Q-and-A: Prevent poor posture with a proper WFH office environment

When it comes to your WFH environment, the best option for an office chair is something that gives you full support for your back.

When it comes to your WFH environment, the best option for an office chair is something that gives you full support for your back. Photo: Adobe Stock

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is adapted from the Spring-Summer 2021 edition of Peak NV, a specialty biannual magazine produced by the Nevada News Group that was inserted in the April 7 print edition of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. Go here to read a digital version of the magazine.

The pandemic has created new situations for those in the workforce. Last year, individuals either were asked to work remotely full-time or in a hybrid model until their company adjusted to safety and social distancing protocols.

Some individuals have continued working from home and may call this their new normal. As health providers, we have started to see patients who are showing signs of discomfort due to working remotely.

Below, we address commonly asked questions about body mechanics and avoiding discomfort due to a new work environment.

Sedona Shonnard


Question: How can you avoid back pain or discomfort caused by sitting long periods at a desk?

Answer: Our bodies are meant to move. Therefore, have an ideal posture while seated at your desk and be sure to get up and move every 20 minutes. Set a timer or add a calendar reminder so you are always moving. Alternatively, a standing desk is a good option if you have the ability to sit and stand while working. Keep in mind, standing for more than 20 minutes in the same position is not recommended just as sitting for more than 20 minutes is not recommended. There are many options for standing desks, and you do not need to purchase a big-ticket item. You can use a high countertop, a bookshelf, mounted shelf or laptop stand.

Q: How can someone avoid wrist discomfort and carpal tunnel caused by working at a desk?

A: To avoid wrist discomfort, make sure your elbow is set up at about a 90-degree angle with your forearms supported on armrests or on your desk while using your mouse and keyboard. Use a wrist rest for your mouse and keyboard. Avoid a position of extension where your knuckles are positioned higher than your wrists. Additionally, if you have wrist discomfort, try stretching your wrists a few times a day by simply rolling your wrists counterclockwise.

Q: What type of posture is ideal when working most of the day at a desk?

A: Ideally, the proper posture will enable you to have your ear aligned with your shoulder, tall spine, knees below the hips, feet resting on a footrest, and shoulders resting down and back. Additionally, it is beneficial for your spine to be supported by the entire back of your chair to keep from slouching.

Q: What suggestions do you have for movement at work?

A: It does not take much effort to find simple ways to move during the workday. Setting a timer or finding a way to alert yourself is the best way to stick to a schedule. Other easy exercises include sit-stands at your desk, squats, walking or stretching. Engage in a small number of reps, take a brief walk to get water or try a few stretches right in your office. Alternative moves that require balance include standing on one foot for as long as you can or high knee marches for one minute. Repeat any of these exercises three times a day or every 20 minutes when you stand.

Q: How can I strengthen my back and maintain better posture?

A: The core is a big factor in maintaining back strength. The diaphragm, front and side abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, and spinal column muscles are the targets for the core. Exercises including bird dog, superman, upper extremity rows, lateral pull downs and planks (facing the ground and on the side) are great low-impact ways to develop balance.

Q: What tips do you have for setting up an office that is ergonomically friendly?

A: There are many tips to share when someone is setting up an office to be ergonomically friendly. Starting with your screen, your monitor should be eye level and at arm’s length in front. Your head should be parallel to the work you are doing and in a neutral position with your ear lined up with your shoulder. Avoid doing work in different places to eliminate repetitively turning your head all day. Additionally, try using a head set for phone calls and avoid holding the phone between your ear and shoulder. Use a wrist rest for your mouse and keyboard and maintain about 90 degrees at your elbow while using both. Keep your knees below your hips and your feet on a footrest. Lastly, make sure you maintain back support with your whole back resting on the chair and ensure there is lower back support.

Q: Are traditional desk chairs the best option?

A: The best option for an office chair is something that gives you full support for your back. Making sure there is good low-spine support (lumbar) and mid-spine support (thoracic). Again, the most important tip is not being in a static position for more than 20 minutes. Individuals have started to review ball chairs, but they should only be used if sufficient core and postural strength is present. It is not recommended to use a ball chair as a method of obtaining core and postural strength.

Sedona Shonnard PT, DPT, is a physical therapist with Northern Nevada Medical Center.


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