How to Cure RSI With a Floor Desk

Updated on December 19, 2017
Sue Adams profile image

Dancer, choreologist (movement notator), author on fitness and health, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.

What happens to the spine when we sit on a chair?
What happens to the spine when we sit on a chair?

The first part of this article explains why prolonged sitting on chairs is bad for you and what it does to your body. Unfortunately the reality is that in most working environments sitting on a chair all day is unavoidable. Slightly altering your chair-sitting position and the positioning of your equipment can help ameliorate this damaging situation. For those who have the opportunity to work from home or a more tolerant working environment, the latter part of this article shows how to build yourself a comfortable and versatile floor desk to completely get rid of repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, stiff hamstrings, chronic neck, shoulders and back pain.

Ergonomic Design

Did you know that you can get rid of RSI (repetitive strain injury) with a new ergonomic design for your workstation, at home or at work, to suit your body? At the end of this article, you will see for yourself in a video how the Floor Desk works in practice. But first, why is it so important to be more comfortable while working at the computer? And what is ergonomic design, anyway?

What is Ergonomic Design?

Ergonomics is the science of designing furniture and equipment in the workplace and at home to facilitate the actions performed by the human body. Proper ergonomic design prevents chronic bad posture and poor movement habits which are the cause of RSI. RSI leads to long-term disabilities like carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic neck and back pain, poor circulation, and depression. This article explains why sitting on chairs all day can seriously damage your health and what you can do about it. The new design for your workstation offers some easy and simple ways to modify working at a desk to improve your body's health, comfort, freedom of movement, and your productivity. So what is wrong with a conventional desk?

Sitting at a Table or Desk

Rather than spending thousands of dollars on special chairs and ergonomic equipment, you can modify your workstation for free by listening to your body. What exactly happens when you are perched on a chair? It limits the body to a very small number of positions, none of which are comfortable for very long. The upper part of the body leans over the desk or table, supported by your elbows and hands.

Balance

When you are engaged in a telephone conversation or taking notes, you are leaning to one side, the head tilts accordingly, adopting a permanently imbalanced position. What is going on below the desk? The seat area has to adjust its movements slightly but constantly every time a movement is made upstairs (above the desk) by the arms, the head, etc. The waist, hips and thighs are making compensatory movements to keep the body in balance. To facilitate these movements, the pelvis should be straight so that the trunk is supported by the sitting bones (the base of your pelvis: two hard protrusions under your seat) and not the tail. So far so good, the pelvis is supported by the chair, but the weight of your legs is still pressing down on the ankles and feet, which really don't get much relief at all.

Legs shift, cross, uncross, kick a little. Feet twitch with discomfort.
Legs shift, cross, uncross, kick a little. Feet twitch with discomfort.

Chairs are Bad for You

Observe people sitting on chairs. Legs shift, cross, uncross, kick a little. Feet twitch with discomfort. Crossing the legs takes the weight off one foot temporarily but only to give it to the other foot, so that's no help. Meanwhile the heart, whose job it is to circulate blood throughout your body, has to pump blood to the brain and down to the weighed down toes stuck inside laced, well polished shoes. No wonder a person is tired after a day's work at the office or a dinner party in a posh restaurant! What is the solution? The solution is to frequently get up, walk about, arch back and, preferably, circumstances permitting, lie down on the floor and kick your legs high up in the air. At the office, take the trouble to re-arrange your workstation to fit your very own body measurements.

A cushion or bolster placed in the appropriate place will save your back.
A cushion or bolster placed in the appropriate place will save your back.

Sitting Down Correctly on a Chair

Sit on a chair facing sideways to a mirror or window pane and look at the above pictures to check your pelvis. Which way are you sitting?

  1. This sitting position is not the most balanced way of sitting. However, since the key in sitting is to (a) frequently change position and (b) to always make sure that the spine is supported, it is perfectly o.k. to slouch for a short while, as long as you take the trouble to support the gap between the chair and your spine as shown here with the little red cushion.
  2. This position is the most balanced way of sitting. However, it is not easy to hold for any length of time unless the back is appropriately supported to prevent slouching. Again, notice that back support.
  3. Perhaps the keyboard is too far away from you or you wouldn't have to lean forward like this.

