Destroyer of health?
Most of us subject ourselves to one seemingly simple thing that slowly destroys our health every day. You do it at work and at home, in the car and at the movies, and you do it no matter what sports team you cheer for. So what is this life-stealing activity?
Research shows us that sitting is slowly ruining our bodies. Unfortunately, sitting all day does not only affects your musculoskeletal system (which is what we will focus on), but your heart, lungs, and other body systems as well.
Think about your average week. If you have a job that requires you to sit (which is what we commonly see in our office), you probably spend a majority of your week in a chair. So what happens to our bodies when we sit for long periods of time?
What is wrong with sitting?
Imagine your work station and your daily activities. What types of things are you doing? Most often, we see that people are using their computer, writing on their desk, looking at a tablet or phone.
Now, how is your body positioned (and not at the start of your day.. think 3 hours in). Are you sitting up straight or slouching? Do you have to look at multiple screens? If so, are you primarily facing one and having to rotate your head to one side frequently? Is your chair at a height that allows your arms to rest at a 90 degree angle? Are you using normal key board or an ergonomic key board (which, let’s be honest, isn’t too much better). Is your lower back rounded or slouched as you sit? Are you sitting toward one side? Sitting on a wallet or object? Does your chair height allow your hips, knees, and ankles to be at 90 degrees? Do you keep you hips, knees, and ankles at 90 degrees? How often do you get up and move around?
I think if we are honest, most of us can admit that as time goes on throughout our day, we tend to slouch and slump. We start out with great intentions, but daily stressors wear us down. As time wears on and we sit in the same position day after day, some of our muscles tighten and some become inactive.
Sitting can cause problems, but they are predictable!
The good news is: these patterns are predictable, as are the issues that result from them. The other good news is: because these are predictable patterns, success with intervention is predictable as well and the outcomes are very good.
Think of your head as a bowling ball sitting on top of a post (your neck). Imagine a cable attached to the back of the bowling ball and post (your muscles). If the post is standing straight up, the bowling ball can sit atop it with little help from the cable.
Now tilt the post forward. To hold the bowling ball on top of the post, the cable has to tighten, putting more strain through it. This is how your head works. With each degree that your head is held forward, the tension increases on the muscles in the back of the neck. No wonder these muscles get tight and painful- they are working ALL THE TIME.
The muscles aren’t the only things affected by the repetitive stressors of our days. Take a look at the picture to the right. Look anything like you after a few hours of work?
In this position, the joints in your spine are subjected to increased pressure, resulting in recurrent segmental joint dysfunction. It is also thought that this may lead to early degeneration of the spine as well as changes in motor control of movements.
Think back to a time when you have had a pain in the middle of the shoulders. It can feel tight, achy, irritating, sometimes even sharp. Typically it will come after a few hours of working or leaning forward. This too is commonly the result of poor posture and muscle imbalance and results in a fairly annoying and typically frequent discomfort that just won’t go away with stretching (because just stretching at this point isn’t enough).
1. GET UP!
- Take a few minutes each hour to stand, stretch, and walk around, even if it is only to the bathroom and back. Breaking up a day of constant repetition will help to offset the effects of the day.
2. Listen to your mother!
- Everyone has been told at some point to sit up straight by mom or dad. Maintain an upright posture at your chair as often as possible. You can use a slightly rolled up towel or small pillow behind your lower back to provide the cue to sit up straight.
3. Position your monitors appropriately.
- Ideally, you want to be looking at a screen that is eye level. If you have multiple monitors equally, position yourself between them so that your head is turning from side to side evenly. If you use one monitor primarily, but have a secondary monitor, face the monitor most used.
4. Make your chair work for you.
- Position your chair so that you can sit with hips, knees, and ankles at 90 degree angles.
- If possible, your elbows should be at 90 degrees as well when typing.
5. Pull those shoulders back.
- Don’t let your shoulders just kind of “hang”. Actively engage your upper and middle back musculature by retracting and depressing the shoulder blades. Think of putting an orange in the middle of your back and trying to squeeze it with the shoulder blades.
6. Make a double chin
- Retracting the chin and head will keep your neck in the proper position for muscular balance. It will feel weird at first, but will become more normal with time.
- Imagine having a finger on your forehead, nose, and chin. Pull your head back away from these points evenly.
Don't let your job ruin your free time.
If you are someone who has already began experiencing the discomfort associated with poor posture, let us know. We are here to help and have great success with repetitive use injuries such as this. Keep in mind, if you are feeling pain or discomfort, that is your body’s way of telling you “Hey, something is wrong here.” Pain is a normal response, but being in pain is not normal.