on the floor. Lumbar support in your chair would be ideal.
- Consider sitting on a yoga ball for part of your day to activate core muscles while you work. Or consider a standing desk station to reduce hours sitting.
2. Change your position!
Little adjustments throughout your day can make a difference and interrupt the effect of sustained pressure on your spine and and weakening of muscles.
- Set an alarm to take breaks from sitting and stand up, walk around, refill your coffee, and reduce the pressure on your spine.
- Every so often, thinking about “resetting” your core. Take a deep breath into your diaphragm, exhale, and slowly pull your belly button in toward your spine, while lengthening the crown of your head toward the sky.
- After every hour, take a minute to draw your shoulder blades back and down, slightly pinching them together, thinking about lengthening your spine.
3. Home exercise program
In order to maintain good posture for the long run, it is important to strengthen the muscles that become elongated and weak from a poor sitting posture, and stretch what becomes tight.
- Strengthening exercises for the upper and middle back
- Strengthening your spinal extensors and glutes
- Exercises for core activation
- Stretching tight pecs and anterior shoulder muscles
- Self-mobilization for a stiff thoracic spine
Stay tuned for a video post with simple exercises to improve posture!