Tips for healthier sitting at work

by Cindy Binkley, FLT Columnist

Today, people are sitting for longer periods of time, working intensively with computers. Twenty years ago, the typical office worker spent a good portion of the day on the move, attending meetings, visiting other workers’ desks to confer or exchange papers, and walking to copy machines, mailboxes and communication points. Now, computers handle many of these activities, so you have fewer opportunities to get out of your chair.
We learn how to sit very early in life, before we master walking, talking, drinking coffee or using computers. However, when we grow up and start working in an office, sitting becomes more complicated, mainly because we do so much of it. A typical office worker may have to sit in pretty much the same position for hours at a time.
Sitting at work, especially if you use a computer, can be a real pain — literally. It can cause you to experience a broad range of ailments, including low back pain, aching shoulders, neck problems, pain in the wrists/lower arms and headaches. You risk feeling fatigued even when you’re well rested and you may experience problems with your eyes.
The human body is not designed for long-term sitting, so it is very important to sit with good posture. Having good posture means that the vertebrae of the lower back curves inward towards the abdomen. This curve provides structural strength that helps bear the weight of the upper back, shoulders and head. Sitting in an unsupported position misaligns the spine causing the vertebrae to curve the other way, rounding the back and putting uncomfortable pressure on the vertebral discs.
One way to avoid some of these problems is by using a good ergonomic chair. However, having a good chair can only help so much if you don’t know how to adjust it to fit you properly. A good chair can’t guarantee that you will not experience a repetitive strain injury, but it can make a big difference. The basic components of a good chair are: a contoured backrest that supports the natural lumbar curve, a seat back that adjusts up and down, a seat pan that tilts, a seat height that adjusts appropriate for the user, adjustable arm rests, and at least five casters to keep the chair balanced.
The most important thing is adjustment, adjustment and adjustment! Adjust your seat frequently throughout the day, to accommodate varying tasks, different heights of heels of your shoes or different computers. Sitting up straight allows you to take advantage of the lumbar support of the chair. This aligns your spine properly, decreasing the stress on your musculoskeletal and circulatory systems. If you sit on the edge of your seat or slump, you are missing out on the benefits of the chair’s ergonomic features.
Do you have a tendency to cross your legs or sit with a leg tucked under you? Not a good idea! Crossing your legs limits your circulation and can cause muscle strain. Sitting on a leg rotates your pelvis and puts your vertebrae out of alignment. Adjust the height of your chair and the depth of your seat pan so that your feet rest flat on the floor. If you are not able to reach the floor, use a foot rest.
To work most productively, you still need to take a break at least every 20 minutes, even if it is to stand up and stretch or vary your body’s position from time to time by changing tasks or shifting positions in your chair. Making the effort to improve your sitting posture isn’t easy but the results are worth the effort!
For more information, contact Cindy Binkley, CEO/Administrator at Central Park West Health Center at 419-841-9622, or go to the website at