Standing or sitting at a desk? Focus on posture first

Jan. 4, 2018

People in an office stand around like they're discussing a project together.

If you’re trying to improve your posture at work, getting a new standing desk or an ergonomic mouse probably isn’t enough.

“It’s not just about sitting or standing at your desk,” said Christy Kopischke, physical therapist with the UCHealth Occupational Medicine Clinic – Steamboat Springs. “It’s about being in the right position and moving frequently.”

It’s important to maintain good posture throughout the day, whether you’re working at a computer, watching television or folding laundry.

“If you’re not moving as efficiently or as easily as possible, then you can develop over-use syndromes and stress joints, creating more dysfunction,” Kopischke said. “Dysfunction leads to dysfunction, while healthy movement patterns lead to further health.”

Below, Kopischke shares her recommendations for ergonomics, or moving efficiently and safely in a work environment.

Prioritize movement

“Any static position is going to be hard to maintain correctly,” Kopischke said. “Our bodies are meant to move, not to be sitting or standing all day.”
That means finding ways to change position frequently, especially if you’re working at a desk.

“Set up your day so you have to get up often, whether it’s to make a copy, use the bathroom or take a walk at lunch,” Kopischke said.

Focus on upper body position

Whether you’re sitting or standing at a desk, your upper body position should be similar. Keep shoulders back and relaxed, and elbows at a 90-degree angle at your sides.


Watch those feet

When you’re sitting, your hips should be in line with or slightly higher than your knees and your feet should be planted on the floor.  When standing, your hips should be under you and your weight should go through your whole foot. Avoid a swayback position, in which the pelvis is pushed forward and you rest on your ligaments. Sometimes putting one foot slightly in front of the other can help.

Position your mouse nearby

Your mouse and keyboard should be in the same plane, and you shouldn’t have to reach up or down for the mouse. Your wrists should be in a neutral position, not resting or pressed on a desk or keyboard tray.  “Carpal tunnel and neck pain are common results of working for long periods at a computer, but proper positioning can help prevent both,” Kopischke said.

Dial in monitor height

Your computer monitor should be at eye level so you’re not looking up or down. If you have a split monitor, be wary of how much time you spend working with your neck turned to one side or the other.
Invest in the right tools. If you’re on the phone a lot, a headset is a good investment. If you write notes or memos, be sure you have proper desk space to do so. And while standing desks can be a good way to change position through the day, they aren’t for everyone: someone with knee pain or other issues might be better able to maintain a proper position while sitting.

Ask an expert

Trained professionals like Kopischke can help, though for challenging issues, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor.
“When I meet with someone, we do a lot of body mechanic training and try to teach that person where they’re sweet spot is,” Kopischke said.

Sticky notes, timers and even coworkers can help people stay on track with small postural adjustments.

“Your posture is a habit, and you can make changes,” Kopischke said. “Typically with improved posture and movement, people feel better and move more easily.”

This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Dec. 25, 2017.

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at