Approximately 80% of my clients have neck and shoulder complaints. There are different reasons for people to feel pain in the neck and shoulders. The most common reason is the OFFICE CHAIR.
The office chair is a real serial killer. In the first place because we have not been built to sit in a chair the entire day. In our evolutionary history we have always performed physical labour like hunting, farming, cleaning, building etc. Nowadays we sit still the entire day watching a luminous display on our desk.
Secondly we do not take time to adjust the office chair to our specific needs. We just sit down and start working. There is even a myth that it is very difficult to adjust the office chair in the correct position. And it is supposed to take a lot of time to adjust the chair or to learn how to adjust the office chair. To get rid of this myth I have written a funny song about the office chair position. When you can sing this song, you can adjust your office chair within 22 seconds and with that avoid pain in the neck and shoulders.
Step 1: Drop your shoulders sit up straight
Many people have the urge to slump in their seats. This may be comfortable when you watch television at the end of your day, but it is very bad for your health to do this the entire day in the office. So please make sure that your bottom is covering as much of the seat as possible.
Another common pose is to bend forward towards the screen instead of leaning against the backrest. This can cause nasty pain in the lower back. You can prevent this by enlarging the letters on your screen by adapting the screen settings of your computer.
Working towards a deadline can cause tension and stress. Many people tend to pull up their shoulders. I do not know why we think this will help to reduce the stress, but it is a fact that many people do this unconsciously and stay in this cramped pose for hours. Neck and shoulder muscles will tense and start to cause pain. To prevent yourself from raising your shoulders unconsciously you can pull up your shoulders towards your ears deliberately and drop them into a relaxed position.
Step 2: Ground your feet ‘cause that’s your base
The height of your seat depends on the length of your legs. That is why the adjustment of your office chair starts with planting your feet firmly flat on the floor.
Some people, most of them are women, like to wear high heels (5-10+cm). Wearing high heels while sitting in your office chair can cause a lot of tension on the instep of your foot. The Achilles tendon shortens and can cause cramp and pain in your calf muscles and pain in the lower back in the long run. To prevent these problems I would like to give you the advice to take off your high heels while sitting at your desk. Place your (bare) feet flat on the ground to create a good basepoint for adjusting your office chair.
Step 3: Bend your knees in 90 degrees
Adjust the height of your seat until your upper legs are horizontal and form a square corner with the lower legs. Your knees need to be in a corner of 90 degrees. If only a small portion of your upper legs touch the seat your chair is probably to low. Is the corner of your knees larger than 90 degrees, than your seat is to high.
Step 4: Put your fist in there
Place your fist between the edge of your seat and your knee cavity. If your fist doen’t fitt because the seat reaches into your knee cavity, then your seat is place to much to the front. Move it backwards to prevent blockage of your blood vessels in your leg. Blockage of your legs blood vessels can be noticed by cold feet or numbness in the feet. You can either move the seat backward or move the backrest forwards (depending on the chair) until you can place your fist between the seat and knee cavity.
When you have more space between the edge of your seat and your knee cavity than your fist can fill, then your seat is not supporting your legs the way it should. This can cause your legs to become very fatigue and will create the urge to slump in your seat. Move the seat more to the front of move the backrest to the back until you can neatly fit one fist between the edge of the seat and your knee cavity.
Step 5: place the backrest in your lumbar lordosis
Thanks to step 4 the backrest is placed at the correct distance to your knees. So please fill the entire space of the seat until you touch the backrest. Adjust the height of the backrest until it fits neatly in the cavity of your lower back (lumbar lordosis). This will give you the best support of your back and will help you to sit up straight and avoid slumping.
Step 6: Bend your arms and relax
Are you sitting up straight and are your shoulders relaxed (step one)? Bend your arms in 90 degrees. This is the height of your desk and your armrests. Adjust your armrest to support this position of your arm. If your chair doesn’t have armrests, don’t worry, make sure your desk is at this level and move your seat forward so your desk can support your arms. Adjust the level of your desk if necessary.
When your desk is at a fixed position and it is too low for you. See if it is possible to adjust the level of your computer by placing something underneath. A package of printing paper in A3 size could be an example.
When your desk is in a fixed position and it is too high for you. In this case you need to adjust the heigt of your chair to the level of your desk. In this case your feet will be above the floor blocking the veins in your legs. See if you can find something to support your feet at the right level bij placing a something like a box under your feet.
Step 7: Adjust your computer screen
When you have performed all previous steps and you sit at your desk correctly, stretch out one arm. You should be able to touch your computer screen with your fingertips. The top edge of the screen (glass) should not be higher then the level of your eyes. Furthermore a lot of people prefer to tilt the screen into 35 degrees.