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Is Your Shanghai Office a Pain in Your Neck? Ergonomics and Back Pain Tips

The most important, and often overlooked, tip for office ergonomics is to sit in a dynamic way. Your body needs to move. Sitting in one position for hours on end is unnatural. Try to stand as often as possible, or move your position in your chair. Sitting toward the front of your chair can help engage your muscles. Even if you’re sitting in a bad position or don’t have the best chair/desk setup, using your muscles is your body’s best defense.

One of the biggest problems in Shanghai is that the desk is often too low for taller expats. If the desk is too low, it can be almost impossible to get the chair and body positioned correctly. You should be able to naturally rest your forearms on your desk. If you cannot, you will be forced to bend down and jut your head forward towards your screen. If your desk is too low, ask your Shanghai office manager or HR Department if there is any way to get a taller desk or raise yours.

People often ask about the best office chair for proper ergonomics. They are surprised when I tell them that the expensive, fancy office chairs are not always best. Arm rests can be especially problematic. If they’re too high to fit under the desk, it can be hard to position the chair correctly. If the armrests are too low, the person may be hunched down.

A standing position is really ideal for working and you may have seen the “standing desk” concept, but you probably won’t find one in your Shanghai office. Sitting on a large exercise ball (also called “Swiss ball” or “balance ball”) is a great solution as it engages the core muscles and promotes good posture. You can try replacing your chair with the ball; it may take some adjustment at first. When seated, the hip and knee angle should be 90 degrees or greater. Some of the nice office chairs tend to lean back, which may feel comfortable at first but often leads to poor alignment. If you can’t replace your office chair, try different positions and shift around when you begin feeling any of the signs mentioned.

Shanghai residents often visit me complaining of chronic low back pain, a feeling of tension and reoccurring pain in a “belt” around the lower back/abdomen. Sometimes they’re experiencing dizziness, headaches, neck and arm pain, cold/numb extremities and tingling or “seeing stars”. We work together to treat the imbalance of the muscles. I try to treat what they cannot do on their own during our appointments and then provide them with an exercise plan to continue building specific muscles. I also lead a back workshop, a small group class in which we focus on a routine to develop core muscles and target problem areas. By keeping the class limited in size, I can adjust the routine to address the individuals’ issues and check form closely as they perform the exercises.

Here are some general tips for staying pain-free in your Shanghai office environment:

  • Identify the main cause(s) of your problem. Is it your desk/chair setup, or are you always carrying a heavy bag or lifting/carrying children? You may be able to find solutions or minimize exposure (switch bags, adjust your desk, use strollers/carts), along with building up the muscles.
  • Take short breaks frequently. Move the area that is bothering you (roll the shoulders, stretch the neck and legs).
  • Stand to take phone calls or do other tasks when you can. Walk over to see a colleague rather than calling or emailing, for example.
  • Schedule time for exercise. Do what you like so you’ll stay motivated: yoga, cycling, walking, dancing or sports.

Read more about Sarah Trost or book an appointment today or inquire about Shanghai personal training/back workshops if you’re experiencing low back pain, neck pain or other symptoms. Sarah offers services at our downtown lifestyle center in Xintiandi, the Hongqiao clinic on Hongmei Road and Body & Soul at the Four Seasons Hotel in Jing’an.

Sarah Trost
Sarah Trost
Physiotherapist And Personal Trainer

Sarah is a physiotherapist and personal trainer with a focus on sports medicine and rehabilitation. Throughout her extensive training in Germany, Sarah applies a combination of different therapies and accompanies her patients throughout the whole rehabilitation process.