Sitting all day will kill you – here’s what you should do

I never actually did well with the 9-5 desk job thing. I worked that type of job for 3-4 years before I decided for good that I just wasn’t cut out for it.

I’ve spent most of my working years working jobs that require me to be on my feet (various customer service jobs, waiting tables, etc.) and even though it was physically exhausting, it was better for me overall.

Fast forward to now and I work from home!


Except, I’m spending a significant amount of time in front of a computer. At a desk. And my wrist/arm/shoulder and butt/back have something to say (shout, really) about it.

Go figure.

If you’re like me, you might not have even considered what sitting at a desk for several hours is doing to your body. I’m blown away by how painful it can be to sit at a desk/table, whatever, if it’s not set up properly.

I was having a particularly difficult time trying to figure out why it is so profoundly different this time, when I’ve worked office jobs before. They weren’t my favorite, but I survived. I definitely didn’t feel pain like this.

Then I realized: if you work at a traditional office job, you might not even notice any pain because how often are you sitting in one position for 30-90 minutes straight without a break?

You’re probably not. I didn’t realize when I took on all of my gigs that I would be spending so much uninterrupted time in a sitting position.

I’ve always been a fan of the jobs that pay you for the work you actually do (namely contractor jobs where you get paid when you work and you don’t get paid when you don’t), but these jobs require me to spend much more time sitting and for longer periods than any traditional desk job I’ve ever worked.

So what’s the answer?

An ergonomic desk set up – I talked about my DIY standing desk in a previous post. You want to make sure that your monitor is at the proper eye level and that your arm is positioned at a 90 degree angle to avoid wrist/arm/shoulder strain.

The wrist/arm/shoulder pain issue was my first one. It was a burning, screaming pain that demanded a fix. Once I switched to primarily using the standing desk, my wrist/arm pain pretty much vanished.

Now that I’ve started teaching several ESL classes per day that require me to sit in front of the computer for 45 minutes straight and for sometimes as long as 2-3 hours at a time (straight through), I knew my chair situation needed help too. (I switch back and forth between standing and sitting)

I debated whether to buy a new chair. I’m sure that would’ve helped. T.he problem with that, is it’s a gamble. You can spend anywhere from $25-600 on a computer chair. Who’s to say it will be comfortable enough to cure your back woes?

I wasn’t willing to gamble and I was too cheap to drop that many dollars.

My solution? A franken-chair.

I tried a donut cushion first. I’ll save you the trouble – don’t buy one. It was not nearly as comfortable as I was hoping, but it did make me realize that my computer chair is HARD. I’m talking just a short step up from sitting on cement. I never really noticed it until I had something better to compare it to.

The donut cushion went back (thank-you Amazon free returns) and I got this cushion instead. There were several (more expensive) options to choose from but this one was budget friendly with a number of decent reviews. Let me tell you, it is INFINITELY more comfortable.

I was still feeling some strain in my back because I have trouble leaning back against the seat and my back is left unsupported. I also lean forward throughout my classes when I’m talking to my students.

I ordered this lumbar pillow to cushion my back and support it. It’s a bit of a retraining process for me at this point, because I still want to lean forward. This was another budget version in a sea of choices that range from $12-50 for the same pillow. I’m not crazy about how the strap that is supposed to keep it in place, doesn’t really do so that well.. but I think it can be rigged pretty easily without spending any more money.

The last piece of this puzzle is trying to keep my feet flat on the floor. I am pretty terrible about this, as I like to pull one foot up underneath me or put my feet on the bottom bar of the table. It turns out that if your feet are not flat on the floor, you’re actually inflicting more pain on yourself because your spine is out of whack.

You can certainly try to just plant your feet flat on the floor. I thought I would give one of these under the desk foot rests a try. It is easier to lean back in my chair against my support cushions while keeping my feet flat on this foot rest, since it tilts. It’s not necessary, but useful I think.

Besides adding these things to my work set up, I plan to incorporate some basic stretches (like these) that are designed to loosen tightness that results from sitting too long. It’s also important to take breaks and get up and move around whenever you are able to.

If you’re newly transitioned into a predominately sitting job, like me, I seriously encourage you to try these tools out to help you have a more comfortable work day.

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