If You Must Sit at a Desk...

Re-design your Workstation

  1. The seat of your chair should be at knee height (where your legs bend), so that your feet can rest flat on the floor. Failing this, if your legs are dangling or resting on the ball of the foot. You will be uncomfortable and develop varicose veins from the constant pressure of the chair edge against the back of your knees.
  2. Your weight must rest on the sitting bones (two protrusions under your bum), not the tailbone. Prop something behind your lower back if you have a tendency to slouch.
  3. When you are seated, the desk top should be at waist height, where your elbow bends to allow the forearms and hands to rest horizontally on the desk without having to lift your shoulders. This is also the correct height for a keyboard.
  4. The height of a computer monitor should be at eye level, to allow your spine to be held fully erect and balanced. This is impossible with laptops so I compromised and raised the laptop onto a couple of thick photo albums and use a wireless pen tablet on the table top.

So Far So Good...

All the above suggestions are helpful in an office environment where workers have little or no influence over the design of their work place. If you are in the privileged position of being allowed to work from home however, re-designing your work place to combat RSI can be taken a lot further towards improving health, comfort and productivity. Watch the next video to become fully aware of how much harm chairs really can do to your body.

Are YOU Chairbound? Loosen the Hamstrings

Are you Chairbound?

One of the main causes of back pain, being overweight, and suffering constant fatigue is that we sit on chairs too much. Most of our waking hours is spent sitting - at breakfast, on the bus, in the car, at work, at lunch, at the dinner table, in the toilet. In fact, if we are not either walking or sleeping we are probably sitting. Holding a position for any length of time is the most tiring form of activity. It takes more energy and effort to sit perched on a chair for hours than to run around the block. Sitting on chairs causes stiffness in the hips and legs because the legs are held in a constantly bent position. The result is a permanent shortening of the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the:

  • ankles
  • hamstrings (the tendons behind the knees).
  • And the "Y" ligaments (those that attach the leg to the pelvis).

Watch the next video to fully understand this.

The angle behind the knees determines the degree of stiffness in the hamstrings.
The angle behind the knees determines the degree of stiffness in the hamstrings.

What Chairs Do to your Hamstrings

Please try the following short experiment and be surprised.

  1. Lie on your back on the floor or on your bed.
  2. Now lift your feet up towards the ceiling. What shape are your legs making?

Your Own Built In Seat

Chairs were originally invented long, long ago in less hygienic times, to stay off cold and dirty floors. This was long before central heating, clean carpets and parquet flooring. Now please take the trouble to get off your chair for a minute and sit on the floor. You can discover your very own built-in seat. Simply sit on the floor with a straight back and gently rock from side to side so as to feel your sitting bones, the two base-protrusions under your bum. So isn't it high time for a new design?

The New Design in Progress

Low desk with legless chair.
Low desk with legless chair.

Evolution of a New Design - The Floor Desk

I got so fed up and uncomfortable sitting at my conventional desk that I found an alternative way of working. I simply sawed off the legs of a wooden chair, and now use a very low wooden coffee table as my desk. In this way my legs rest on the floor under the table. This modification has the following obvious advantages:

  • the feet no longer have to support the weight of the legs
  • ankles can freely move and rotate to boost circulation
  • knees are straight to lengthen the hamstrings
  • I am sitting on the sitting bones and not on the lower spine
  • I can now move my legs in many different ways to vary their positions while working for many hours non-stop at the computer.

This is a good start but it can still do with some improvement.

Not Even a Legless Chair

More recently, only a few days ago, I found I didn't even need the legless chair any more, finding I could sit more comfortably without it. Yes, you may think, but what about back support? Easy! Now I can lie back and have a rest, close my eyes to think while untangling my tired neck and upper back all at the same time!

Minimalize

Just with a cushion, voila!
Just with a cushion, voila!

