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How The Right Work Chair Can Prevent Chronic Tension Headaches
If you suffer from chronic tension headaches, back pain or neck pain, you are probably aware that poor posture was at least partially responsible.
However, did you know that the way you sit may have more to do with your pain than how you stand?
If you’re like most Americans, you spend most of your day sitting. This is because your workstation is probably at a computer terminal, assembly line, or desk.
Also take into account that a significant part of your time at home is also sitting – or watching TV, surfing the Internet or reading. As a result, of the 16 or so hours you are awake, you may spend 12 or more of them sitting.
Doesn’t it make sense then, that you concentrate on your sitting position as much as you do standing?
And while standing correctly – shoulders rolled back, head up, chest out – is important, the benefits of good standing posture will be minimal if you hunker down at your desk all day.
You may be one of the many unfortunate workers who have to bend over because your office chair won’t adjust to fit your body, or because your chair didn’t adjust properly.
The dangers of sitting incorrectly
Three things can happen when you binge for long periods each day. All are bad:
* Stiffness and pain in muscles, connective tissue and joints
* Restricted breathing
* Distortions in posture
stiffness and pain
Problems related to improper seating are cumulative. The first noticeable symptom is usually stiffness and pain in the lower back, upper back or neck. These may lead to chronic tension headaches, backaches and muscle cramps or to a restriction of blood flow in the legs.
As a result of sitting slouched all the time, other body parts start to break down because when one part of the body is out of alignment, it will affect the structures above and below it.
For example, if you tend to sit slouched over you are not only at risk for back and neck pain, but also for repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
When you sit up straight, you need to have good tone in your lower abdominal muscles so that your diaphragm is in the correct position and elevated. This is important for optimal breathing.
But when you sag in your seat, your lower abdominal muscles relax and your diaphragm descends. This forces you to breathe from your upper chest instead of your diaphragm.
As a result of a decrease in support from a relaxed lower abdominal wall, along with the lowering of the diaphragm, the abdominal organs are forced downward, which restricts breathing.
If you’re a woman, the stress on your pelvis from contracting all day for extended periods of time can be an overlooked cause of back, pelvic, and period pain.
And especially if you are a woman – you risk deformities in the skeleton if your bad sitting position is not corrected.
Often, when people think of a “rounded back” position, they usually associate it with a postmenopausal woman who has already suffered from osteoporosis.
However, many premenopausal women have a rounded back caused by the way they sit all day.
How to determine if you are sitting properly
Here is a checklist you can use to help you determine if you are sitting properly:
* Your feet are placed firmly on the floor, or on a footrest, slightly in front of you
* Your seat is adjusted so that your thighs are parallel to the floor, with your knees at about 90 degrees and slightly lower than your waist
* Your seat allows you to carry your weight mainly on the upper half of your thighs
* Your knees are shoulder-width apart or closer
* Your chair seat is not too deep (you shouldn’t sink into your chair)
* You are able to sit upright, maintaining the natural curves of your back
* Your back is adequately supported
* Your pelvis is neutral
*Your rib cage is raised
* You can draw a straight line down through your ear, shoulder, rib cage and pelvis (check this by sitting in front of a full-length mirror, or ask a co-worker to analyze your sitting posture)
Ergonomic tips for computer users
If you sit at a computer terminal all day, there are other factors you need to consider:
* You need to sit directly in front of the keyboard and computer screen
* Your monitor should be between 18 – 24 inches from your eyes, and you need to look down slightly to see it
* It is advisable to use a work surface that allows the elbows to maintain an angle of about 90 degrees
* You must keep your shoulders relaxed; Don’t fall forward
* You must relax your wrists and keep them in a neutral position; Do not flex them up or down
* While typing, keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows loose by your side
* Take breaks
When doing extensive computer work, it’s important to take short breaks to stretch and move around every 30 minutes or so. Alternate between work activities that utilize different muscle groups.
Be sure to give your eyes a periodic break as well. For example, blink often, close them for a moment and look at different objects.
Different types of chairs
In most work environments, and almost all offices, chairs are mounted on caster wheels to allow you to move from task to task with ease. These wheels are usually mounted on a five-point base.
