In our increasing technological age, I am noticing an increase in patients who present to Physical Therapy with problems and complaints of pain related to working at a desk. Prolonged sitting can lead to many ailments most notably neck, low back, and shoulder pain. Prolonged sitting has also been linked to increased obesity, high blood pressure, as well as increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Physical Therapy is seeing an influx of younger and younger patients who present with postural related pain; patients in their 30s, 20s and some in their teens. The popularity of cell phones is exacerbating this issue as a majority of us spend multiple hours a day looking down at our phones, sometimes with our chin on our chest. 

Here are a few tips I provide all my patients who perform desk-work: 

  • It’s all about 90 degree angles. First make sure your feet are flat on the ground with the knees bent at a 90 degree angle (If you have short legs, try placing a step stool or large book on the ground in front of your chair). 
  • Next make sure you are sitting back in your chair and your hips are at a 90 degree angle between your thigh and trunk. Most office chairs provide little lumbar support. Place a lumbar roll, small pillow, or rolled up towel horizontally across your lumbar spine and reassess that you are at that 90 degree hip angle. You can also try placing the roll vertically down your spine. Use whichever feels better. 
  • Upper arms should be at your side with another 90 degree bend at the elbow. Ideally your forearms are supported by arm rests or your desk to avoid strain of upper shoulder and neck muscles. 
  • Once you have your chair in the correct position, take a look at your computer. Your keyboard should be in proper position directly in front of you and not too far away to affect your elbow angle. Computer screen should also be directly in front of you with the top of the screen at eye level. This will allow you to maintain head in neutral alignment, with the weight of your head above your neck, without flexing the cervical spine. 

These steps should ensure that you are in a fairly neutral alignment to decrease excessive strain on your joints, ligaments, and muscles. However, it is important to note that our bodies crave movement. Be sure to stand at least once every 30 minutes. Set a repeating alarm on your phone if you need the reminder. If you take cell phone calls, try standing and walking around your office while talking. If you are lucky enough to have a standing desk at work be sure to use it for, at minimum, half of your day. Standing, moving, and exercise can help reverse the harmful effects of prolonged sitting. 

And of course, we take our own advice. Say, “Hi” to Caitlin Kremer PT, DPT in the The Loop: