I think we’re all aware that people are going more than a little cabin crazy due to the long periods of COVID-prompted lockdown. Studying while in lockdown, I’ve noticed that a much higher percentage of my diet has become ice cream. It’s not for the best, I admit. This is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the health effects of being increasingly cooped up inside. I’ve had some back pain from sitting and studying all day, and it prompted me to do some thorough research about how to alleviate problems from sitting. Let’s talk about spines, people.
Ensuring that your spine along with its surrounding tissues are well supported when you sit for long periods, whether studying or working or just watching Netflix in your dorm, will reduce the load on your back, neck, and supporting joints. Back pain from lockdown is becoming a pandemic in it’s own right.
I’ve summarized down all the points that my physiotherapist has taught me. And yes, my back pain has gone away!
Ensure your upper arms are positioned parallel to your spine
When sitting at your desk, your upper arms should be positioned parallel to your spine. Your forearms should rest comfortably on the desk. When sitting in this position, the angles between your upper arms and forearms should be 90 degrees. If the angles are bigger or smaller, lower or heighten your chair as appropriate. If your arms are placed uncomfortably low or high, your upper back and shoulder joints will have to endure excess pressure which can lead to pain. Learning about the neutral sitting style can really help you here and is a part of the basics many people miss.
Ensure your chair is at the correct height for smooth sit-to-stand movement
If your chair is too low, every time you get up you’ll have to bend your upper body more, putting your knees, hips, and ankle joints under increased stress. Over time, using a chair that is positioned too low will stress the joints and eventually cause joint pain. The correct height for an office chair is the height at which your feet can be easily placed flat on the ground allowing for 90-degree angles at your hip and knee joints.
Get a footstool
Some desks and chairs can’t be adjusted. If your chair or desk is at an uncomfortable height, a footstool can be used to prop up your feet so they aren’t left hanging in the air. A footstool will also reduce stress in your feet and legs, which could help you avoid foot pain at the end of the day.
Adjust desk height to better align with your height
Tall people often find that they have to repeatedly bend forward when typing or reading printed material at their desks. If you are a tall person, simply heightening your desk could make a massive difference to your back health. When your desk is raised, you’ll be able to adjust your office chair to a more comfortable height for your body.
How deep is your chair?
While not something you might not consider right away, the depth of your chair can have a big impact on whether or not you start to experience back pain. Measure the distance between the front lip and back edge of your chair to find out how deep it is. When you are sitting all the way back in your chair, there should be enough room to fit a fist between your calf and the front lip of the chair. If you can’t fit a full fist there, your office chair is too deep and might be hindering your blood circulation. If you don’t want to get a new chair, then try placing a rolled-up towel, old pillow, or cushion at the back of the chair. If your chair can do it, then moving the backrest forward may solve the problem.
Adjust the back support and swivel mechanisms on your chair
To provide adequate back support, the backplate on your chair should angle at or just over 90 degrees. Some office chairs have excessive recline and swivel mechanisms that can be locked to stop the chair from tipping over. Some workstation chairs also feature an adjustable lower back support band that can be raised or lowered to fit into the small of your back for additional support.
Take a closer look at your sitting posture
Stop slouching or slumping, and start making a conscious effort to ensure your bottom is pressed firmly against the chair’s back. While slouching may feel comfortable in the moment, it places your lumbar discs under extra pressure and can result in pain in the long run. When it comes to a healthy spine, being consistent with ergonomic posture maintenance is vital. To help you remember to keep your back well supported when at your desk, be sure to take a short break at least once an hour to walk around.
Is your computer screen at the right height?
Once you have got your desk and chair adjusted to the right height, it’s time to consider the position of your computer screen. If your screen is at the right height when you are sitting in an ergonomically correct position in your chair, your eyes should naturally focus on the center of the screen. If your screen is too high or low, adjust it so that it is level with your gaze. If you are working from a laptop, you might need to invest in a USB or wireless keyboard to allow you to raise the height of the laptop screen.
Position chair armrests for shoulder support
While not all chairs have armrests, when adjusted properly, armrests can help to reduce shoulder and neck strain and stop you from slouching forward when sitting at your desk. Your chair’s armrests should be positioned so that your arms are slightly lifted at each shoulder joint. In this position, the armrests will function to remove some of the weight of your shoulders while supporting your elbows.
I really wish I had the time to explore all this before I started cramming for exams last year, because my back was killing me in the final exam! As soon as I stopped studying, the back pain went away after a few days, so that was great. Since then, I’ve had time to find all this out, so I’m prepared for my next marathon study session.