What is the correct posture for working at a table?
You want to first start with your hips and then everything else will follow. If your hips are sitting at a more relaxed posture, as in about 110 degrees, your knees will then follow. Keep your elbows relaxed and resting on the table at 90-100 degrees. It is better if you don’t use the arm rests of your desk chair, so you are able to tuck in more and keep your arms relaxed on the desk. Keep your ankles in a relaxed plantar-grade (neutral) position.
Feet should always be in touch with the ground. If they can’t reach, use a small foot-rest or stool.
If you’re using an external keyboard, try and clip back the pegs, so your hands rest on the keyboard in more a relaxed, neutral position. This helps reduce muscle strain on your forearm extensors.
When your arms are resting on the desk to the keyboard and mouse, you still want a small bend in your elbows and have them relatively centred to your body. Try and avoid reaching out too far for the mouse, as this can strain the shoulder over time. Ensure that the keyboard and mouse are closer to your body when using them.
What if you're working at your kitchen table? How can you create an ergonomic space?
Try to make your table more of a ‘desk space’ and ensure you’re not sitting directly looking into glare. Space out your notes, phone, pens, electronics, etc evenly on the table so they’re not overly cluttered to one side.
For the table, if you are using a laptop, try and get your hands on an external keyboard and mouse. These are very cheap to buy and the portable nature of them allows you to easily pack it away when not being used.
Creating a more office desk-like appearance on the table you’re using can allow you to position yourself more ergonomically for longer periods of time without straining your neck and postural extensors. A laptop isn’t meant to be used for lengthy periods.
Setting up your laptop on a shoe-box or small crate will allow the screen to be more in front of you, without straining your head forward. That way you have a relaxed positioning to the keyboard and mouse as well as a neutral head position whilst looking at the screen.
The dining chair is fine to use, as long as you feel supported and can sit back into the backrest and ensure your postural muscles are in an active state.
How should you sit on your chair?
A lot of people are still under the idea that sitting tall and upright is the only way to sit, with knees and hips at the 90 degree angle. However, this tends to over-work your postural extensor muscles in your back, causing them to fatigue and in turn making you lose that battle against gravity throughout the day.
You want to be sitting back into the chair so your entire back is supported. Ensure you’re sitting at a reclined position. Gravity will actually support you in a more relaxed posture if your shoulders are rested on the back of the chair. This will ease the strain of your muscles and joints throughout the day.
Is it worth investing in an office chair during this time?
Absolutely. There are plenty of options out there at all price points We invest a lot of our day working and sitting, so it is worth obtaining a desk chair that will suit your home office environment.
It doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles. But as long as it can adjust to a recline, support your entire back, adjust the height and be sturdy for prolonged periods of sitting, it is definitely worth getting. It will also help get you in the right frame of mind when working from home, feeling like more of an office setting.
If you don’t have an office chair, what’s the next best thing?
A dining table chair with an added lumbar support can serve you well. Ensure you feel comfortable and are using the backrest to support you as you’re tucked in and are close to the desk contents and computer.
You may want to get a towel, roll it up and place it between the backrest and small of your back. This can provide a make-shift lumbar support and help you relax a little more in to a supported recline when sitting.
Can you work from bed or your couch?
You definitely can, but for short amounts of time. I always say, your best posture is your next posture. So if you can alternate your postures when working, that is great.
Bed and couches are soft and comfortable, maybe even a little too comfortable – which is why we can lose track of time and be in the same position for too long, in turn causing muscle aches and joint pain. I suggest switching it up throughout the day of desk chair and couch.
The human body isn’t designed to be in the one position all day long. By taking a break and having a stretch every thirty minutes or switching it up between sitting and standing, couch and bed – you’re giving your joints a break from overloading in the one sedentary position throughout the day.
Where should the computer screen sit?
Directly in front of you, one arm’s length away from your body. Ensure there isn’t any direct glare on the computer screen either.
Your eyeline should fall on the top third of the screen. Your neck should be neutral when looking at the screen.
If you have two screens, check they are in front of you and not angled too differently from each other. If one is a desktop monitor and the other is a laptop, try and place a small shoe box, a few books or get your hands on a laptop stand so both monitors are at an equal height.
What's the best table to work at?
Look for a table that has a height of approximately 71-76cm. The average desk is 73.5cm. You want to be able to sit comfortably at the table and be able to tuck in. This may mean if you have a desk chair, removing the armrests, as they can block you from tucking under the table/desk and getting closer to the desk and keyboard.
Can you DIY a standing desk?
Absolutely. If you can start with a sturdy table you're using, you can place another small and light bench or table to have your laptop/screen on top and your keyboard underneath. Ensure you’re in a relaxed position with your shoulders and neck. Everything should feel and look neutral with your positioning and hands on the keyboard as you look at the screens.
What exercises should I try?
I have three go-tos when you’re at the desk. These can be performed whilst sitting. Aim for about 10-15 controlled repetitions of each, ideally every 1-2 hours throughout your work day.
1. Sitting thoracic rotations
2. Double chin tucks
3. Sitting cat/cow
When is it time to see a physiotherapist?
I always suggest the 48 hour rule. If you have tried a few stretches, alternating your posture and have tried to eliminate what you think may be causing your pain and nothing has changed with your symptoms in 48 hours, then it is time to see a physiotherapist.
For more information, head to The Office Athlete.