Last updated on April 3, 2021.
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One thing that many of us didn’t expect this year is the amount of working from home that we would be doing. For some of us, it meant parting ways with our trusty office and desk chairs. Amongst the many challenges of working from home, one is the issue of finding a comfortable sitting position where we’ll likely be stationed at for hours.
We asked Australian Chiropractor and Founder of Central-based clinic UP!health, Dr. Michelle Zhou McCulloch, about what you may be doing wrong and how to maintain a good posture while working from home.
What makes a good sitting position?
A good sitting position means your body is neutral and supported, however no perfect position is designed for sitting for prolonged periods without changing. In reality, for an at home set-up, a variety of seating/positions should be considered to ensure that repetitive physical stress is not placed on the body. It is recommended to stand up and move every 30-40 mins and change your seating/position entirely every 2 hours or so.
Based on research, here are some important things to consider when understanding if a sitting position is right.
First of all, the amount of effort or muscle activity used to maintain a position. Too much effort will result in fatigue.
Secondly, the amount of stress on the joints. Too much stress can result in pain in the joints or the muscles around them.
Thirdly, where the joints are in terms of their range of motion. Awkward, or near end of range positions (like having your legs completely stretched out or crossed) can put more strain on the tissue around the joints.
And lastly, the amount of fidgeting you’re doing. It can be an early indication of discomfort which could later lead to pain.
What does a ‘good’ sitting position look like?
Ideally, your ‘trunk’ or back should be upright, with support (a cushion or a rolled towel) behind your back to prevent over-activity of your back muscles.
Your feet should be lying flat (and comfortably) on the floor or another surface with your knees at a 90 degree angle.
Your elbows should be bent at a 90 degree angle by your side, while your forearms are resting on the table (assuming you are typing on the keyboard). Not having your elbows by your side, or supported in another way, puts additional strain on the muscles in your shoulders and neck.
Your wrist should be in neutral, whether you are typing on a keyboard or using a mouse.
Your head should be facing forward with your eyes in line with your screen to avoid strain in your neck. If you use a laptop, a separate keyboard and mouse should be considered to allow the above position and angles to be achieved.
Remember to relax, we often don’t realise how much tension we are carrying in the shoulders when we are concentrating on our task – take a deep breath and reset those shoulders back to neutral position every now and then.
Where’s the best place to sit?
Many chiropractic and physiotherapy clinics are now starting to offer Telehealth consult for home ergonomic set up (as our clinic has), which can be considered if your working-from-home arrangement is likely a longer-term situation. Otherwise, we also recommend trying the following variety of seating options ranked from ideal to less ideal to switch up your position throughout the day. When testing out these different places try your best to follow as many of the ‘good sitting position’ tips we laid out before.
- Adjustable “office” chair – a chair with some lumbar support with adjustable height is the most ideal situation for home. This way you can adjust the height of your chair based on your table height, one key thing to remember here is your feet must be flat on the ground, and if your feet can’t reach the ground, try resting them on a small stool or a stack of books.
- Chair with back support (ie. dining room chair): This option is a good starting point to add some simple modifications to optimise. Adding a cushion or a rolled towel placed on the small of your back helps with keeping your spine neutral. If your dining room chair is hard, try sitting on some folded towels to prevent the pressure building up on your sitting bones. To make sure you don’t put strain on your neck ensure yourself that your laptop is at the right height on the table, you can always elevate the surface by propping it up.
- Chair without back support (ie. stool): This is an okay option, however with the lack of back support, it will mean you will need to engage your core and back muscles slightly to maintain upright position, so not more than 30 mins at each sitting period. Avoid slouching by thinking about lengthening with your head to the ceiling and keep your collar bones open and apart.
- The floor: after weeks of working from home you might want to try something entirely different, and that’s fine! Cross-legged position with both of your sitting bones even on the floor (pretend you are at yoga), core should be slightly engaged with focus on making your spine long and collar bones open. This is not a bad position to consider if you are just reading, ideally you shouldn’t try typing here as it will make you slouch by reaching forward.
- Standing: Perhaps you have a medium height cabinet or a baby change table that you can consider for this option at home! The height of the “table” should be guided by your height, ideally the key board should be at a level that allows your elbows to be bent at 90 degrees and by your side. Make sure you elevate your screen to your eye level and you maintain a micro-bend in both of your knees.
All in all, make sure you’re not slouching, keep your laptop at a comfortable level and listen to your body – it will tell you when you need to switch something up.
We hope that this guide will make working from home just that bit easier. Subscribe to our newsletter for more articles about health!
Dr. Michelle Zhou McCulloch is an Australian chiropractor that has been practicing in Hong Kong over a decade. She is the founder and clinic director of UP!health, a multidisciplinary health clinic located in Central. She is passionate in providing Chiropractic care to solve urban health concerns that arise from our busy lifestyle. Her special interest include maternity care, post-natal recovery and new-baby care.