Now that summer is in full swing, I keep having flashbacks to the tennis camps of my childhood summers. “It was SO much fun,” I’d tell my mom each day when I got home. But I do recall that a gnarly case of tennis elbow spoiled at least one summer vacation. Years later (and year-round, it seems), I deal with the working girl equivalent: desk elbow.
The crook of the arm suffers so much from repeated forward swings because the swishing motion causes a repetitive stress to the elbow’s tendons, explains physical therapist Corrine Croce of New York City’s Body Evolved. In tennis, it’s the result of poor form and fatigue. In the office, it’s a sign that you may need to rethink how you’re sitting at your desk.
The “how” is a back-to-basics lesson in checking on your posture. First, make sure your body’s forming an exact 90-degree angle from your shoulder to your fingertips. “The problem is when the wrists are not in line with the forearm and the fingers are not in line with the wrists,” says Croce. Our elbows sometimes dip below the plane of our desks.
Make sure your elbows, forearms, and wrists are fully supported. You’ll need to take a sec to adjust your office chair to match that 90-degree angle you worked so hard to establish. All this maneuvering accomplishes one crucial task: it keeps your muscles from straining all day, every day as you filter through your inbox, make presentations, or Slack your coworkers.
‘The key to sitting at your desk properly is to have everything in alignment and supported—feet on the ground, hips in line or slightly higher then knees, spine neutral and supported, elbows at 90 degrees, forearms, wrists and fingers aligned with elbows, neck straight, and eyes staring straight at the computer,” says Croce.
All those free adjustments should fix computer elbow in no time. But if you want to get a little bit extra with your control center—I mean, desk—Croce has some ideas. “Consider a split keyboard,” she says. “This helps improve mechanics and is overall ergonomically friendly for our bodies.” Moreover, taking breaks at work should be a non-negotiable. I know, I know, you’ve heard it a million times at this point. But Croce wants to say it once more: Readjusting your body on the hour mark is essential.
Of course, if your pain persists even with these adjustments, it’s best to seek the help of a professional. Your number one job is taking care of your body, after all.