April 2017 dinner report: Our Bodies, Ourselves: Workplace Ergonomics with Osteopath Claire Richardson

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by Jessica Hoadley

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Claire Richardson demonstrating a stretch. Photo: Sophie Dougall

As I sit here, I check my feet are flat on the floor, my elbows are at a right angle (oops, not quite, pull my chair in a bit closer) and my neck is not jutting forward towards the screen.

At the 6 April 2017 Editors Victoria dinner meeting, we learnt these alignment tips alongside many others to help us keep our ‘desk-bound’ bodies pain-free.

Claire immediately dispelled the hype about sitting being the new smoking – they are not comparable. Sure, sitting in the same position for long periods is problematic, but smoking is never a good thing!

The most important thing she wanted us to take home is that it’s the time spent in one position that can do us harm. That means changing position every 30 minutes. Our muscles start to fatigue after about half an hour of holding us in a certain position, and need a break (30 seconds of standing up and stretching, a trip to get a glass of water, or even banging out a couple of squats to get the blood moving). This doesn’t mean taking a ten-minute break every half hour … just a shift of our muscles before we settle into the next position.

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Practising movement at the dinner. Photo: Sophie Dougall

Symptoms of our ‘chair’ culture include headaches and muscle aches and pains, and, further down the track, more serious disc and joint issues. The computer worker can present with weak neck flexors (hence the head ‘jutting’ forward), tight pectorals (contributing to the ‘rounding forward’ of the shoulders) and weak abs from sitting slouched all day. Also, ‘text neck’ is the new moniker for the neck pain and damage caused by staring down, chin to chest, at your device for long periods of time.

While there’s no such thing as perfect posture (there’s no magical position where your body will not fatigue), there is an optimal set-up.

First, fit yourself to the chair. Your feet should be able to rest flat on the floor, and the back of the chair should support the spine (high backs and neck rests of chairs are not good if they push your head forward).

Next, fit the desk to the chair. The chair should fit under the desk (this may mean removing the chair arms), so that your arms, bent at 90 degrees, can reach the keyboard and mouse without reaching forward.

Your monitor should be set up at eye level, so you can read the screen without tilting your head up and down. This means laptops should be set up on stands with an external keyboard and mouse.

For movement variability, Claire thinks sit–stand desks are fantastic. These are the ones that can be raised and lowered (either electronically or manually) several times throughout each day to provide different working positions. Standing desks alone are no better for your body than sitting desks – some of Claire’s patients work standing up behind registers all day, and have ankle, knee and back issues too.

Claire was kind enough to provide some suggestions for desks and chairs, for those in the market for a new set-up.

Recommended desks include:

VariDesk
Selectric Straight
Anatome.

Recommended chairs include:

Therapod Classic
Therapod Element
Therapod Contemporary.

But, no matter your set-up, it’s changing your position throughout the day that will help the most. Try a phone alarm or app to remind you to stand up every half an hour. I think I might stick a post-it note on the side of my screen: ‘Your best posture is your next posture.’

Be right back, just going to do some stretches.

Jessica Hoadley
Events subcommittee

Claire Richardson is at Chadstone Region Osteopathy in Camberwell, and is part of the public relations committee of Osteopathy Australia.