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“Healthy Sitting” tips can reduce neck and back pain

“Healthy Sitting” tips  can reduce neck and back painThe most common misunderstanding about what I do, is that I only fix existing problems. An important role as a neurosurgeon is educating patients on non-operative options to manage pain and prevent further injury. Chris Taleghani, M.D., explains.

Many of us spend much of our time at a desk, likely in front of a computer. Prolonged sitting causes slouching and back strain and can lead to chronic back and neck pain, decreased circulation, and even put you at higher risk for heart disease and obesity.

We’ve all heard of the “20-20-20 Rule” for reducing eye strain with prolonged computer use: every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. I suggest a similar rule for better back health—the “60-60 Rule.”

After 60 minutes of static posture, get up and stretch and/or walk around for at least 60 seconds. Getting up and stretching or walking can really help refresh our minds and our bodies.
But what about while we’re sitting? There are definitely things we can all do to help thwart neck and back pain. Proper chair height and back support are huge factors in “healthy sitting.”

Setting up for success:
Elbow Height Test: While seated, scoot your chair all the way forward until your chest is almost touching your desk. Bend your elbows, and place your forearms on the desk, with your palms face down, and your upper arms touching your sides. Your forearm and upper arm should form a 90° angle. If they don’t, move your chair up or down to adjust.

Finger Height Test: While sitting all the way back in your chair, slide the fingers of your right and left hands under your right and left legs (respectively) just behind your knees. If there is more than a finger width of room under your knees, raise your chair height. If your fingers do not slide under your thighs easily, lower your chair or use your chair’s footrest (if it has one).

Back Support Test: Sit all the way back in the chair and arch your back slightly. Make sure your shoulder blades are touching the back of the chair. If you can slide your hands easily behind your lower back, you do not have enough back support. To add back support, try a lumbar pillow, or even a rolled up sweater or towel.

Neck Height Test: After adjusting your chair height using the aforementioned methods, it’s time to test your computer. (You heard me right!) This step is too often forgotten and can make a huge difference in the way we feel at our desks. Sit comfortably in your chair, look straight ahead, and close your eyes. Slowly open your eyes—you should be looking at the center of your computer screen. If you are not, adjust your computer accordingly. As computers get more compact, they get further from a comfortable gazing spot. Most laptop computers need to be raised with a stand (or even a sturdy cardboard box) to get within a comfortable viewing range. A lot of a computer user’s slouching is caused by their attempt to lower their body to the computer screen’s level rather than raising their computer screen.

The finishing stretch:
There are also some simple stretches that can make long days at the office less painful (literally). One of the best stretches for “slouchers” or “sitters” is the reverse arch stretch. Imagine a position that is the exact opposite of slouching—this is it.

While sitting, scoot to the front edge of your chair (not too close!) and clasp your hands behind your back (or hold each armrest if you have them). With your feet planted on the floor, lean back slightly, and open up your chest by squeezing your shoulder blades toward each other and pushing your clasped hands up and back. Hold this stretch for a few seconds and take a few deep breaths. You can also perform this stretch while standing (or even while doing that 60 second lap around your office that I know you’re about to do!).
If you feel any pain or discomfort, stop doing this stretch immediately. Remember not to over do it. It’s not about how high you can get your hands, or how far back you can lean, it’s about finding some relief; do what is comfortable for you.
Now, get up and stretch!

Chris Taleghani, M.D., M.B.A.
Dr. Taleghani is a board certified neurosurgeon who specializes in minimally invasive surgery and complex spine and brain conditions. He received his Medical Degree at Georgetown University School of Medicine and completed his Neurosurgery Residency training at Pennsylvania State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Taleghani also earned his MBA from George Washington University while completing medical school.

To schedule an appointment, please call Pinnacle Surgical Partners at 615.885.2778 or visit us online at

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