Better Ergonomic: 8 steps to combat WFH backaches

A chat with Dr Ben on Ergonomics

Dr Ben from CHIROGENESIS will be diving deep into 8 exclusive tips to combat WFH backache. Simple and easy to follow. You would not want to miss this golden opportunity to get in touch with the founder of CHIROGENESIS!

A chat with Dr Ben - Improve Ergonomic: 8 steps to combat WFH backaches

Intro to Body Ergonomics

Disclaimer: I wanted to preface the below information to say that there is actually not a compelling body of scientific evidence that support the effectiveness of ergonomics. As important as “posture” is to one’s neuromusculoskeletal frame, there really are no good-quality studies evaluating the effectiveness of ergonomics.

When it comes to the improvement in one’s health in general, or specifically in a WFH context, the most educational tool is this:

“People have to be reassured that the main difference between those in a WFH situation who has any symptoms, regardless of severity, and those in whom is completely asymptomatic, has everything to do with their body’s ability to adapt to the changes, and this ability can be trained.” – Craig Liebenson, DC, editor of ‘Rehabilitation of the Spine’, a well-known practitioner’s manual for diagnoses and management of spinal disorders.

There are things that a person can do to control their symptoms by modifying their activities and training their ability to move in an agile manner.

Prolonged sitting during WFH is one of the most harmful activities that most people engage in in our modern society.

Get this. Our bodies were actually designed to move and not restricted in a chair when WFH. Commonplace neuromusculoskeletal complaints such as neck pain, headaches, low back pain and even the worst of it all, sciatica, are often due to the lack of proper movement.

The below tips & strategies are really founded on abiding by how our human bodies were designed to function, which is to move well.

What are the key ergonomic principles to remember when working at a computer?

More important than the plethora of brands of ergonomic-based chairs and accessories out there is the duration for which one sits.

Many people forget that gravity exists. “Poor gravity tolerance” due to WFH as highlighted by researchers can be the start of many common neuromusculoskeletal health problems.

When one is slouching when WFH, researchers have found that it takes only as short as 3 minutes and up to 20 minutes for one to experience overloading in their neck, mid-back, and lower back, and also negatively affecting respiration, increasing the risk of respiratory diseases occurring.

Regular breaks from sitting help to re-center one’s entire frame, allowing it to be re-calibrated with gravity.

Can you please share the main postural positions to be aware of when seated at a desk? Eg how to sit, placement of computer screen and keyboard/mouse, position of hands/arms etc.

1. Neutral low back (lumbar spine) curve. Neither overly arched or flattened (seen as the slouched posture).

2. Feet are flat on the floor. No crossing of legs at the level of the knees.

3. Seat height should be adjustable. The right seat height is achieved when feet are flat on the floor, without feeling a “compressive-type” strain behind the knees and in the “sit” bones – the bony structure that everyone has underneath their buttocks.

4. Shoulders should be able to relax with elbows bent at 90 degrees and the hands relaxed on the table surface.

5. Chin must be relaxed and neutrally tucked in.

6. Eyes must be levelled with the top line of the desktop screen.

What are some guidelines about adjusting a fully ergonomic chair (like Ergomeister)?

Is a standing desk better? How so?

Ultimate goal of static postures such as standing and sitting is “neutral” – as relaxed as possible, and not forced.

Seat-backrest angle should be anywhere from 95-105 degrees. This has been shown to significantly reduce disc pressure.
The Ergomeister chair has the function of sliding the seat forward and backwards. As long as the low back spine is neutral – neither overly arched or flattened.
Seat angle that is forward-sloping would increase lumbar curve and create higher disc pressures, which is not ideal.
Chairs without variable height adjustments may need to be complemented by a small stool or step.
Seat should have a slight depression for the buttocks for added stability.
Proper desk or table height should be 27-30cm above the seat

Compared with erect sitting or “sitting up straight”, a standing posture reduces disc pressures which could be helpful in most cases. With either standing or sitting, the ear, shoulder and hips ideally should line up.

What is the ideal height of a table (seated and standing) relative to one’s body proportions?

Regardless of body proportions, as long as the above parameters are achieved, it would be ideal for that person.

What are the benefits of using a treadmill desk or bike desk? How do these equipment benefit your posture/general wellbeing? Is there anything else to take note of when using this equipment?

Walking is a dynamic activity in itself, which would almost negate all possible dangers from static postures like standing and sitting.

What other ergonomic modifications can one make to improve the WFH situation? 

Set a timer to get up and move around every 30 mins, for just 2-3 minutes. Remember, duration is key.
Start the day with a good and safe functional-type workout, especially if you know you may be sitting in front of a computer for work for hours on end.
My personal favourite and goal for my patients is to workout (lightly) in between sitting or standing intervals. Resistance bands are a great choice. Disclaimer: light and easy workout only.

Is it worth it to invest in ergonomic office equipment?

Yes, only if you are committed to moving your body appropriately. It really boils down to this principle that we need to all live by – your body was designed to move. 
If you got no choice but to “make do” with whatever you have and still able to achieve all the aforementioned parameters, you would be much better off than a complacent and lazy individual on an expensive chair.
Good posture is not supposed to be expensive or hard. It just needs commitment.

What are the health benefits of adhering to ergonomics when working at a desk/using a computer?

Let’s just say that your brain actually is not capable of being healthy when it has to deal with a mundane, uni-dimensional, uni-planar and static lifestyle.
Move better and incorporate better ergonomics, and your brain will thank you for it.
I always tell my patients this, “Own your work. Don’t let your work own you.”

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