Standing desks, stress balls, and other workplace habits that can lead to pain and other health issues
Sometimes, it seems like the modern-day office is designed specifically to hurt us. Hours of sitting at desks can lead to back pain, staring at a computer dries out our eyes, sneezing-all-over-our-desk-mates spread cold and flu germs. But now, experts are saying that some of the things we do to protect ourselves from these and other problems may not be as protective as we’d hoped. So correct the mistakes you’re making in your quest to stay healthier with these six swaps.
Stability Ball Seats: “Although they are a very popular and effective way to stabilize your core muscles, improve your posture, and create a healthy spine, we’re amazed at how many people are using them wrong,” says Sam Clavell, a chiropractor with Colorado-based 100% Chiropractic. The most common mistake people make is sitting at the wrong height, which can up your chance of back injury and pain.
The fix: While sitting on the ball, your thighs should be parallel to the ground. Then adjust your desk, so when you rest your forearms on it your upper arms are parallel to your spine and your eyes are aligned with the middle of your computer screen.
Standing Desks: “Yes, studies show that too much sitting can trigger chronic problems and even shorten lifespans,” admits Steven Knauf, a chiropractor with The Joint Chiropractic, a nationwide network of chiropractors. But new research in the journal Human Factors shows that standing for more than three-quarters of your workday can also lead to issues like fatigue, leg cramps, and back aches. “The standing position can cause strain on your veins, back, and joints,” explains Knauf.
The fix: He suggests standing for an hour, then sitting for an hour. It’s also important to wear comfy, supportive shoes, says Clavell. (Also, choose the right standing desk—like one of these five Shape-tested options.)
Wrist Rests: These pads are meant to be positioned in front of your keyboard, to give your wrists some extra cushioning as you type. “I hesitate to recommend them, since there’s a chance they can put pressure on some of your major blood vessels, tendons, and nerves, which can cause problems like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome,” Clavell says.
The fix: “A wrist rest actually should support the palms,” says Knauf. Position yours so that the fleshy part of your palm, not your wrist, rests against it. You’ll still get the comfort without obstructing blood flow or pinching your nerves.
Stress Balls: Sure, they might help you vent some tension after a grueling meeting. “But stress balls actually cause more stress to joints on fingers and hands,” says Knauf. “When we use a keyboard, your fingers and hands naturally curl and point down, which creates tension. To release that, you should push your fingers backward, not squeeze.”
The fix: Use a stress ball if it helps you mentally (or rely on one of these Simple Stress Management Tips instead). But after (or if you’re interested in strengthening your finger joints), wrap a rubber band around your fingers and splay them outwards to stretch it.
Ergonomic Keyboards: These were supposed to be a revolutionary invention for desktops, but instead "they resolve few problems and create little difference for workers,” says Knauf. That’s because they force you to hold your upper arms and elbows at awkward, tiring angles, he says. “You also move your arms and elbows out further to reach outer keys, causing further arm fatigue and pain in the neck, back and shoulders. And the kicker? To maneuver the keyboard, you have to make isolated movements where you twist your hands—exactly what an ergonomic keyboard is supposed to prevent.”
The fix: Stick with your regular keyboard, Knauf suggests.
Brown-Bag Lunch: “Generally, it is healthier to pack a lunch than it is to buy one,” notes nutritionist and health coach Emily Littlefield. “But what’s most important is what’s on your plate.” Meaning, while people unconsciously tend to equate homemade with healthy, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking it’s better to grab a yogurt and nutrition bar on your way out the door than it is to order a veggie-packed salad from the place around the corner.
The fix: Keep portion sizes in mind, choose whole foods over processed, and make sure to pack or buy enough food to keep you full through the afternoon. (For more info, check out these Packed Lunch Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.)