Pandemic Posture: What It Is, Why It Matters — and What to Do About It
by Jamie Spannhake
May 23, 2021
We’ve all read about the negative mental health effects resulting from the pandemic. And many of us have gained "pandemic pounds." But did you know that lots of people are suffering from “pandemic posture”?
What Is Pandemic Posture?
Pandemic posture arises from a work-from-home environment that is not set up to be ergonomically correct.
When we moved from our offices to our homes, we left behind more than our colleagues and commutes. We left behind desks positioned at the appropriate height for typing on a keyboard and office chairs with lumbar support. The result? Bad posture as we work hours and hours in less-than-ideal conditions.
The specific problems of pandemic posture are associated with not sitting up straight in a chair with sufficient lumbar support and not having computer screens at the correct height for holding our heads over our shoulders. This posture problem is further exacerbated when we work on the couch or in our beds, where we have none of the postural support we need.
Why Does Pandemic Posture Matter?
When we have improper posture, our bodies suffer. It’s not only about looks. Serious health consequences are associated with improper posture. When we slouch, we compress our torso, which can reduce our lung capacity by up to 30%! This reduced oxygen can lead to issues such as fatigue, headaches, and aches and pains. Incorrect stature can also cause more stress on our organs and joints, leading to neck and back pain, digestion issues, and pinched nerves.
The longer we sit without correcting our posture, the worse the symptoms become, and the harder it is to straighten back up as the muscles that support good posture go unused.
What Can We Do to Improve Our Posture?
Thankfully, we can rid ourselves of pandemic posture in five steps. Here’s how.
1. Set up an ergonomic home office space
The basics for an ergonomic office space start with the placement of your computer monitor. The top of your head should be about 3 inches lower than the top of your monitor. If you work from a laptop only (like I do), this is impossible. Consider adding an external monitor to your setup. Your elbows should be at the same height as your desktop so that you can type without bending your wrists excessively. Your chair should be at a height where your feet are flat on the floor. And you should use your upper back muscles to keep yourself sitting up straight, with your head over your neck and shoulders, not jutting out in front.
2. Don’t work on the couch or in your bed
While we have been embracing our more comfortable WFH environment where we can work from the couch or our beds, try to avoid doing so for more than 15 to 20 minutes a day. When we lean back on the couch or in our beds, with our feet propped up, we have very little lower back support. This can lead to significant low back pain and even pinched nerves and sciatica (which is one of the worst pains in the world; trust me). When in this lounging position, we also jut our heads forward to see our computer screens more easily rather than “looking down our noses” at our screen. This leads to what is also termed “text neck” or “tech neck,” where we lean our head forward with the chin raised and our shoulders slumped forward. This posture results in the muscles in the back of the neck lengthening unnaturally, while the muscles in the front of the next shorten unnaturally, causing headaches and neck and shoulder pain.
3. Take stretch breaks
Taking regular stretch breaks is a proven way to stay energized and focused, making it good for our mental health. It’s also a great way to break out of improper posture and have a moment to reset your position to a healthier one. Set an alarm on your phone or Alexa or computer to go off at least every 45 minutes. Get up, walk around, drink some water and do some stretches if you like. Then come back and reset yourself to proper posture: back straight, head over neck and shoulders, feet flat on the floor.
4. Don’t exacerbate the problem with your mobile devices
Pandemic posture is a new term, but it’s not a new problem. We have been suffering from improper posture related to the use of our devices for years. When using mobile devices, make sure you are not holding them at a level that requires you to jut your neck and chin forward in order to see your screen. This posture problem doesn’t involve your low back much, but it is problematic for your neck muscles, cervical spine, and jaw.
5. Stretch the muscles that support proper posture
A good way to use and stretch the muscles and ligaments that support good posture is by starting and ending your workday with exercise and stretching. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. A 20-minute virtual yoga class in the morning and a 15-minute walk followed by five minutes of stretching in the evening are two great ideas. Focus on using and stretching the muscles and ligaments in your upper back (between the shoulder blades), the back of your neck, the front of your shoulders, your hamstrings (the backs of your legs), and your hip flexors.
In addition to improving your posture, exercises that stretch these areas can decrease lethargy, remove toxins from joints, and improve blood circulation and energy.
Remember, you can improve your posture and your health, even during a pandemic with a little effort and forethought!
A version of this article first appeared at Attorney at Work.