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Aurora Physical Therapist: To Sit or Not to Sit…That is the Question

November 3, 2017

What is the best position to work in at our desks? Do we sit in a chair, kneel on a kneeling chair, sit on a exercise ball, stand in place, or use a treadmill desk? How about a combination of all of the above? How often do we do each position? Is this good for everyone? It can all be quite confusing. We have many patients at Body Image Physical Therapy in Aurora who deal with pains contributing from and/or while working at their computer desks.

In recent years, there has been a rising popularity of standing desks and other alternatives to sitting methods. These alternatives to the traditional work chair aim to bring passive benefits to your health throughout your work day. People argue that spending an extended time in traditional desk chairs is sedentary and unnatural for human biology. The idea is that humans evolved as hunter-gatherers who are meant to be moving more consistently.

A number of studies have been conducted to try and determine exactly how long hours of sitting can be detrimental to your wellbeing. Some of the findings suggest that sitting causes issues related to your back, posture, weight, insulin levels, longevity, and even certain types of cancer. While there is dispute among the validity and extent of some of the conclusions drawn by various studies, it is generally believed that taking some regular level of break from the typical sitting position is positive for your health.

Taking breaks from sitting can often be incorporated somewhat naturally into the workplace. For instance, you could walk over to your colleagues to talk to them rather than email or call them. If you are talking on a cordless phone or headset, you may want to pace around the room over the course of the conversation. Plan regular water breaks where you walk around a bit while getting hydrated. Take the stairs when feasible. If you are unable or infrequently able to do these things, then try to plan short breaks specifically for walking or stretching once or twice an hour. You can tell your boss these types of breaks have often been shown to increase productivity.
If you are looking to incorporate more than occasional sitting breaks, there are a few fairly common substitutes for your average desk chair. Here are a few tips and considerations as you negotiate this maze of options:
  1. Kneeling chairs really only work for a small percentage of people. They claim to be better for your back and neck while burning more calories by engaging your core. However, kneeling for extended periods of time can cause it’s own issues and isn’t necessarily better for your back or neck. In general, I do not recommend this, especially if there has ever been knee or hip issues.
  1. If you sit in a chair, you do not have to have an expensive chair to have it work for you. It needs to be adjustable in all directions, have a built in lumbar support that fits your lumbar curve, and, when possible, armrests that fit so that you can truly rest your arms on them as you drop your hands onto your keyboard. Try to monitor your posture when possible to avoid craning your neck or bending over your keyboard. Follow these tips on how to sit at a computer to minimize some of the common strains of desk work.
  1. Exercise balls should really only to be used only part of the time, not full time for most people. It is a lot of work to sit properly on a ball. It also has to be the right height for the desk and keyboard to keep stress on the body low. Exercise balls keep you moving and engage you physically, reducing back problems and burning more calories. I generally recommend that a ball be used only 10-15 minutes out of the hour. If you are using a exercise ball with a ring on the floor, or with a seat back on it, then the purpose behind using a exercise ball has been lost. The ball has to be able to move to be useful.
  1. Treadmill desks seem to work for those who can do two things at one time. Obviously walking is an low exertion exercise that yields several benefits to the body. However, walking engages gait control which places demands on the brain. For most people, walking will deter their ability to focus on more intensive tasks. It would not be recommended for anyone with balance or vestibular issues or for anyone who has experienced foot/ankle, knee, hip or spine issues. Your core needs to be strong as do the hips/pelvic muscles.
  1. Now to speak to the newest and most prevalent trend… the sit to stand desks. This is a great idea in theory. It still requires the user to have a decent core as well as the awareness of knowing how to stand properly. It allows people to change the position of their body quickly and conveniently. The ability to stand for a while instead of sitting should be beneficial for most people; it just needs to be done properly, just like how sitting has to be done properly. Read these tips for using a standing desk.

There is little doubt that continuously sitting or remaining in any singular position over a long period of time is not ideal for health and fitness. The point really is that changing positions frequently, getting up and moving around on a regular basis is just a good idea regardless of how you are positioned at your desk throughout the day. The same positioning does not work for everyone, and your needs might change from year to year.

If you need help because nothing is comfortable…you may need to be in physical therapy.  At Body Image Physical Therapy, we help rehabilitate patients with a variety of disorders, aches, and pains. We educate our patients, so they understand what we are doing and how they can help themselves. Give us a call to see if we can help!