Between staring at monitors and hunching over cell phones, most modern office workers end up with some poor posture. The characteristic desk-jockey pose — shoulders hunched forward, neck jutting out like a turtle — causes muscle and joint pain, has been linked to migraines and bad digestion, and isn’t going away. “Posture is a worsening problem,” says Jan Lefkowitz, a chiropractor at New York’s Body in Balance Chiropractic. “I have noticed that younger people are getting much more back pain and neck pain than they used to, and I feel it’s from the fact that screen time starts at a much earlier age than it did for older generations.”
Assuming you can’t change the hours you spend at your desk every day, we decided to look into other methods for feeling better. Small breaks are an obvious start, but combining them with desk accessories, pillows, and exercise equipment designed to improve your posture while you’re stuck sitting can have a huge effect on aches and pains. Below, three experts share their recommendations for posture-saving products for home and the office.
“Sitting for prolonged periods of time in front of a computer can cause significant upper-back and neck pain,” says chiropractor David Perna of Back & Body Medical. Fortunately, there are ways to make your desk setup more ergonomic. Perna says, “A standing position often puts less stress on the lower back and helps a person achieve a more upright position.” For adding more standing time to your day, Lefkowitz likes the Varidesk that easily switches between sitting and standing heights.
When going the standing-desk route, Lefkowitz says investing in an anti-fatigue mat is “worth the extra money” because it “helps cushion and take stress off the joints of your knees and back when standing for long periods.”
Both chiropractors recommend using monitor risers while you’re sitting down. “When I talk to people about proper ergonomics, the first thing I ask them is what is the height of their computer screen,” says Perna. “Typically, I want to hear the top of the screen is two inches above their eye level.” Most office workers’ screens are too low, which leads to neck strain. An adjustable riser lets you find that just-right height.
If your job requires you to look up and down between your screen and papers on your desk, Lefkowitz recommends a monitor document clip “to reduce head and eye movements when working on your computer.” Keeping everything at eye level cuts down on posture-disrupting motions.
“Lumbar support cushions are also very important,” says Lefkowitz. “Maintaining the natural inward curve of your lower back — the lumbar region — will naturally improve the position of your neck.” Writer Maureen O’Connor told Strat that she loves how this lumbar support gives her “a gentle nudge to sit up straight and can be strapped onto the chair of your choice.” And in a pinch, yoga instructor Rachel Potasznik, founder of BetterBodyLab and a certified practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method of movement awareness and injury-prevention, says a pillow or towel can give your back the support you need.
For those of us with shorter legs, sitting all day is even more detrimental. “If your legs don’t quite reach the ground comfortably when you sit, it can worsen posture and cause back pain,” says Lefkowitz. Potasznik agrees that it’s important to “have something to allow your feet to rest comfortably on the floor,” like this portable, foldable footrest. With a sliding panel for adjustable surface area, it can also be made small enough to fit in tight spaces like under an airplane seat.
Foam rollers aren’t just for massaging sore muscles. Lefkowitz says, “A foam roller can be your best friend for fixing posture.” He recommends laying the foam roller down perpendicular to your body and rolling out your back. “Think of what your middle and upper back look like when you slouch and you are essentially doing the opposite with this stretch,” he says. If you’re used to a very rigid roller, try one like this that’s a bit softer and will be more comfortable in this position.
Another item borrowed from the gym strategy for helping posture. Perna says resistance-band exercises work by activating muscles that tend to slack off when slouching. Certain stretches also improve proprioception, or the awareness of your body in space, which he says “allows you to keep a better posture through the day.” Perna demonstrates his recommended moves and proper form in this video.
In addition to relieving neck and back pain, a pillow that encourages proper spinal alignment positively affects your posture during the day. “A heavier-density pillow like the one Tempur-Pedic can help a person relearn proper head and neck position while they sleep,” Perna says. Keep in mind, though, that because the pillow stretches muscles that may be tight in those with poor posture, it may take a few nights to adjust to sleeping with it.
For a customized sleeping experience, the firmness of this water-filled pillow can be adjusted by adding or removing water. The pillow uses technology that’s been clinically proven to reduce pain and improve sleep quality, and is Lefkowitz’s pick for supporting the neck while sleeping. “The water will provide support and naturally fill in the space of your neck curve,” he says.
While there are lots of braces and posture correctors on the market to wear on the go, the chiropractors we spoke with don’t recommend relying on one. “Forcing your body to have good posture by wearing a brace can lead to more muscle weakness as you become dependent on it,” says Lefkowitz. A techy alternative, the Upright Go is a small sensor worn on the back linked to an app that will alert you when you need to adjust your position, and tracks your posture throughout the day, wherever you are. Perna says the device is preferable to a brace because it “creates active use to achieve the results, actually making the person improve themselves.”
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