A person's posture can be defined as the way they hold or carry their body. At the central focus of a person's posture is their spinal alignment. When the spine is correctly aligned with it's natural curvatures, stress on the body's tissues is minimized.
Less energy is required to maintain body positions and the person should be able to move with more ease. The natural curves of a healthy spine are sometimes referred to as "neutral spine".
In a modern day workplace, and with today's living in general, it can be easy to fall into postures that are less than optimal. Too much time spent tapping away on a keyboard or driving in a car could contribute towards a forward head posture. This is also known as "poke neck" or "text neck".
Other pronounced postures that can lead to problems include kyphosis, lordosis, scoliosis, flat back and sway back. Pronounced postures like these can increase the stress on the tissues of the body. This can result in increased muscle and joint pain and discomfort, and a decreased ability to be able to move freely and easily.
Respiratory function can also be decreased as a result of poor posture (for example, as a result of excessive smartphone usage).
There are a number of ways to improve workplace posture with the goal of reducing the stress that is placed on the body's tissues. The outcomes of making positive adjustments to a person's posture should include less pain and discomfort, and the ability to move more easily.
Some of the methods for improving posture involve a direct look at and adjustments to what is going on in the workplace. Others will require the employee to make adjustments to areas of their lifestyle outside of the workplace. Doing the latter should transfer to better postural awareness in the workplace.
Here are our top three actions to take that ultimately aim to improve posture in the workplace.
1. Ergonomic Considerations
A workplace setup that has carefully considered ergonomic factors should result in improved comfort and better health for the worker. Part of this outcome results from the improved posture that an employee is able to achieve and maintain through an effective ergonomic set up.
An ergonomic team can assess and evaluate the efficiency of the work environment. From this knowledge the work environment can be designed in a way that helps to promote the health and safety of employees. Areas that may be assessed and subsequently adapted include:
- Workstation design and setup.
- Equipment design.
- Workstation environment such as noise, temperature and lighting.
- The posture of the worker.
- Physical demands of the job role.
An ergonomics program can be carried out within the workplace to help decrease the incidence of ergonomics related injuries and improve overall worker health. The positive outcomes of an ergonomically friendly workplace environment should in part be a result of the improved posture that the worker is able to maintain.
Some of the ergonomic aids that can help improve a worker's posture include back supports and foot rests. [Find out more in "What are the benefits of an ergonomics program" and "7 ergonomic aids for employees who work in a standing position"].
2. An Appropriate and Effective Exercise Program
The human body was designed to move. When muscles are strong and able to move freely and easily it becomes easier to maintain a good posture. Workers who spend a lot of time in one fixed position, or doing repetitive movements may start developing poor postures. This is likely a result of certain muscles in the body becoming tight and/or weak, and worker fatigue.
For example, long periods of sitting can result in tight quadriceps (front of thigh) and hip flexor muscles. The buttocks can become weak and the worker may experience lower back and hip pain. From there, they may try to compensate and relieve their discomfort with exaggerated ("poor") posture. An optimal ergonomic setup can help reduce the incidence and severity of problems like these.
An appropriate and progressive exercise program either in and/or outside the workplace should also form part of the plan. [Find out more in "Movement education as part of a complete workplace ergonomics plan"].
The expected benefits from an exercise program that has been specifically designed to improve workplace posture include:
- A reduction in musculoskeletal pain.
- Increased awareness of body position and techniques when lifting and moving items around the workplace, and therefore a reduced potential for injury.
- The ability to hold and maintain safe postures when going about daily tasks.
- The benefits above can be achieved through effective stretching and strengthening of the major muscles in the body.
Particular attention should be paid to the deep "core" muscles of the body since they play an important role in optimal posture. The worker's stretching and strengthening program should ideally be personalized. This means that specific stretches and strengthening exercises are prescribed to help counter or correct their own postural abnormalities.
3. Lifestyle Habits and Choices
Workplace employees need to be educated about the aspects of their overall lifestyle, which can affect their posture. Once they have the knowledge about what to do, they need to be supported to take the required actions that will result in improved posture.
The following suggestions offer an insight to common areas that can lead to postural issues. It can be easy to form "bad" habits in these areas. The worker should first be made aware of these lifestyle habits and then be supported to take action and make any necessary adjustments.
Taking regular desk breaks.
Sitting for too long in one stretch can result in excessive muscle tightness and weakness. As the employee's postural muscles get more and more tired, they are likely to slouch with a "poor" posture. Encourage regular desk breaks where they get up and move their body. Some employees may benefit from having a regular alarm that tells them to get up from their desk!
High heels might look great with a skirt but they can have a negative effect on both posture an comfort. Similarly, a heavy bag carried habitually over the same shoulder everyday can cause similar issues. Suggest and encourage bag and shoe options that will promote and not diminish worker comfort.
Cues for good posture.
Aim to adopt positions in and outside the workplace that encourage a neutral spine and great posture. When walking around, encourage employees to look ahead rather than at the ground. They can also imagine that a string is attached to the top of their head to help lift them up into a taller posture.
When standing, the worker should be aware of keeping their weight evenly distributed between each foot, rather than favoring one side. When sitting, aim to keep both feet flat on the ground rather than one leg crossed over the other.
What We've Learned
Overall, positive adjustments to workplace ergonomics, an employee's movement and exercise plan and their common lifestyle habits can result in improved employee posture. When a good posture is achieved naturally, the worker will feel more energized and comfortable.
Musculoskeletal pain will be reduced, as will the potential for injury.