A New Design for Working at the Computer

This new way of working at the computer with its many possible variations of holding and moving the body can make you a lot more productive and less tired. The greatest advantage is that you won't feel so stiff anymore. On the contrary; you will begin to feel supple and mobile again like in childhood days. I was almost not going to tell you for fear of being "weird," but if you think about it, the largest part of the world population lives on the floor. Their bodies are a lot less degenerated than ours and they have never even heard of RSI. As long as the room is clean, for me, for now, using the floor is an ideal solution.

Ergonomic Floor Desk for Work

The Floor Desk Works

Sitting on the floor may not be everybody's cup of tea, especially if you are stiff in the hips and knees. But anyone can make a gradual change towards increased comfort and mobility. Every individual can create a new design for their workstation to fit personal needs. Watch this final video to see how working on the floor desk works with plenty of space to move and stretch.

Would you be comfortable using a Floor Desk?

See results

Beware of the Chair

The science is in, and it's scary. Sitting on chairs is bad for you - very bad. So much so that some workplaces are starting to act. Read more in this article: Beware of the Chair, by Lissa Christopher.

Finally...

Being comfortable and mobile while working improves productivity by turning work into a pleasurable and creative experience. Good luck with your experiments at creating a new design for your workstation, possibly even a floor desk. If you found this article useful, share it and leave a constructive comment.

Questions & Answers

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      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        21 months ago from Andalusia

        Hi Edward,

        I just revamped the article with new pictures. Good idea Edward. You may find sitting at floor level slightly awkward at first but if you persist, you'll soon loosen up and gradually get much more comfortable. So go for it.

      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        3 years ago from Andalusia

        I Updated this article today with new evidence on the damage chairs can cause.

      • profile image

        Edward 111 

        6 years ago

        I must do something about my working habits as I often get a stiff back and head ache when sitting at the computer for hours. Thanks for all the good tips here Sue. I will try lower seating for starters.

      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        6 years ago from Andalusia

        Hello coffeegginmyrice,

        Especially for people who work from home, we now have the freedom to ignore restricting conventional norms, get off the chairs, and make ourselves more comfortable while working. Like Juliette Kando shows in her YouTube videos, proper ergonomics at the work place make you more healthy and more productive at the same time. You just have to trust your own common sense however unusual it may seem to the indoctrinated masses. Change has always been the way forward.

        As for your headaches: Headaches are often caused by stiffness and blockages in the neck area. You can prevent them by loosening your neck as described in a hub I wrote on how to treat a stiff neck.

      • coffeegginmyrice profile image

        Marites Mabugat-Simbajon 

        6 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

        Hi Sue! This is so useful. I get into a very tiring position all day facing my computer, using the dining area (table and chair), crossing my legs underneath or stretching across another chair. My sitting position leaves me neck and shoulder stiffness leading to a headache by nighttime. I enjoyed watching the videos of Juliette Kando too, and she's got a sense of humour once in a while. I like the way she says "Ba-bye". Voted up!

      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        6 years ago from Andalusia

        Hi Ben,

        Just go one step at a time. Sit against a wall, prop yourself up with bolsters and cushions where necessary but stick to practising to use the floor before you become completely chairbound as shown in the video.

      • profile image

        bendiamond 

        6 years ago

        It will be a long time before I can sit comfortably on the floor. Just goes to show how civilisation has crippled us. But I am willing to try as I fully understand the points you are making here. Thank you for enlightening me Sue.

      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        7 years ago from Andalusia

        Hello Jane,

        I got the wooden coffee table in a second hand furniture shop and cut the legs to fit so that the table top is at my waist hight when I sit on the floor. It could have been a little deeper (wider) but now I just placed it slightly off the wall to make room for my outstretched legs underneath the table. Watch the video.

      • profile image

        Jane Andrews 

        7 years ago

        Hi, I was wondering where you got the coffee table, because this looks like a really good idea.

