Deadlines can mean it’s go go go all day and before you know it you have been sitting in the same spot for nine hours bar a couple of toilet breaks and the three minutes you took, getting your lunch and bringing it back to you desk.
Desk bound workers make up a big portion of today's working population and a big portion of the people who come to see us for massage. Lower and upper back pain, headaches, shoulder tension, wrist and hand pain become a real problem that are only aggravated by more work in front of the computer.
Below are some practical tips for helping to improve your work posture and reduce pain.
1. Change your position
Many offices are giving their staff the option of sit/ stand desks. Most of the designs give the user the option to elevate the desk and use it standing or lower it and sit at the desk. Use these features! The best thing that you can do is to not stay in the same position all day. The muscles and joints are designed to MOVE and don’t like to be in sustained static positions. When standing you are more likely to move around and change positions compared to sitting where the chair will allow the muscle to switch off. Make sure that when you are standing your knees are unlocked and that you are drawing you belly button to your spine to support the area between the hips and the ribs. This is a common area of instability, resulting in lower back pain. Also be aware of where your weight is when standing. It is best to have weight evenly distributed between your left and right. When sitting ensure you are staying upright and not slouching. Some offices also have fit balls to sit on. Switching from sitting to standing to fit ball through out the day will help to change the muscle that you are activating and help to create more balance in the body.
2. Have you desk ergonomics assessed
Health and safety requirements ensure that at your office you should have a professional who can assess your desk set up and make changes for your individual needs. Be sure to use this service to check things like the height of your screen and desk set up. Little tweaks can make a huge difference. Remember you are spending many hours a week in this position so you want to make sure you
are not harming your body in the process.
3. Keep your head in line with you shoulders
The head is a heavy, heavy thing for the neck and shoulders to carry around. The most efficient position for it to be carried is right up on top of the shoulders. You want the boney bit on top of your shoulder to line up with the ear lobe. This position requires the least effort and muscle engagement and also reduces strain put on ligaments. For every inch that the head moves forward of this ideal position it adds another 10 pounds or 4.5kg of weight!! This puts huge amount of stress to muscles and ligaments and can cause tension headaches, upper back, neck and shoulder pain. This great image below by Erik Dalton shows this forward posture.
4. Roll your shoulders
So much of the actions that we do everyday involves our shoulders being rolled forward and down. Think about when you are driving, cooking, on your computer or playing golf. In all of these activities the hands are in front of the body and the shoulders are pulled forward and down. Rolling your shoulders back and downwards helps to unwind them from this forward position. Its activates the opposing muscles and stretches the muscles that pull through shoulders forward. Rolling you shoulders back and downward regularly will help to counteract this posture by opening out the chest muscles and moving the shoulders away from the ears.
5. Back against the wall.
Remind yourself of what an upright posture feels like. When we have been sitting at a desk for many hours the posture deteriorates, head creeps forward, back starts to curl. Remind yourself and signal the brain of what is an upright posture is. Press the base of your skull, outer tips of your shoulders and sacrum to the wall.
6. Stretch your chest and neck muscles
Below are two simple stretches for opening the chest and stretching the neck. Doing these 3-4 times a day will help to lengthen these muscles and improve posture.
Standing up tall, sternum lifted
Forearm presses against a wall or door way
Turn the body away from the wall
Hold for 15 seconds
Return to neutral position
Repeat and move arm higher and then lower to stretch different parts of the muscle
Sitting up tall
Anchor left shoulder down by holding onto seat of chair
Draw head to right using right hand
Hold for 15 seconds
Help the head up gently and repeat on the other side
7. Uncross your legs
This may seem like a small thing but it can make a big difference when it comes to pain in the lower back and hip muscles. If you think about how you cross your legs it is most likely always the same leg over top…. am I right? This action moves the pelvis out of a level position and the spine compensates by making small movements so that the head is level. This can cause pain all the way up the spine and to the neck.
8. Drink lots of water
Drinking adequate water is important for all of the systems of the body and the processes that take place in it. Have a drink bottle on your desk and set your self a goal of how much you are going to drink over the day. Two to three litres is a good amount to aim for. Filling your drink bottle up again and emptying your bladder are great reminders to get up and moving through out the day too!
9. Engage your bodies supportive corset
Lower back pain and instability is a common problem for desk workers. Sitting or standing for long periods our alignment often goes out the window and posture deteriorates and the area between the hips and the ribs where the lumbar spine fully relies on the muscular support really suffers. An simple way to combat this is by engaging our bodies corset muscle. Do this by drawing your belly button towards your spine and hold, make sure you are breathing normally. This is especially important to do before any bending, lifting, twisting etc.
Incorporating these changes into your day at the office will make a big deal in the way you feel at the end of the day and and help keep your body upright and strong. Get your work mates on board and help each other to create happier and healthier bodies in the work place.