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Is It Worth Sitting Up Straight? Maybe Not.


A girl slouches in a chair to the point of almost lying down.

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"My neck has been killing me the last few days." I typed into a forum for assistant editors. "Does anyone have good tips to help?" I hit send and hoped that someone would have a suggestion. My neck was stiff and in a lot of pain, but I was working on a pilot, and I felt like I didn't have time to get a massage or see a doctor. (Side note - you always have time to go to the doctor. Make that appointment you've been putting off. Work can and will wait.)

A few minutes later, a fellow assistant editor answered my prayers. "Have you been scripting a lot? Try moving the script to the center monitor, so you're not moving your head back and forth as much." Her words hit a chord in me. I HAD been scripting a lot, and the script was set up on the far left of my three monitors. I immediately created a new workspace in Avid. I could then hit a button, and the script I was working on would switch to the center monitor. Within two days, my neck pain went away.

After this experience, I became a little obsessed with ergonomics. Ergonomics is defined as design related to efficiency and comfort in the working environment. It might seem strange that there's a whole design philosophy based around the concept of comfort at work, but the average person spends 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime. In fact, many of us intuitively know that our body positioning at work affects how we feel. Just take a look at some of the satire articles on Reductress or The Onion. It's worth putting some thought into how ergonomics affects you.

I began searching for ways to improve how my body interacted with my work environment. Here are a few of the things I learned:


Posture

An interesting article titled “Sit Up Straight”: Time to Re-evaluate, published in the Journal of Orthopedic Sports & Physical Therapy, states that we may be very wrong about posture. They state, "The spine is a robust, adaptable structure to be trusted." They then go on to state, "In the absence of any good evidence that one posture exists to prevent pain, asking patients to work hard to achieve correct posture may set them up for a sense of failure and create more anxiety when their pain persists." No good evidence?! This idea shocked me. Could all of those years and articles about good posture be wrong? The authors of this article provide the illustration below:

Infographic with 7 points. "There is no single correct posture. Differences in posture are a fact of life. Posture reflects belief and mood. It is safe to adopt more comfortable postures. The spine is robust and can be trusted. Sitting is not dangerous. One size does not fit all."
Illustration courtesy of “Sit Up Straight”: Time to Re-evaluate. https://www.jospt.org/doi/10.2519/jospt.2019.0610

What struck me about this illustration is the idea that there might not be a "good" universal posture. The natural differences in our spines may not be accounted for in ergonomics. Our bodies are all different, so who's to say that the same posture is best for everyone? Maybe sitting up straight is a relaxing and supportive posture for some, and maybe a slight slouch is better for others. I'm intrigued to see where this suggestion goes and what research can be done.

However, we've been consistently told by sources like WebMD and MayoClinic to sit up straight. They state that good posture relieves pressure on your joints and reduces muscle strain. Many articles even state that good posture can improve mood and breathing and reduce your chances of osteoporosis.


So, what are we to do if the science is undecided and divided?


My answer was to talk with my doctor and listen to my body. Talk to your doctor if you're concerned about back pain. I am not a doctor and cannot give you personalized advice. Here's my own story.

I found that sitting up perfectly straight was causing more back tension. I was activating muscles I didn't often use, causing muscle fatigue. I investigated my sitting position. I like to lean forward, so I need more lumbar support, which helps me maintain the natural curve of my spine.

I invested in an Aeron Chair and have friends who swear by Secretlab Chairs. The important thing is that these chairs come in different sizes based on height, so the lumbar support can hit the correct part of your spine. The height appropriateness also allows you to adjust the chair so that your knees can be bent at a 90-degree angle. My chair was still a bit too tall for me, so I also bought a footrest to help get that perfect angle.

These changes helped immensely. A chair that fits my body helps me sit in a relaxed position, greatly reducing my muscle strain and back pain. The footrest I use also has a nice roller feature which I use to give myself a foot massage in my home office.

Changing my chair has changed my life, even if science is a bit divided on the topic.



Headaches Come from Your Eyes and Neck


I have pretty good eyesight, so it never occurred to me to use glasses. However, one day a fellow assistant editor came into the office with a pair of yellow-tinted glasses. I asked her about the color tint, and she explained that it was to help reduce the blue light emitted from computer screens. She said it helped a lot with headaches. I was experiencing some headaches, so I decided to give it a try, and I had the same result: fewer headaches. My glasses are from Warby Parker, which has computer tint as an add-on. However, there are a lot of more budget-friendly options out there that have a similar tint.



My former boss kept a plug-in over-the-shoulder heating pad in her office. I have since tried one myself, and it has significantly reduced my tension headaches. The heat relaxes the neck and upper shoulder muscles, which, according to Mayo Clinic, is proven to help reduce tension headaches.

Conclusion

Thinking about how you currently use your body at work can help you figure out how to reduce strain and pain. It may require large changes like getting a new chair or desk, or sometimes it can even be as simple as keeping your head and neck forward.

Oh, and don't forget to check in with your doctor.



Do you have ergonomic tips for assistant editors? Let us know in the comments.


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