In some industrial settings, a chair with a stationary base is more common due to safety concerns. Such chairs are often found in laboratories because the floors tend to be hard and slippery, making wheelchairs dangerous.
Stationary chairs are the norm on production lines because they are more stable.
Bench chairs are often used in small parts assembly areas in manufacturing, as well as for other jobs that require manual dexterity. Bench chairs are taller than typical office chairs and usually offer footrests for stability and comfort.
Sit-to-stand chairs are best if you move from sitting to standing frequently during your shift (if you work as a receptionist or assembly line worker, a stand-up chair would be a good choice).
These chairs usually do not have a backrest. The seat points downwards, allowing you to recline comfortably in a semi-standing position.
Other factors affecting ergonomics
The back of your chair should stabilize the pelvis and raise the rib cage by supporting the lower back.
If it does not properly support the lower back, it will sink into the backrest. A backrest that is too soft, tilted and/or concave makes this happen.
These faults cause a backrest that supports the wrong areas, which reinforces the slump.
If your work surface is too high to allow you to put your feet on the floor, then you need a footstool. The footrest should be large enough to allow you some movement during the day. It should also be adjustable to fit your height and leg length.
Five point base
A five-point base offers you maximum stability and can usually be found with any type of chair.
How to choose the right office chair for your body type
When you buy a work chair, you must understand that one size does not fit all. You should consider what you do next to your chair all day, as well as take into account your physical size.
In general, you want a chair that provides adequate support for your back, legs, buttocks and arms.
Here are the different components of a work chair and what to look for in them:
You want a chair that has a base of five pedestals (two points), regardless of whether you need castors (casters). If you choose a chair with less than five pedestals, you give up stability and safety (chairs with four wheels can tip over more easily).
Make sure the base allows the chair to rotate easily.
Remember that armrests should only be used while reading or resting between typing sessions, not while typing or using the mouse. Depending on how you spend your time in the chair, you may not even need armrests.
If you get a chair with armrests, make sure they are adjustable, wide, padded and comfortable. When seated, you should be able to independently adjust the height of the armrests and move them closer together or further apart.
the seat pan
The part of the chair where you sit (the seat pan) should allow for equal weight distribution and comfortable support. Pay attention to the width and depth of the seat pattern – it should be wide enough to give you at least one centimeter of unused space on either side of your hips and thighs.
It should also be deep enough to comfortably support the hips and not put pressure behind the knees (this is bad for circulation).
The seat pan should feel comfortable even after sitting for an hour or more. Insufficient padding and poor contouring can cause hip and back fatigue, so make sure the padding is of sufficient quality to resist constant deformation.
You should purchase a chair that allows you to adjust its height easily. The best chairs include a device that allows you to adjust the height of the seat pan while you sit (a chair with a swivel height adjustment mechanism is also fine).
Either way, make sure the adjusters are close at hand while you’re seated—you don’t have to get up to change the height of your chair.
If more than one person will be using the chair, make sure the height range is suitable for all users. You should be able to adjust the height of the seat pan so that the fronts of your knees are level, or slightly below level, with your feet on the ground or on a kickstand.
Good lumbar support (the part of the chair that supports the lower back) is essential. Many chairs have padded lumbar supports that can be adjusted up and down and forward or backward. This is what you want, as these supports will fit your shape better.
The ability to adjust your chair is especially important if more than one person will be using the chair.
A fixed height lumbar support may be fine if you are the only user of the chair and it feels comfortable when you lean on it.
When sitting against the lumbar support, make sure there is enough room for your hips and that you are not pushed so far forward in the chair that you lose hip support.
The back support should recline to allow you to sit back at over 90 degrees. The best chairs allow your back to move and also follow your back as you move back and forth.
Try to avoid locking the back support in one position. Look for support that is wide enough and does not put pressure on the side of the back. The support should also be high enough to provide good support for the middle of the back – at least up to the shoulder blades.
If you like to sit in a chair to read, talk on the phone or relax, look for a chair with a high back and good neck and head support.
Good chairs are coming down in price, but they can still get expensive. You can get a good chair for between $300 and $500.
(Remember this – you get what you pay for)
While $300 to $500 (or more) may seem like a lot of money for a chair, if you’re among the millions of people who spend most of their workdays sitting, a quality, comfortable chair is a wise investment.
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