Combating Desk Job Posture

By: Ashley Henriques, Vida Integrated Health

The modern day desk job unfortunately gets a lot of flack from healthcare professionals and the media.  Misleading quotes like “sitting is the new cancer” grab headlines, and you cannot watch TV without being persuaded through commercials to buy different devices to help correct your posture.  The goal of this blog is to help change the narrative of posture, and how to actually stay healthy and moving if you are one of the many workers chained to a desk all day.

Posture is something that is engrained in us since we are little.  My first memory of a doctor’s appointment includes the doctor chuckling and making a comment that I looked like a giant “C”.  Lets first go over some myths about posture.

Myth #1: Perfect posture exists and you should strive for it.

Posture is highly individualized; it is a spectrum of widely accepted positions.  There are some people with horrible posture with no pain. There are some people with perfect posture and pain. Context is important, but I think it is fairly impossible to sit 8 straight hours with textbook “perfect posture”.

Myth #2: Slouching is bad!

In my opinion, slouching is natural and a way to conserve energy.  You could have the best intentions and start out consciously thinking about perfect posture, but as time goes on and your mental efforts are directed towards work your posture becomes controlled unconsciously, thus, a slouch occurs.  More on this to come!

Myth #3: My posture needs fixed!

There are countless devices marketed towards improving posture.  People buy these with good intentions, but I think relying on these passive devices for a long term solution is a mistake.  Your anatomy and more importantly the way you move should dictate how you train, for example if your overhead reach is poor because of shoulder or thoracic mobility, then you should work on it actively, not passively.

Disclaimer: These myths are described as reference to a seated desk position – posture and form during weighted and strenuous activity absolutely matters

Changing the Narrative

Alright, you came here for postural advice only to be told to slouch, forget perfect posture, and not buy postural fixers – that is probably NOT what you were expecting!  The “old way” of thinking is to demonize sitting and bad postures. The “new way” of thinking should be more focused on TIME and TIME SPENT IN POSITIONS.

Old way:

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posture 1.png

New Way:

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Posture 2.png

Lets talk about time.

Time is probably the most important variable in relation to the body and its processes.  Time is what creates habits. When time is paired with physical stress, this ultimately leads to adaptations of the body in relation to muscle tissue, joints, and the nervous system – the bad type of stress leads to bad adaptations / excessive wear, the good type of stress lets us build muscle strength and overall capacity!  If time is paired with mental stress, this can lead to changes in the brain processing, immune response, and other biological responses. Instead of arguing over the “best” posture, why not strive to have changing and varying postures throughout the day? Your next posture, is your best posture.

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Think of your body and mind like a bank.  

In a 24 hour period, ask yourself am I ending the day in the positive or the negative?

Things that can influence your balance are NOT just physical.  They are mental too.

It is important to take into account:

  • What are you reading/watching throughout the day?

  • Who are you surrounding yourself with?

  • What is your stress level?

Throughout the day you should be striving for not only movement investments, but also investments in terms of stress management and social interactions.  Movement is one of the most underrated anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, anti-stress “medications” out there.

Alright, we debunked some myths, talked about time, talked about how the body is like a bank, now what do I do specifically?

1. Keep going to CrossFit

CrossFit is awesome because it checks the box on the physical, mental, and social investments that you need each day.  Physically, it is improving your neck, shoulder, and back muscular capacity via strength. Mentally, it is improving your ability to overcome stressful situations.  Socially, you get to hang out with really cool people. In physical therapy we have a hard time battling chronic sedentary lifestyles and chronic diseases, but by being strong and working out you are likely to remain very healthy!

2. Hourly movement investments

We talked about how it is a tall order to maintain “perfect posture” all day.  Instead of worrying about this, changing postures frequently (sitting, shifting from side to side, standing, kneeling, etc) will help.  There are movements that you can perform at work on an hourly basis that should help keep joints moving well. The following exercises I have selected are based on common trouble areas I see in the clinic, choosing just one or two an hour would work, but any “movement” is great too!

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Diaphragm Breathing

What: Sitting with hand on chest and stomach, inhale slowly through the nose trying to expand the stomach, exhale slowly through the mouth. Do for 1-3 minutes.  The hand on your chest should remain relatively still, and the hand on the belly should do the moving because of how deep you are breathing.

Why: There is a strong connection between the diaphragm muscle and parasympathetic nervous system response.  There are two major nervous systems that either amp us up to respond to stress (sympathetic), or tone us down (parasympathetic), and breathing deeply can help naturally decrease stress response.


Shoulder Overhead / Thoracic Extension

What: While sitting place both elbows on the edge of a desk, scoot chair backwards until shoulders are placed on a stretch, focus on the chest driving to the floor.  Return back to start and repeat x10.

Why: Lack of overhead motion during presses, snatches, pull ups can place undue stress on the neck, shoulders, low back.

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Thoracic Rotation

What: In sitting with knees together, place right hand on the outside of the left knee, slowly twist chest to the left. Repeat on other side x10.

Why: I often see thoracic extension issues coupled with thoracic rotation issues.  The mid back needs to rotate well to have a happy neck and low back.

Posture 7.jpg

Quadratus Lumborum

What: In sitting, raise your right hand and actively reach like you are trying to touch the ceiling as you concurrently reach overhead to the left as far as you can.  Repeat on other side. x 10 both sides.

Why: Although it sounds like it is something from Harry Potter, this muscle attaches the rib cage to the pelvis and can feel tight with lots of sitting, causing hips to feel off/rotated or an achy back.

Posture 8.jpg

Hip Flexors

What: Stagger feet on the floor or put one foot on your chair.  The leg that is behind you should feel a stretch as you lunge forward and reach overhead.

Why: Lack of hip extension, or the leg traveling behind you can cause stress on the low back and hips, altered mechanics with walking and running.