      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        7 years ago from Andalusia

        Hi jpcmc,

        Comfort is synonymous to health. If you are uncomfortable, it means your body is not properly aligned and that is unhealthy. The key words are "habit" and "change". It figures: If you are sitting uncomfortably at your computer for hours on end you are not only damaging your body but also incapacitating your poor brain who has to deal with physical discomfort rather than being allowed to solve your computer challenges unimpaired.

      • jpcmc profile image

        JP Carlos 

        7 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

        I always have body pains from the nape down to my lower back after a long period on my work area. It's mainly due to poor posture while working. The info here is really enlightening. The challenge now is getting the right chairs and table not just for comfort but for health as well. I really enjoyed the hub.

      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        7 years ago from Andalusia

        Hello Jante, You need a space large enough for your (low) desk + room for your supine body to be able to fully circle its limbs on the floor.

        Have fun with your experiments,

        Sue

        PS Watch the two new videos I added recently to this Hub.

      • profile image

        Jante 

        7 years ago

        Thanks for the article! I had been thinking of moving to the floor for my small office space next to my bedroom that was made as a laundry room when our house was being but, but my mother decided to have laundry in the basement.

        The room is relatively small and I had been thinking of moving to the floor. Your article really opened my eyes and made me realize why I like sitting on the floor so much!

        My only problem now is finding a coffee table like yours haha.

      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        8 years ago from Andalusia

        Hi Niiyke, thank you for dropping by, glad you enjoyed it.

      • Niiyke profile image

        Niiyke 

        8 years ago from Lagos, Nigeria

        Wow,very insightful and professional,I can relate to everything here.Humorous!

      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        8 years ago from Andalusia

        Hi Earthbeat

        You can just place a 2 1/2 cm thick piece of foam cut to size in an ordinary pillowcase and make yourself inexpensive and comfortable mats.

      • profile image

        ata 

        8 years ago

        I think you have some great ideas about comfort and productivity. This Hub is a real eye opener. People must have been a lot fitter before the invention of furniture.

      • profile image

        Earthbeat 

        8 years ago

        Earthbeat 1 second ago

        Thanks so much for this informative article. I'm thinking of converting my living room, a large area with book shelves along the walls, from traditional North American furniture to floor seating, along the lines of Japanese or some mid-east styles. This article has helped me in this.

        One thing I want to do is have tatami mats, but so far find they are too expensive. The local JYSK's has some nice bamboo mats, which may be a good alternative. Any suggestions?

        Thanks.

      • profile image

        Earthbeat 

        8 years ago

        Thanks so much for this informative article. I'm thinking of converting my living room, a large area with book shelves along the walls, from traditional North American furniture to floor seating, along the lines of Japanese or some mid-east styles. This article has helped me in this.

        One thing I want to do is have tatami mats, but so far find they are too expensive. The local JYSK's has some nice bamboo mats, which may be a good alternative. Any suggestions?

        Thanks.

      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        8 years ago from Andalusia

        Yes prettydarkhorse we often forget about comfort but it does improve productivity.

      • prettydarkhorse profile image

        prettydarkhorse 

        8 years ago from US

        hi Ms. Sue, this is very informative information, I will also share it to my friend who works at home. There is nothing like also when you feel comfortabe specially physically!

      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        8 years ago from Andalusia

        Yes Ben, taking your shoes off is a good start. Read more of my stuff and you'll see how much happier and more productive you can become when your body is more comfortable.

      • Ben Zoltak profile image

        Ben Zoltak 

        8 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

        There is no way I'm sitting on that big red pillow at my workstation! Looks like good feng shui though! I will come back to reread this again, I was especially drawn to the comment about going shoeless, I always forget. Nice piece of writing Sue!

        Cheers,

        Ben

      • Sue Adams profile imageAUTHOR

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        9 years ago from Andalusia

        Thank you for your interest and advice Appletreedeals.

      • Appletreedeals profile image

        Appletreedeals 

        9 years ago from Salisbury, Maryland USA

        as you can see I am visiting all your hubs as a result of your forum posting. Like I said: forum participation is a way to get hub traffic, which will raise your hub score which will raise your hubber score. It's all linked and feeds on itself.

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