One of the biggest lessons I learned in the fallout of my concussion last year is how important posture is, especially to desk workers like me. Post-Concussion Syndrome has a major muscular component – tight neck and back muscles press against nerves that send confusing signals to your brain, prolonging concussion symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, and visual disturbance. Treatment of this aspect of PCS is fairly standard physiotherapy fare – stretching and strengthening.

One of the most important ways to keep tight muscles from getting out of control is to maintain good posture. Most of us tech workers tend to stay in a very head-forward position, craning toward the screen, shoulders hunched over the keyboard.1

This is a sure way to cause neck and back strain.

Instead, we should be sitting up straight, shoulders down and back, neck straight, and chin tucked in. It feels weird, and it takes a while to get used to. When I’m at my desk with my mind focused on more interesting things I continually forget about maintaining posture. I have a post-it sitting directly above my monitor, and that helped me remember for a while, but now it’s just part of my surroundings and I no longer notice it.

My physiotherapist recommended a periodic reminder to keep me focused on my posture. I wrote a shell script, so that my computer could prompt me from time to time to stop slouching. It runs in the background, and at a random interval,2 it speaks aloud using the say command and posts a notification using terminal-notifier, which you can install as a gem or via Homebrew on a Mac.

message="Fix your posture, dummy!"

function randomSeconds {
    range=$(($max - $min))

    rand=$(($RANDOM % $range))

    minutes=$(($rand + $min))
    seconds=$(($minutes * 60))

    echo $seconds

while :
    echo "Sleeping $(($seconds / 60)) minutes"
    sleep $seconds
    terminal-notifier -title "Posture" -message "$message" -group posture-notifier > /dev/null
    say $message

And of course, we should all remember to get up and walk around about once an hour. Staying static is actually one of the hardest things for our muscles to do. They’re designed to keep us in motion, so let’s oblige them!

I think I’ll write another post about workstation ergonomics at some point – I see a horrifying array of bad setups wherever I go, and we could all use a little improvement.

  1. We’ve all seen images like this one courtesy of
    The Moxie Institute‘s film Connected.

  2. Our brains are too smart for our own good. If you set up a reminder to go off every twenty minutes, you internalize it eventually and fixe up your posture “automatically” around the time when you expect the reminder. Then, when it arrives, you consciously check your posture, observe that it’s great, and start to slouch again a few minutes later. A randomized reminder keeps you on your toes.