The Surprising Way Hunching Over Your Desk Can Mess With Your Health Overall

by Mika Doyle
BDG Media, Inc.

If you’re sitting at a desk right now, you’re probably going to do a lot of wiggling and moving around while reading this. I know I did. That’s because, like a lot of people who work at a computer, I have a habit of hunching forward over my desk. Sometimes it’s to see my screen better, but other times I’m just resting my elbows while I ponder the secrets of the universe. Just kidding; I’m probably procrastinating on something. Either way, researchers out of San Francisco State University found jutting your head forward while sitting at a computer can be bad for your health in the long run. So what can you do to do improve your posture while working at a computer?

It turns out when you jut your head forward while working at your computer, you turn your head into a fulcrum (or a lever) at the end of your neck, the researchers said in the news release. The weight of your head compresses your neck, the researchers said, which can lead to fatigue, headaches, poor concentration, increased muscle tension, and even injury to your vertebrae over time.

"When your posture is tall and erect, the muscles of your back can easily support the weight of your head and neck — as much as 12 pounds," San Francisco State University Professor of Holistic Health Erik Peper said in the news release. "But when your head juts forward at a 45-degree angle, your neck acts like a fulcrum, like a long lever lifting a heavy object. Now the muscle weight of your head and neck is the equivalent of about 45 pounds. It is not surprising people get stiff necks and shoulder and back pain."

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It might seem like a common-sense tip, but the biggest key to good posture while working at a computer is to sit back in your chair, according to MindBodyGreen. If your chair is too big or too deep, says MindBodyGreen, you can support your lower back with a lumbar roll, a rolled-up towel, or a small pillow. I have something similar to this mesh lumbar support that I got for less than $10, and I just stuffed a throw pillow in it to make it bigger since my office chair is too big for me. MindBodyGreen also says you should try not to lean forward or sit on the edge of your chair because that will cause your low back to arch and your head to drop forward.

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Your monitor should be at arm’s length and no more than two inches above your natural line of sight, according to Medical News Today. If you can’t keep your feet flat on the floor, says Medical News Today, use a foot rest, and keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows at your sides in an “L” shape. Medical News Today says what you don’t want to do is cross any of your legs or ankles, dangle your feet, or slump to one side or the other. Doing any of these things can misuse or overuse a specific muscle, ligament, or tendon, which can affect your back health, according to Medical News Today.

The researchers said if you’re experiencing any pain, like headaches, neck pain, or back pain, you might want to take a look at your posture while working at your computer. Making some quick changes to the way you’re sitting might be all it takes to alleviate the issue.