Like most people in my industry and many other industries like it, we struggle with having to sit for long periods of time. Often, we are so engrossed with our work that we forget to perform basic human necessities. At least once a week I find myself working through lunch; generally spending hours sitting at my desk with little or nothing to eat, going much longer than I should without a restroom break, or without walking to the nearest watering hole in an attempt to stay hydrated. Some days it seems I sit down when I get to work, and I don’t get out of my chair until I look outside and realize the sun has gone down. With the pressure of meetings, deadlines and the high expectations placed on all of us by our bosses, it’s no wonder most of us suffer from some physical ailment or deal with chronic pain every day. Luckily, there are several things we can do to relieve discomfort and increase productivity at the same time.
The first and easiest thing we can do is remember to get our butts up out of that office chair and walk around a bit. Humans weren’t meant to sit for extended periods of time. We are active creatures by nature. We want to move around. Walk. Run. Jump. Climb. The generally accepted principle is to spend 20 minutes out of every half hour sitting in your chair, 8 minutes standing and 2 minutes moving. Obviously, you’re not going to run around the office like a crazy person. All it really takes to improve mobility is doing some light stretches at your desk. As funny as I’m sure I look to some of my co-workers, I must get up and move. I’ll do some toe touches (hamstrings), seated spinal twists (lumbar), standing pigeon pose (hips), neck rolls or upper trap stretches, anything to help me limber up. I even have a timer I like to use, when I remember to set it, that reminds me to get up and stretch or walk around the office. The point is, do anything you can to improve mobility. You’ll thank yourself later. Here are some great examples of easy desk side stretches you can perform at work.
There are also ways to improve the ergonomics of your work space. Unfortunately, we don’t always get to choose our ideal desk height and/or office chair. Most businesses buy their office furniture in bulk to save on costs of setting up the infrastructure. Too bad for us, the lemmings of the industry. We don’t always get the best or most therapeutic office chairs. Those perks are usually reserved for the top dogs. All jest aside, no one looks at calculating individual needs for proper posture, seating position, or desk height. These things work together to help alleviate the stress put on our bodies from hours of sitting.
Here is an example of the proper sitting position (example is for a 6’0” individual) for anyone working a desk job and a link to the site, so you can calculate your ideal seat to desk height ratio.
If you’re lucky, you can request a better chair from your employer, although you probably won’t have your request met unless you can prove some kind of medical need; which leaves you having to pay hundreds of dollars to provide your own chair. I don’t know about you, but I can’t bring myself to pay several hundred dollars on an office chair. Yes, I do mean ‘several hundred’, as in ‘more than a few’. Normally, a really good office chair will run around $750+. I, like most people out there, find it hard to invest that much in an office chair, even though I sit in it a minimum of 40 hours a week. I like to think of myself as a frugal individual (although if you ask my wife, she’ll tell you I’m just cheap) — which leaves me having to find other, less expensive means of increasing my comfort at work. You can always scour the classifieds for a used office chair that’s most likely seen better days. I for one don’t like to sit in someone else’s butt groove or use worn out arm rests. After countless hours of searching you realize you’re not going be happy with anything you find. So, you try to address the most uncomfortable part of your chair. The seat.
There are so many options out there to satisfy even the most discerning individual. It can be quite overwhelming, the amount of options and features some of these seats provide. There are gel pads, memory foam pads, inflatable pads, sheepskin cushions and wooden beads (surprisingly kind of comfortable). Ultimately, all you really need is something that’s going to be comfortable and cost effective. You can easily get away with spending under $50 to get a decent chair cushion. Anything you choose will relieve some discomfort, but depending on your initial choice, it may not last long. It may deteriorate quickly. It may get hot, leaving you experiencing office “swamp butt.” (Yes, that’s the medical term. Look it up.) You may realize it’s just not as comfortable as you originally thought. I went through about five different chair cushions before I found the one I love and use every day.
First let me tell you about my two different gel pads. In the beginning, both were very comfortable. Both held their shape very well and cradled my posterior nicely. Both had the same issue, which I tried to remedy by buying a second one from a different manufacturer. They got bloody hot. There was no ventilation whatsoever. Which left me feeling none too fresh at the end of my work day.
The next option was memory foam. That’s stuffs great, right? Hmmm. Memory foam is so soft and comfy. I purchased a pad for my bed and it distributes the weight of my body nicely. Unfortunately, when you’re sitting, your body weight is not distributed evenly. It’s all focused on those two hams between your pelvis and your femur. I found I couldn’t get the support I wanted from my memory foam seat cushion. It felt cooler than the gel cushions, but it lacked in support.
I don’t know why I ever decided to try a wooden bead seat cushion. Don’t really know if I could call it a cushion. No, we won’t call it a cushion. That thing was comfortable for about a week. It created this feeling of getting a butt massage for the first 3 days. The last 2 days it became a nightmare to sit on. Yes, it vented heat and prevented “swamp butt”, it created semi-pleasant pressure points, but it gave the singular sensation that I was going to slide out of my chair. I might have actually fallen out once or twice, but we don’t talk about that.
I had just about given up on the idea of a cushion and was trying to justify to myself (remember I’m cheap…. I mean frugal) buying a ridiculously expensive office chair that was more than double my car payment. One day I was chatting with a riding buddy of mine that does yearly long-distance motorcycle trips. I was frustrated with the whole situation and I was asking him how he deals with riding those long distances. His remedy was an AirHawk motorcycle pad. He had nothing but positive things to say about it and had turned a few of his other long-distance riding buddies on to them. Fortunately, AirHawk not only makes motorcycle seat cushions, they also have a wide variety of other types of cushions they make like cushions for long-haul truck drivers, frequent long-distance travelers and pilots, stadium seats, office cushions and they even make a pillow. At $129.95 ($89.00 until Black Friday), the AirHawk chair cushion was definitely more expensive than the other cushions I had tried — and after all my experimentation, I was skeptical. But it came highly recommended by a friend, so I ordered one from their website. Shipping was very fast and free since I’m located within the US. I used the UPS Ground option and it got to my house in two days. AirHawk is local to me in So Cal, so shipping may vary for those of you outside the area.
The product came professionally boxed with instructions, which were very easy to follow. All you do is inflate the air bladder then deflate to the desired amount and put it in the cover. The cover is washable, which is great, and made of good materials. Unlike some of the inflatable cushions I had seen that looked like pool toys for your butt, the AirHawk pad is chambered. The cushion itself has about 20 chambered cells of inter-connected air passages. This air cell technology is clinically proven to reduce aches and pains that come from sitting for long periods of time. This cushion breathes amazingly well due to the effect of the individual cells and it also moves with you. As you lean on either cheek, the weight of your body pushes the air from cell to cell to create the feeling of sitting on… well, air. I’m so happy with my purchase that I’ve bought a cushion for my motorcycle. I might not go on long cross-country rides, but when I do decide to go out for a full day of riding, I strap the cushion on my bike and it keeps me extremely comfortable. I can’t imagine going on long rides without one and now, I can’t imagine an 8-10-hour workday without one. Lastly, AirHawk offers a 5-year warranty and a 60 day no questions asked return policy! So, if you aren’t satisfied (which I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t be) you can return it in that time period.
So, now that you know there are ways to improve your time at work, well at least reduce your discomfort while sitting, I encourage you to attempt a few of my suggestions. If nothing else try some of my desk side stretches for a month and see if you can improve your mobility while reducing pain. I encourage each of you to do your own seat cushion research based on your sitting needs, but I must say that with the AirHawk my needs were met and expectation were exceeded. Thank you for reading and happy sitting!