It’s no secret that an increasingly sedentary lifestyle is contributing to general health and fitness issues. For those of us based in an office, sat at a desk or other fixed seated position for any length of time, our seated posture, movement and habit formed from spending too long in the same position can lead to a number of complaints that we at Physiocare encounter regularly.
As soon as someone mentions the word posture, most people will subconsciously ‘sit up straight’ or lengthen their spine, suddenly aware of rounded shoulders or slumped position (how many of you have just sat up reading this?!). However, simply ‘sitting up straight’ rarely works if you are suffering from pain and discomfort in your neck or back. It is most definitely a good thing to be aware of your posture, but the key to resolving any issues is in un-learning poor movement habits.
Simply put, you need to re-connect your muscle movement to your thought process, re-establishing what are known as neuro-muscular pathways. These are patterns of signals transmitted to your brain when you engage a muscle. The more you repeat a pattern of movement, the more your brain recognises the signal and adopts the requested muscle position. You then risk fatigue in over-used muscles, which may become tight, resulting in their opposite number (all muscles work in pairs in our body to ensure balance) becoming weak. Ultimately, this may lead to poor or restricted movement in a joint, which is often when you need to come and talk to us at Physiocare.
Common problems we treat are:
- Neck pain – tension in the neck may be a result of an inappropriate ergonomic set up at your desk (see below)
- Lower back discomfort – this can even be the result of weak stomach muscles, or is often a referred pain caused by restricted movement in a different part of the spine or in your hips.
- Shoulder/neck tightness – in office workers, this may be attributed to over-use of a mouse or telephone
Dos and Don’ts
- Ensure you have the correct ergonomic position for your desk height, computer screen and keyboard
- Check the eye-level of your computer screen (especially if you are swapping between laptops and desktops or using docking stations) – you should be able to sit with your spine in natural alignment and not need to bend your neck to look at the screen
- Choose a chair that can be adjusted to suit your leg length (your feet should be able to sit comfortably flat on the ground with your knees at 90 degrees)
- Consider a wrist rest for support if you are typing on a keyboard for long periods
- Spend more than 30 minutes at your desk without moving from the screen. Get up, walk to the water machine or to the printer to avoid establishing a rigid pattern for your posture
- Cross legs – this goes for men and women! By crossing your legs, you are lengthening and so weakening the muscles around your hips.
- Lean in to peer at the screen – make the font bigger if necessary
- Alter your seated position throughout the day
- Don’t spend longer than 30 minutes in a fixed position – even if you are on a deadline!
- Remember, stiffness and pain in one area may be caused by a problem elsewhere
- If in doubt, check it out – make an appointment to come and see us or email[email protected]