Posture and Comfort

by Hugh Babington Smith

In a nutshell

1. What is posture?

What distinguishes it from position is the inclusion of the mental aspect as an ingredient. The key to good posture is understanding joint alignment, which includes

  • Muscle activity – postural or slow twitch muscles hold us in position, while fast twitch muscles move us
  • Balance, which includes having a sense of balance and sufficiently strong muscles to do what is required of them
  • Nerves, which may be affected if muscles are under stress.


2. The business case for caring about posture

In most businesses, employees are the most expensive asset. It makes sense to ensure that this asset can work most efficiently – and no-one can work at maximum efficiency if they are in pain. Therefore, something that is fundamental to the individual will be fundamental to the employer as well. Investing in improving posture leads to

  • Reduction of the risks of absenteeism
  • Compliance with health and safety law, with less risk of litigation
  • Greater efficiency, which will include the improved morale and loyalty that come from ‘doing something for the employee’.


3. What happens if posture is poor?

We evolved as hunter gatherers, not office workers. Add the stresses of modern life, and the result can be poor posture leading to discomfort, aches or pains.

  • Muscles may suffer through poor circulation.
  • Nerves may be stretched or inflamed by malalignment.
  • Concentration will be disturbed.


4. Dealing with postural discomfort and pain

People can do much to deal with postural pain, and it important that both employer and employee take their responsibilities seriously.

  • Take control – decide to change and start thinking positively about the situation.
  • Listen to the body – pain is a warning signal that should not be ignored.
  • Take action – which may involve preventative training, making sure equipment is ergonomically sound, getting expert medical diagnosis and/or getting a therapist to help the person make postural changes.


5. Techniques for changing postural habits

There are various techniques for changing postural habits:

  • The Alexander Technique is a simple and practical method for self-improvement and self-help
  • The Pilates Method represents a unique approach to exercise that develops body awareness
  • Yoga includes gentle stretches, breathing exercises, and progressive deep relaxation
  • The slow, rhythmic movements of Tai Chi are very effective in returning the skeletal structure, muscles and organs to their natural alignment
  • Shiatsu massages are normally done fully clothed and involve pressing points on the body and stretching and opening the energy meridians
  • Some physio- and other therapists include an understanding of posture in their general approach.


6. Glossary

Some of the commonly-used terms – medical and colloquial – are explained.


7. Health and safety legislation

The basis for the manager doing something about posture is health and safety legislation and the manager should understand the aim, which is to reduce the risks to musculoskeletal health. There are two stages to complying:

  • Assessing risks
  • Reducing risks to ‘the lowest extent reasonably practical.’

The regulations affecting computer users list seven areas where action should be taken to minimise risk:

  • Equipment
  • Furniture
  • Work environment
  • Job design
  • Work organisation
  • Work methods
  • Posture


8. Triggers for managerial attention

Two chief factors should alert you to the possibility of more immediate potential problems:

  • Employees whose height or weight is physically outside the norm
  • Hot-desking – where furniture is used by several people.

Key activities involving posture include

  • Using computers
  • Working with weights: either heavy weights or light ones, used over a long period or in awkward positions
  • Driving for long periods
  • Standing for long periods
  • Travelling with luggage


9. Management tools for reducing risk to posture

Within the context of reducing risk, you can

  • Seek information
  • Get training
  • Obtain ergonomic equipment
  • Use ergonomic software

You may benefit from specialist advice of different kinds:

  • Ergonomists, especially at the planning stage
  • Health and safety professionals, for advice on legislation
  • Physiotherapists, often useful for advice on posture
  • Occupational physicians and occupational therapists (note that not all occupational health departments have postural expertise)
  • Equipment providers, who may or may not give sound advice
  • Disability specialists
  • Other therapists
  • Internal assessors must recognise their limitations
  • External assessors – make sure they are properly qualified and effective
  • Call-outs – don’t wait until there is trouble and a lack of trust


10. The manager and the employee’s posture

  • There may be some help that the manager can give individuals, with care.
  • Before giving advice, understand privacy.
  • Ten steps for the manager include encouraging movement, seeking professional advice and providing information to employees.
  • Choosing a chair – an ergonomically designed chair should have several specific features to give maximum comfort, stability and flexibility.
  • Ten point sitting – getting used to a correct sitting posture takes time and practice, but is worth the effort.
  • The four sitting positions – each has their appropriate uses.
  • The ten postural sins – from holding your phone between ear and shoulder to not having a sense of humour!