Stop Killing Yourself

Warning: Sitting at work can cause injuries to the back, neck, shoulders, and wrists | A study by office furniture maker Steelcase reveals the nine torturous postures of the common office worker. Here’s how to avoid them.

By Venessa Wong

ILLUSTRATION BY BROWN BIRD DESIGN; PHOTOGRAPH BY JUSTIN STEELE FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Recliners

While deceptively comfortable, lounging in one’s chair while swiping a tablet causes back pain and fatigues the arms and neck.

The fix: “Use those armrests,” says Steven Conway, a Wisconsin-based chiropractor and spokesman for the American Chiropractic Association. And “don’t sit in this position for longer than 20 minutes.”

Swipers

Hovering over an upward-facing screen causes back pain, and the lack of arm support strains the shoulders. Looking down tires the neck.

The fix: “Use a case or stand so the tablet is angled and you’re not looking straight down,” Conway says. If the screen’s too low, prop it up on a book.

Deep Divers

Your mind may be “in the zone,” but your body — lurching toward the screen — is causing neck fatigue and adding extra pressure to the thighs.

The fix: “Pull back the keyboard to sit straighter and prop up the monitor so you don’t hurt the neck,” Conway suggests. Many unconsciously place their feet on the chair base for relief.

Texters

Eyes constantly angled downward — combined with little or no arm support — leads to strained shoulders and neck pain.

The fix: “Put down your phone every 20 minutes and stretch,” Conway says. Look to the ceiling, stretch your arms and chest, and wiggle your fingers and wrists.

Leaners

Leaners position their body so their phone remains private. Lack of arm or back support will have them rubbing sore muscles.

The fix: Make sure you use the armrest. “Try to adjust your position after 10 minutes,” Conway says.

Take-it-in-ers

Typical among workers with obnoxiously large computer screens, this posture is actually a healthy way to sit if the chair offers lumbar support.

The fix: “A pillow for the neck might help,” Conway notes. Adjust your chairback so you can also sit upright.

Cocooners

Startups may encourage working on the floor or in beanbags, but curling up offers little lower-back support, and bent knees inhibit circulation.

The fix: Sit up straighter to bring your posture closer to normal. “If your leg’s bent, you can rest your elbow on it so the screen’s higher,” Conway suggests.

Multitaskers

The typing-and-talking routine is standard among wired workers, but leaning forward hurts the neck and tires out the arms.

The fix: If you’re on the phone, “use a Bluetooth headset to free your arms and neck,” Conway advises. “Get closer to the table so as not to hunch.”

Scrunchers

Low laptop monitors force workers to stretch forward and hunch over, causing injury to the back, arms, wrists, neck, and shoulders.

The fix: “Pull yourself closer to the laptop and angle the screen so you’re not bending your neck too much,” Conway says. Stretch out the shoulders every now and then.

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